The most important thing we learned on this trip was harvesting cacao on the farms. The process of fermentation is the second most important step after the cultivar of cacao. We met with fermentation experts that shared how this process has the largest impact on the acidity and bitterness as it impacts the 400+ chemical compounds while effectively killing the organics in the bean. We learned there was at least 6 fermentation processes across the world and each had its pros and cons. Our farmer visits were as much about how Kyya can help improve the quality AND improve the price the farmers get for the beans we purchase.
It was very interesting that guys named coyotes drive by purchasing raw cacao from the farmers, pennies on the dollar. These guys work for the majors and while providing cash for the farmers, it's a very limiting process. One of the guys we worked with picked 11 bags, but only got paid for 4 as it wasn't finished cacao. Fresh faw cacao is a step before well known "fair trade" price is established is this isn't fermented and dried bean, it's in the raw. We hope that by working directly with that farmers we can significantly change that.
The most exciting part of our trip was last Friday, we were meeting with farmers in Machala, Ecuador late in the day. To get to the farmers, we had to cross a river in our SUV, as the meeting started, the rain began. As we completed our conversation, the farmers told us the river was now impassable. There was another farm road out, but it was 10 miles the other direction and it was rough. As we got in the cars, a farmer came up to our interpreter and told us - there are thieves on the road. Keep the 2 vehicles close together and do NOT stop for anything. Max speed on the road was 10-15 miles an hour, interrupted by irrigation canals where we had to stop. For 45 minutes, we kept looking around each corner. As we finally pulled out on to the main road, we all laughed about what we were doing in the name of chocolate.
We thought the excitement was done. But while we were at the airport, I got called downstairs to airport security in the bowels of the airport. My cacao bag was being inspected and my presence was requested. When I got downstairs, they pointed at my bag and spoke firmly in Spanish. I told them it was my bag and they opened it up. When they saw the cacao, they started chastising me for exporting without approval. I had taken the time to create a Straight Bill of Lading and had completed my FDA prior notice that I printed at the hotel. I had made copies and put one in the bag with the bean and one in my laptop bag. When he started to question me, I showed him the paperwork and in spanish he says "oh....ok". and that was it. He let me keep everything and let zipped up my bag and off we went. It reminded me to follow the rules and not mess around.