The Cacao Harvest in Nicaragua

tom with ripe cacao pods in nicaragua, goodnow farms chocolate

tom and giff on his farm just outside Matagalpa, Nicaragua

We just returned from a sourcing trip in Nicaragua!  We visited our main farmer, Giff Laube, as well as some of the farmers which supply him with the baba for our El Carmen cacao.

tom opening a ripe cacao pod in Nicaragua, goodnow farms chocolate

The good news is that, for the most part, the El Carmen/Matagalpa area of Nicaragua had a good harvest this year.  This is in contrast to most other places in the world where the cacao harvest was the worst it’s been in decades due to climate change and El Nino.

We were there at the height of the harvest, and there were numerous ripe pods on almost every tree.  Each day everyone pitched in to harvest as many ripe pods as they could, open them, scoop out the baba, and bring it to the fermentary.

 

 

 

 

tom with giff laube and ismael blandon in nicaragua

In addition to seeing the harvest at Giff’s farm we also visited the farm of Ismael Blandon.  Along with his nearby relatives he provides much of the baba which ultimately becomes our El Carmen cacao.  Not only did we get to see the pods harvested, but we even brought the full bags of baba back to Giff’s to be fermented and dried.

One thing we were able to see firsthand was how the how the current commodity price for cacao, which is currently higher than it’s ever been, has created quite a few challenges for fine flavor cacao producers like Giff.  It’s taken years for him to build a network of farmers with fine flavor beans, and train them about how to harvest and deliver the baba in order to maintain the best quality and flavor.  But, due to the current high prices opportunistic buyers are trying to buy the baba out from under him, which threatens the long term viability of his business model.  The risk for farmers is that once commodity prices decrease the opportunistic buyers will disappear, and if Giff isn’t able to buy their cacao due to downsizing his operation they’ll be forced to sell it for rock-bottom prices locally.

tom checking out ripe cacao pods in Nicaragua

In the short term this means buyers like us will be paying more for our fine flavor beans, even though we’ve always paid a premium well above commodity prices.  This creates real challenges for us, too, since we make our bars using only cacao and sugar, and not the cheap additives which are found in mass-market bars.  The fact that our bars contain much higher amounts of cacao than most mass-market bars also means any increase in the price of cacao hits us harder, too.

For now, though, due to Giff’s close relationships with all of the farmers he’s been able to keep his volume almost as high as it’s been in previous years.  And, Ismael has sold him enough beans to meet our needs for the year, which is very good news indeed.

 

 

One of the benefits of visiting Giff’s farm this year was seeing how his ancient criollo trees are doing.  He planted them over ten years ago from seeds, after having the leaves of the mother tree tested by the USDA.  The trees FINALLY produced enough cacao for a single bag, which we used to make our award-winning Yasica Especial bar.  It’s a very special and truly unique bar – it’s what cacao tasted like hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  Giff’s hopeful he’ll have enough beans to send us another bag soon, and if we get it we’ll be making more Yasica bars!

 

tom with a yasica pod in Nicaragua

Giff’s operation is incredibly well run.  He has a great team of workers, many of whom have been with him for years.  He pays everyone legally, which means they receive numerous mandatory benefits, including pension, disability and health insurance.  They also receive a “13 month” of pay – four additional weeks of pay at the end of year.  Giff also pays well above the minimum wage.

tom and giff in his fermentary in NicaraguaHis fermentation area is covered, and he uses wooden fermentation boxes which are inoculated with the yeasts and bacteria which help give his cacao its unique flavors.  He’s exceptionally skilled in fermentation techniques, and carefully monitors each box to determine the best time to turn the cacao, and when the fermentation is done.  His drying area are also covered, in order to more carefully control the rate of drying.

Giff’s El Carmen was the very first cacao we began working with and it’s always been near and dear to our heart.  We’re excited to receive this year’s harvest, including, hopefully, more Yasica!

You can find Giff’s cacao in four of our bars – El Carmen, El Carmen with Coffee Crunch, Caramelized Onion (a 2024 Good Food Finalist!) and, of course, our Yasica bar.  Try them all four yourself in our online shop!

all our bars that use el carmen cacao, goodnow farms chocolate

 

Leave a Reply