In 2015, Taza became the first US chocolate-maker to source high-quality, organic-certified cacao from Haiti. In 2016, we will import 50 MT of cacao from our Haitian partner PISA, more than 3x the amount we brought in last year! However, as our Sourcing Manager Jesse Last shares in his #SourcingSeason post below, rapid growth is no easy task.
Storm clouds spill across the Haitian sky, black ink blotting out the sun. I am always stunned by how quickly rain appears in the tropics, furious and torrential before leaving as abruptly as it arrived, leaving only muddy puddles as evidence of its visit. But the workers at the cacao fermentation and drying facility outside of Cap-Haitian show no surprise. As soon as the clouds begin to gather, they fill their wheelbarrows with cacao beans, carting them off the open patio where they had been drying. As the last of the beans makes it into the covered warehouse, the clouds clap above and the rain pours down.
While these beans have been rescued, the rain disrupts the rest of the supply chain. Yet another afternoon storm means that Taza's cacao partner in Haiti, Produits de Iles SA, or PISA, will not finish drying the cacao beans today. (The beans come out of the pod wet, and after a week of fermentation, need another 5-10 days in the sun to reach 7.5% moisture level or below.) Unable to dry and bag these beans, the cacao sitting in wooden fermentation boxes cannot take their place in the sun. And, with the fermentation boxes filled to the brim, the cacao collection team can no longer buy the farmers' beans. The operation grinds to a halt.
PISA's challenge is a common one. Across cacao growing regions, having enough drying space for all the wet cacao is usually a processor's first barrier to growth. Unlike stacked fermentation boxes, drying patios and decks tack up a tremendous amount of space. They can also cost a lot and usually go most of the year unused, delivering their value only at peak harvest or during extended periods of rain.
Still, PISA's President Gilbert Gonzales does not hesitate. He is on his phone before the clouds clear, searching for a contractor to quickly construct additional drying patios. Meanwhile, PISA's buying director Max Vieux makes the hard decision to slow down cacao purchasing until the existing inventory can be dried and bagged. Farmers in turn will be told to leave the ripe pods on the trees, which is fine for a few days, but after too long damages the cacao beans and means lost income.
Last but not least, Aline Etlicher, the fierce force that drives PISA's fermentation and drying, gathers her team around. Tonight will be another late one, ending around 10 or 11 PM. She'll stay with her crew until the last of the work is over. Then, she will walk a few dozen meters from the cacao warehouse to the facility's small office, climbing the set of stairs to her bed on the second floor. In the cacao industry, there is no perfect operation, and there are no shortcuts. As Taza, we are lucky to call such a determined and resilient team our partner.