Last year we started using dark chocolate from Colombia for many of our products, and we have often got a surprised look on our customers' faces, as they tend to associate coffee plantations, and not cacao plantations, with Colombia.
Earlier this month, we went to Colombia, and visited two cacao farmers who grow and process the cacao that are used in our chocolates, as part of our trip to gain a better understanding on how our single-origin chocolates are produced in Colombia, before we turn them into our handmade chocolates in London. Here's a video on our visit:
Due to the recent history of Colombia in the 1980's and 1990's, the country has not got the most positive image in most people's minds. However, once you are there, you'll find the contrary. Yes, there are still some troubled spots in the country no doubt, but all the time we were in Colombia, we felt safe, and we could really enjoy everything this beautiful country has to offer. The Colombians are some of the friendliest people you'll find on this planet!
The trip to the plantations involves a domestic flight from Bogota to Neiva, and then a 2-hour drive further south. We visited Mr Martinez who, apart from having his own farm, he also runs the local association that works with the farmers in his area - the sense of community is evident and the support network is important in ensuring good quality beans as well as improving on the farming method. He is also working on renewing the cacao trees in his farm and promoting best practice in cacao plantation, in order to improve the yield and the quality of the beans. We love his energy and passion in his work.
We also visited the Torres family who not only spent their valuable time showing us their beautiful farm, but also cooked us a wonderful breakfast at their house - tamales washed down with delicious hot chocolate (what else to drink?). The aroma of cacao fills the house and their backyard. Apart from growing cacao, they also have sugarcane, mangoes and many other types of tropical fruits. In addition, they have quite a few animals at the farm also - a few turkeys decided to follow us back to the house, and Mr Torres also introduced us to his donkey Camilo (who managed to photobomb us when we had the group photo taken!).
We asked them what the biggest challenges that they face - we were half-expecting answers such as climate change or diseases affecting the cacao trees. However, by applying best practice in their cacao farming methods, that doesn't seem to be the problem. They are more concerned about the younger generation wanting to work in big cities after university and not in cacao plantations, and also losing fertile land for cacao plantations due to other economical development or modernisation such as giving way to hydroelectric projects.
After visiting these farmers, every time we use the chocolates, we appreciate even more their hard work. Without true dedication and skills in growing and processing the cacao, there would not be such good ingredients for us to work with.