MAYA MOUNTAIN CACAO
Region: Toledo District
Number of Farmers: 309
Partner Since: 2010
Cacao Tasting Notes: Plum and pineapple; caramel
Maya Mountain Cacao (“MMC”) was founded with a strong social mission: to grow prosperous farming communities by connecting cacao producers to chocolate-makers. When Taza Chocolate’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, Alex Whitmore, first visited Belize in 2010, the cacao industry was struggling. Alex and his business partners, Jeff Pzena and Emily Stone, transformed the sector by building the region’s first centralized fermentation and drying facility and traveling to producers’ farms to buy their beans. Emily and community leader Gabriel Pop worked tirelessly to mobilize farmers, and MMC became the largest cacao exporter in the country within three years. Today, the company is managed by Belize-born Minni Forman as it delivers high prices and agricultural services to a network of over 300 cacao farmers, most of them Q'eqchi' and Mopan Maya.
Maya Mountain Cacao works in the southernmost Toledo District of Belize, a small country of approximately 380,000 that sits on the Caribbean coast of Central America. MMC works with over a dozen Maya communities, most of which are located throughout the stunning foothills of the Maya Mountains. In 2014, MMC began the development of a 120 acre cacao-based agroforestry farm in San Pedro Columbia in collaboration with the local farming community. Production is expected to exceed 20 metric tons by 2020.
Critical to MMC’s success is the practice of purchasing cacao in its “wet” rather than “dry” state. Cacao seeds, which grow inside beautiful red, green and yellow pods, are covered in a white fruit called “baba.” This sugary fruit breaks down into ethanol and lactic acid during the fermentation process, and the beans undergo a chemical process that releases delicious flavor notes such as fruit, nuts, and flowers. Once the fermentation is complete, the beans are sun-dried to perfection. While individual cacao producers can perform this fermentation and drying process, it is difficult and time-consuming, resulting in quality levels that vary by farm. By buying the cacao “wet” before it has fermented, MMC reduces a farmer’s workload while standardizing the process. The result is a consistently outstanding cacao for our 77% Dark Belize Origin Bar.