Our last stop in Belize was a visit with Minni and the team at Maya Mountain Cacao. MMC, founded in 2010, put Belize on the craft chocolate map as the first exporter in the country to produce high-quality, centrally-fermented, transparently sourced cacao. They have 400+ certified organic smallholder cacao farming families in their network, most of them indigenous Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya.
MMC is truly an ideal partner for our farmers in southern Belize. Through their central fermentation process (read more below), they raised the bar in terms of quality for cacao exported from the region, and as a result prices for cacao in the region rose significantly. MMC notably passes much of the extra value directly back to the cacao farmers.
MMC also manages and pays for organic certification of its farmers, provides heirloom cacao seedlings from a nursery to help farmers plant new trees, extends Kiva micro-finance loans to farmers to fund operations, and operates a demonstration farm where they train community members in best practices for increasing cacao yield and quality.
Jonas & Minni lifting a 130 lb sack of Boundless Belize cacao beans!
MMC has the strongest long term commitment to farmers in the region, who typically are subject to the whims of exporters and markets, keeping them in a cycle of poverty. Most exporters come to Belize to fill a quota or purchase for a few seasons before exiting, leaving the farmers without a market for the cacao from their trees (which will produce cacao for decades!) MMC has created stability for farmers by consistently purchasing cacao from them every season, at a stable price. And MMC will buy cacao from much smaller farms than the average buyer, bringing the positive social impact of cacao to the small farms that need it most.
We're excited to share that MMC now handles 75% of the country's cacao crop! MMC's fully Belizean run team of five and the many people who contributed along the way deserve some serious applause. Our team left MMC feeling grateful and excited about the vision and stewardship being shown for our cacao every step of the way. To us, each one of these details is part of what makes our cacao ceremonial.
Read on to learn more about how your cacao is fermented, dried and sorted!
The Benefits of Central Fermentation
The MMC buying team purchases freshly harvested wet cacao beans from the farmers in the area and brings them to their central fermentery, pictured above. Compared to the industry standard model of purchasing fermented, dried cacao beans from farmers, the wet cacao purchasing model provides more cash in hand for farmers, faster payment cycles for their crops, and helps them focus on farming by removing the need to ferment and dry the beans. Read more about this process here.
Proper fermentation is one of the most important steps to producing the amazing flavor in our pure 100% Boundless Belize cacao. About 500 pounds of fruit covered cacao beans are put into each wooden box and over the next 6-9 days, sugar-eating yeasts and bacteria eat the fruit, creating chemical reactions that create heat. With sufficient oxidation from manual rotation of the beans the temperature in the boxes can reach up to 120F! Read the long version here.
Natural Drying & Sorting For Quality
For the second stage of the fermentation process, the cacao is moved onto these raised drying beds. As you can see in the photo above, the drying racks at MMC are extra special; they've added sliding drawers so the beans can be moved in and out of the sun with ease. The drying process happens first in partial sun and then the last day is in full sun, as the rate of drying further affects the flavor.
Each batch of fermented and dried cacao beans is evaluated for fermentation quality. 50 random cacao beans from the batch are placed into the grooves of a custom tool, and a slicer cuts the beans open exactly through the middle. The beans are then visually examined for fermentation level, which you can tell based on the fissure depth and the color of the bean. Lastly, beans are hand inspected for quality and blended for consistency. Read the long version here.
After all the immense collective work we put into these cups of cacao, it is so rewarding to take a break and share our Medicinal Mushroom and Boundless Belize cacao with Minni and the cacao farmers. We couldn't do it without their incredible work!