Over the years, many ceremonial cacao brands have popped up. While we respect everyone's desire to bring the power of cacao to as many people as possible, we also know that some of these products and supply chains are little better than the commercial cacao and chocolate they claim to replace. We'd like to outline some key differences in our operations here:
Unlike many other producers, we are at origin working with our farmers at least twice per year during harvest. We spend a total of a couple months a year in Ecuador to make sure the quality of cacao can be the best it can be.
Some companies claim that they buy wet cacao and use regional fermentation centers to pay higher prices to the farmers. We do not agree with this. We prefer to simply give our farmers higher prices for their labor so that they can be in control of the final product they produce. All of our farmers ferment their cacao on premises, using traditional fermentation for a longer period than most cacaos both ceremonial and commercial-grade. The end result is a much more developed flavor than other brands. Furthermore, we work with a master-fermenter that we employ to visit the other farms in our network, both to educate other farmers and keep an eye on the quality of the process. As far as we know, we are the only company that has profit-sharing agreements with our farmers. So to us, the solution is not to separate the master from their work, but rather to just pay the master well for their work. It is not the most economical path, but we feel it is best for all involved.
Other companies are split between the idea that any “criollo” cacao is ceremonial-grade or that cacao genetics don’t matter at all. Both are incorrect. It is true that indigenous strains might be considered “criollo” in laymen’s terms, but not all of these plants are created equal. It comes down much more to land and terroir of the cacao, itself. Furthermore, the idea that cacao genetic matters not at all is misguided. Anyone who has traveled extensively throughout the cacao-producing areas of Central and South America knows that the look, flavor, and nutrient profile of cacao varies tremendously depending on the plant. While it is true that every cacao tree is different, by seeking out old-growth cacao that is localized to a very small area of production, we have ensured that our supply is constricted to high-quality, heirloom-strain cacao. It is easy to walk around the farms and spot the difference: our Nacional plants look different and have a different flavor profile when the fresh pod is cut open. These pods are hand-selected for quality.
Other cacao producers, nearly to a one, purchase from bean brokers who process the beans entirely and sell them to the companies as a product. They are not significantly involved in the process of cultivating or processing the cacao. In contrast, we have a smaller network of farmers and we have personal relationships with all of them. We do employ roasting and winnowing of the cacao at origin. However, we are in control of the production process from top to bottom, personally travelling to origin to ensure quality. Last mile processing of our final product happens at our facility in New York. This keeps the money for nearly the entire process in Ecuador, directly benefitting local communities. This has been a central value of our brand from the beginning—to benefit the communities at origin.
In the pursuit of making easily consumable products, other producers have took to tempering their cacao via automated machines that can then give form to the final product. We prefer to leave the cacao as unprocessed as possible. We do heat the final cacao paste to be able to form into either blocks or larger sizes for further processing, but we prefer not to put the cacao through the full temper, as it takes the cacao further away from it’s pure form. This is why we grind some of our products into granules instead of formed pieces like other brands. This provides an easy-to-use format for the cacao lover, but does not require very hot formation.
In the end, the major Cacao Laboratory difference is this: intention. Other companies have built their operations around buying from 3rd-party bean brokers, from which they take beans from many different places, often with little connection to the land and process. This is much better to scale the business for profit. However, this was never our intention. Our intention is simply to work with a small network of farms, build personal relationships with the farmers, ensure quality by being on the ground with the farmers, and deliver the best possible product to you, the buyer. This is a necessarily constricted business model, but it is one that we feel keeps the quality at its peak and ensures equity for every member of the team that brings our cacao to your cup.
We have tried every other major brand of ceremonial cacao, and we are confident that our cacao provides the best flavor and experience of the bunch. But don’t take our word for it—read our numerous customer reviews confirming that Cacao Laboratory cacao is simply the best ceremonial-grade cacao they’ve ever had.
Where Does Our Cacao Come From?
We work with a network of farmers exclusively in the Manabí province of Ecuador. All of our cacao is grown from old-growth trees that live within an agroforestry system on small, family-held farms that practice traditional cultivation without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. In this agroforestry system, cacao and other tropical fruits such as banana and papaya grow amongst non-fruiting trees, various flowers, and other staple crops that feed the farmers’ families. This symbiotic relationship maintains the soil integrity while imparting exquisite flavors upon the cacao itself, the kinds of which we have not encountered at any other origin.
But why tell you when we can show you? Watch here to learn the story of Cacao Laboratory and visit some of of our farmers.