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How do you find your cocoa beans?
How do you find your cocoa beans?
I have some wonderful memories of how each of the cocoas we work with was discovered. It takes hard work to find high-quality cocoa, harder work than one might imagine.
In general, we find our high-quality cocoa beans in one of three ways: exploration, friends, and reputation.
Exploration: Sometimes we find our cocoa in country. I enjoy traveling to cocoa-growing regions. Often I hire a local guide to take me to the farms and introduce me to the farmers. Local guides are wonderful—I am able to get to know the farmers and their communities in ways otherwise almost impossible. To see a country as a local sees it and not as a tourist it is a wonderful experience. To eat at a family’s table instead at a chain restaurant builds a sense of camaraderie, despite the fact that I sometimes live half a world away. Finding cocoa simply through exploration creates some unexpected opportunties. I have found some wonderful plantations in this way—plantations I would ordinarily overlook because the farmer (or guide) simply did not know what was there. Also, there is always the opportunity to meet some wonderful farmers, their families or people along the way. If nothing else, I have built some incredible memories and sometimes unexpected friendships.
Friends: Amano has many strong relationships in the chocolate and cocoa industries. These good friends often find unique beans they believe will suit our style of chocolate making and our emphasis on bringing out the flavor of the beans themselves. Friends sometimes bring back samples from their trips for me to look at, and they may even introduce me to the growers. It is humbling to look back on all the help I have received from friends in the industry who have helped me find the very best beans. I feel deep gratitude to them.
Our Reputation: Since our chocolate is now being recognized as one of the world’s finest, growers of fine quality cocoa often contact us. Many growers believe we have the best chance of making fine-quality chocolate with their beans—one that will win awards and bring them and their plantations fame in the cocoa world. In fact, several growers are angry with us because we haven’t yet made a chocolate with their beans. The funny thing is that these same growers actually have some wonderful beans, and we fully intend to use their poduct to make a chocolate once the time is right. (If you are one of the few growers I’m thinking of and are reading this, you'll know who you are!)
Making a super-premium chocolate such as ours means the cocoa beans must be nearly perfect. Not only do their origin and genetics need to be perfect but also how the cocoa was fermented and dried—both highly skilled arts that few farmers perfect. Sourcing cocoa is doubly difficult because most farmers, proud of their cocoa and their trees, are ready to speak out, saying their cocoa is the best—and most of the time, they truly believe it is, no matter the quality. All in all, it's pretty tricky, and if you choose the wrong beans or suppliers, the consequences can be very expensive. Despite all the difficulties, it is highly rewarding to know that you have found a truly special product, as well as wonderful people to meet, friendships to develop, and cultures to experience.