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Cacao Beans Profile: Zorzal Cacao, the Dominican Republic

Zorzal Cacao is a leading provider of fine flavor cacao to domestic and international artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers. They provide the craft chocolate market with cacao varietals selected for their nuanced flavors and intense aromas, carefully tending to the development of these flavors through natural fermentation and drying cycles.

Zorzal Cacao believes great things come from chocolate. From 1,019 acre bird sanctuary in the northern mountains of the Dominican Republic, they produce fine flavored, organic cacao while creating conservation solutions across hemispheres. An expression of their vision is a rare migratory songbird called Bicknell’s Thrush. Zorzal is the Spanish word for “thrush.”

Conservation

Seventy percent of the land on the bird sanctuary, Reserva Zorzal, is set aside to be forever wild. As the Dominican Republic’s first private preserve, Zorzal is a model for other landowners working towards landscape-level conservation and greater access to global markets.

Post-harvest Handling

Zorzal Cacao strives to pick each cacao pod at its optimal ripeness, removing any diseased, damaged or over-ripe fruit. The beans are then coaxed from their pods and brought to our Fermentorium where their master fermenter, Heriberto Paredes, nurtures the cacao through a process of natural fermentation and drying cycles to elicit the nuanced flavor profiles found in the high mountain rainforests of the Dominican Republic.

Community

Zorzal Cacao is dedicated to elevating communities in the Dominican Republic. They do this by creating jobs in wildlife monitoring, offering education services and employment on Reserva Zorzal and Zorzal’s Fermentorium, boosting incomes with reforestation payments, and supporting neighboring farms with best practices to garner higher prices for their product.

Reserva Priada Zorzal

Zorzal Cacao is working hard to preserve biodiversity on the 1,019 acre Reserva Zorzal. What it lacks in color, the thrush more than compensates in conservation value. By migrating annually between the Dominican Republic and North America, this endangered species establishes a conservation link across hemispheres. The company works to strengthen that link by uniting farmers, governments, scientists, non-profits, chocolate producers and investors behind cacao production and habitat protection for the Bicknell’s Thrush in the tropics as well as in the United States and Canada. It turns out that chocolate, a culinary force in its own right, can also be a force for international conservation!

Reserva Privada Zorzal is situated in the Duarte province, in the very heart of the Dominican Republic’s cacao-producing zone. Zorzal Cacao has a long term partnership with the owners of Reserva Privada Zorzal to provide economically meaningful and ecosystem strengthening activities, including the planting of diverse tree species. The owners of Reserva Privada Zorzal, some of whom are also investors in Zorzal Cacao, have set aside 70% of this reserve be ‘forever wild’. Given the scarcity of public funds for financing conservation, they're demonstrating how the private sector can become partners in sustainable cocoa production, and habitat protection for birds and other wildlife. Reserva Privada Zorzal is honored to be the Dominican Republic’s first private reserve establishing a model for private landowners to participate in the landscape-level conservation. On the reserve, they’re demonstrating to the world that they can grow cacao and safeguard biodiversity.

One of our Zorzal Comunitario partners, Dr. Enmanuel Camilo, also committed to designate over 865 acres as the second Private Reserve in the Dominican Republic.  This has expanded the Private Reserve network in the Duarte Province to 2,000 acres!

Plan Vivo Carbon Offsets

To expand conservation efforts, Reserva Zorzal partnered with Loma Quita Espuela Foundation and Consorcio Ambiental Dominicano on reforestation and habitat restoration efforts in between three Scientific Reserves – Guaconejo, Quita Espuela, and Salcedoa. The project is being third party verified and is listed under the international standard called Plan Vivo. To date, the project includes fifteen landowners who have reforested 198 acres with native tree species for Bicknell’s thrush habitat and biodiversity restoration.

The unique and novel aspect of the Plan Vivo certificates is that it links farmers in the Cordillera Septentrional to chocolate companies in the procurement chain who are willing to invest in restoration activities. The chocolate makers who buy Zorzal cacao are willing to pay an additional value for each pound of cacao to invest in Plan Vivo reforestation efforts.

Chocolate makers that are using the beans 

Raaka Chocolate (USA)

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Cacao Beans Profile: Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania

About

Tanzanian cocoa has the potential to be among the best in the world; its' genetics and terroir provide an opportunity for high-quality beans. However, prior to Kokoa Kamili's operation, Tanzanian cocoa was sold to commodity exporters whose markets depended on volume, not quality. As such, farmers had no incentive to put in the time and effort to properly ferment and dry their beans, as they would not be rewarded for doing so. This meant that Tanzanian cocoa had a poor reputation due to the post-harvest handling. Kokoa Kamili saw this as a missed opportunity. They could raise the profile of Tanzanian cocoa, and command a higher price with good quality, well-fermented beans. Smallholder farmers could have the opportunity to increase their incomes and improve their living standards, and chocolate makers could have an exciting new origin.

Sourcing

Kokoa Kamili buys 'wet' cocoa, straight out of the farmers' pods, paying more than they would receive if they were to ferment and dry the beans themselves. This means that farmers get paid more, quicker, for less work. The time and effort spent fermenting and drying beans can now be spent tending their cocoa, working on their farms, starting a small business, or just enjoying a little downtime. Life in a rural African village is hard, with household members engaged in hard physical labour from before dawn until after sunset - any extra time we can lead to extra income or a better quality of life. Kokoa Kamili buys cocoa at the farm gate, their factory, and through buying stations that they operate in nearby villages. Doing this frees up the time, expense, and effort that farmers take in accessing markets and Kokoa Kamili can ensure only the best quality beans get to our fermentary. Contrary to many operations around the world, they only buy directly from farmers, without any agents/middlemen. By offering one well-publicized price and using certified scales they are atypical in the local industry and fully transparent to farmers. 

Protocols

Kokoa Kamili ferments its' beans in locally constructed banana leaf, and rice-bag lined boxes. They use a three-tier cascade box system with a six-day ferment, with a partial overnight drain beforehand, although they are constantly experimenting with different arrangements to ensure they are able to capture the best possible flavour. During fermentation, they monitor the temperature so that they can be sure of a uniform, high-quality process. All individual day lots are evaluated, and any beans that do not meet the standard are not approved for blending and export. 

After fermentation, beans are removed for sun-drying on custom made tables. Average drying time is 5-7 days and beans are constantly raked to ensure uniformity. After drying beans, are hand-graded so that only the best are bagged for export. 

The majority of Kokoa Kamili's customers are high-end chocolate makers and as such, spend a lot of time, effort, and money on recipes development. The company prioritise the value of consistency within a shipment, so prior to every export, all beans that make the cut are blended so that the first bag in a container is exactly the same as the last. 

Flavour

The beans have predominantly fruity notes -  red fruit, berries, apples, plums, tropical fruits, as well as pleasant woody notes, and light chocolate/brownie batter notes. Kokoa Kamili works with chocolate makers around custom fermentation requirements, constantly experimenting with the protocols to ensure getting the very best of the beans!

Organic

Farmers in Kilombero have been practicing organic farming by default for generations - the lack of availability of inorganic inputs for cocoa has meant that the trees have been grown without any pesticides, inorganic fertilisers, or other chemicals. In 2015 they passed the first organic audit and have been audited every year since then! For the first time, NOP (USDA), EU and JAS certified organic cocoa from the Kilombero Valley is now available for purchase. 

Genetics

Cocoa has a long history in Tanzania, with the first introduction of the tree to the country likely taking place in the 1880s with several re-introductions of material over the past 150 years. Unfortunately, with time, the records of where the trees came from and how they were selected have long been lost, so speculations on the varieties present in Tanzania were just that - speculations. Thanks to the kindness of the Agricultural Research Service at the USDA Kokoa Kamili was able to submit a sample of the beans for DNA analysis, and the results were fascinating! Analysis showed that the beans are predominantly a classic Trinitario (Amelonado x Criollo), with the slight presence of Neo-Nacional! 

More money to farmers. 

The founders of Kokoa Kamili have spent most of our professional careers in international development. Over the course of their work they became frustrated with the top-down approach of many organisations. They decided that the most direct form of benefit for the communities they work with would be to pay high prices for their produce. Farmers are then able to decide for themselves on the best use of this extra income, whether it be upgrading their roofs, sending their children to a better school, saving for a rainy day, or simply enjoying a little more spending money. 

Seedlings

Since 2015 Kkoa Kamili has grown and distributed over 350,000 cocoa seedlings to farmers. Roughly one-third of these seedlings were given away as a sign of appreciation to the farmers, and as donations to local schools and orphanages. The remaining balance was sold below cost, for the rough equivalent of $0.05 a seedling. They charged for these seedlings based on the recommendation of village leaders who said that by doing so, they would ensure that farmers would only take as many seedlings as they had sufficient time and resources to tend.  Kokoa Kamili continues to improve their nursery operations both with more scientific tree selection for propagation and by adapting their planting protocols to ensure the best quality seedlings are grown.

Farmer training

In 2015 the Kokoa Kamili was excited to welcome Elisante Mntambwe to their team.  Elisante is a 'Bwana Shamba' - an agricultural extension field officer with specific training on cocoa agronomy. Since Elisante came on board he's been busy working directly with the farmers on their plots, troubleshooting issues that they face, and providing training on Good Agronomy Practices to help increase both the yields and the quality of cocoa they grow. 

Chocolate makers that are using the beans 

Raaka Chocolate (USA)

Read more