Taza Chocolate's Sourcing Manager, Jesse Last, shares his thoughts as he kicks off his travels for the 2016 Taza Direct Trade cacao sourcing season.
Sunblock? Check. Water bottle? Got it. Baseball cap? It says Taza on it. With these items shoved in my backpack, I could easily be on my way to a tropical beach.
Except that it's #SourcingSeason 2016. In less than a week, I leave for Guatemala's cacao country, a far more rugged, dramatic, and unpredictable landscape. So I also pack the tools of the trade: my pocket knife for cutting open cacao beans to inspect fermentation levels. The moisture meter I use to assess the beans' humidity once they've dried under the sun. And, unique to Taza Chocolate, a soon-to-be-signed copy of our Direct Trade agreement that commits Taza and our partners to sourcing cacao in a fair, sustainable, and transparent way.
When I look back at 2015 and my first year as Taza's Cocoa Sourcing Manager, I mostly see a blur of red, yellow and green cacao pods. (When I'm dreaming, sometimes I also see Bolivia's Ruta de la Muerte. Then I wake up, screaming.) If I hadn't captured my travel reflections at the time, eventually editing them down into Taza's 2015 Transparency Report, who knows what I would remember at this point!
The fact is that last year's sourcing was equal parts thrilling and overwhelming. Not only was I meeting Taza's cacao partners for the first time, I was also trying to absorb as much as possible about cacao growing and processing. Having Alex join as a mentor on several of the trips was a great help, but one I'll be without in 2016.
I will, however, have a year's worth of experience under my belt. I'll no longer ask the difference between buying cacao "wet" versus "dry." I'll be able to smell a good cacao bean fermentation before I see it. And, perhaps most importantly, I'll know to ask for a hotel room that does not face the town plaza on the night dedicated to celebrating the Peruvian village's patron saint.
Instead of worrying about these details, this year I hope to focus my time and energy on really getting to know our partners and their unique stories. My goal is to conduct an interview at each origin, asking questions about a partner's background, the best and most challenging parts of working in cacao, and their hopes for the future.
And, I plan on doing a better job of sharing these sourcing adventures in real time. While I cannot promise to live tweet my treks through cacao farms, I will snap photos of the beautiful landscapes, inspiring farmers, and of course, any animal friends I make along the way. Follow my #SourcingSeason on Taza's social media, as I crisscross Latin America and the Caribbean, providing a behind-the-scenes look at where your Taza Chocolate begins its journey.