ALTO BENI CACAO CO.
Region: Alto Beni
Number of Farmers: 77
Partner Since: 2011
Cacao Tasting Notes: Green olive and walnut; brownie
Alto Beni Cacao Co. grew out of a partnership between Alex Whitmore, the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Taza Chocolate, and Jorge and Nelson Valverde, Bolivian brothers and the co-owners of Invalsa Coffee. Alex contributes his cacao expertise while Jorge and Nelson bring years’ experience in farmer outreach and agricultural export. Day-to-day oversight of cacao fermentation and drying is managed Mery Avircata, an inspiring leader and female pioneer in Bolivia's male-dominated cacao industry. Together with her team, Mery has developed a network of 77, organic-certified cacao farmers who value the company’s premium prices and long-term commitment to the community.
Reaching the processing facilities of the Alto Beni Cacao Co. is not for the faint of heart. Even with the recent retirement of the infamous “Ruta de la Muerte” (Spanish for “Route of Death,” commonly known as the world’s most dangerous road), its replacement is narrow, devoid of guardrails, and susceptible to thick fogs in the rainy season, dust storms in the dry one, and rock-falls year around. Surviving the trip means arriving deep in the Amazonian basin, a region with an incredible diversity of plants, animals and cultures. Cacao production occurs between two biodiversity hotspots and one Indigenous Territory home to approximately 12,000 individuals belonging to the Tsimané and Tacana peoples.
The Alto Beni region’s cacao has always been delicious. However, in the past, farmers lacked the infrastructure needed to process a consistently high quality product. Relying on storage bags or even pits dug in the ground, each farmer used to perform his or her own fermentation, resulting in wide range of cacao bean quality. Recognizing this challenge, Alto Beni Cacao Co. constructed a centralized fermentation and drying facility. The new processing plant allows producers to sell their cacao in wet, unfermented form to the Alto Beni Cacao Co. where trained technicians ferment the beans in wooden boxes before drying them under the sun, a process that consistently delivers the rich and fudgy flavor of Taza Chocolate’s Taza Chocolate’s 87% Dark Bolivia Origin Bar.