We source our organic and fair-trade certified cacao from a small farmer co-op in the Esmeraldas province in Ecuador. The co-op was formed in 2014, has nearly 400 cacao producers who collectively farm over a thousand hectares of land, of which a portion is certified organic and biodynamic (and is the portion we buy from!).
One of our favorite parts of the co-op is that the central organization provides personal training to their producers and their family members, along with administrative internships for young people. Cacao farming is complex in that you both need to understand the growing of cacao in organic methods, along with best ways of processing and collecting the fruit (inside of which is the cacao seed, or when referring to it after fermentation, the bean), all the way to the best method of fermentation. All of these factors are incredibly important to the end product quality and taste, and skipping or cutting corners in any of them has an effect on the end product. Thus, it’s so important for the producers and farmers to be educated on cacao processing, and the co-op helps doing so by passing along the knowledge to their members. It supports better growing methods, for the farmers and the earth, along with creating a better end product, which results in a higher price paid to the farmers and producers. For that reason, we love supporting this group of incredible people!
Arriba Nacional Cacao
Another factor that makes our cacao so special is the varietal of cacao we source, Arriba Nacional. Revered as a “fine flavor” varietal, it is widely considered one of the best tasting cacaos in the world for its complex fruity and floral aromas.
Even the name has a complex background! The variety is “Nacional”, and “Arriba”, according to popular folklore, was added when the Spanish would ask locals in the port of Guayaquil where to find this amazing cacao, and they would respond saying “arriba”, meaning up-river.
Arriba Nacional cacao holds even more meaning today to Ecuadorians and the cacao industry alike given its history over the past hundred years. Whereas Ecuador was the worlds largest cacao producer in the 1800s, in 1916 and again in 1919, two plagues wiped out over 70% of Ecuador’s cacao. Often after such events, farmers would replace Nacional trees with sturdier, more resistant strains of cacao (which also required herbicides and pesticides), improving yields but significantly lowering flavor quality. It was with a determined effort of a small group of farmers who stuck with Arriba Nacional that has allowed it to make a resurgence as one of the most sought after cacao’s in the world today.
Cacao Drying Gauyaquil - Cecilia Estrada de Icaza, Guía Histórica de Guayaquil