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What’s Happening In Belize This Weekend?

Our bags are packed and we are ready to go!

We are flying out to Belize today to host our next group cacao farm tour and to check in with our busy cacao team on the ground.

So much is going on right now with the Belize Cacao Consortium and our farming, trading and cacao products divisions, and we will be keeping you posted over the coming weeks and months.

So stay tuned!

Our tour starts on Friday when we meet all of our intrepid travelers in Belize International airport. We then fly to Punta Gorda in Southern Belize, the heart of cacao country, where our 3 cacao farms and processing facilities are located.

We have 2 action packed days there where we will visit our nursery to check on “our babies”. Tens of thousands of baby saplings are being prepared for planting season later this year.

We will get to visit all 3 of our farms where we will see a big transformation since our last group tour in September. Since then the farms have been cleaned, prepared and are now fully planted with 80,000 saplings.

Row upon row of newly planted saplings. Quite an impressive sight.

Marion Ramirez, our Regional Director, and his farm management team have been busy!

Neat rows of newly planted cacao saplings.

We will also visit our fermentation and drying depot where we are getting ready for another busy “bean buying” season which is just about to begin.

Last year we bought and processed 21 MT’s (metric tonnes) of cacao. This season we are looking at over 50 MT’s.

This will be needed to complete the orders we have in place with some of Europe’s leading chocolate makers who for years have been unable to source a consistent, steady supply of high quality Belizean cacao beans.

Within our first 11 months of operations, we are proud to say that we can now make this happen.

Over the last few weeks we have signed up 154 Maya cacao farmers to our Bean Buying program. We can now supply them with a reliable buyer (us) for their beans, paying above the market price. Our Socially Sustainable Sapling program will supply them with much needed saplings, at no cost to them, so that they can plant out their farms.

This will enable them to fully plant their farms so they can grow enough beans to earn a decent living while supplying us with the cacao we need to meet the unfulfilled demand.

As we said from the beginning…”A rising tide floats all boats”!

Maya farmers signing up to our bean buying program.

While we are in Punta Gorda we will also have an opportunity to visit one of our socially sustainable community projects.

On November 19th the country and people of Belize celebrate the national holiday of Garifuna Settlement Day.

To commemorate this proud and historical 19th Century event the Belize Cacao Consortium adopted a common area along the waterfront and created the “Peini Park and Landing” for the people of Belize and more particularly the residents of Punta Gorda and Cattle Landing.

The “I Love Peini” sign was erected at the entrance of Punta Gorda and this sign has rapidly become a social monument seen by many people around the globe. The palapa building at the very end of the landing is multi-purpose and is being used for drumming lessons, yoga classes, study sessions, group gatherings and soon will see a few chocolate tastings as we launch new and exciting products. More on that later..

“Peini” is not only the name of our farming division, Peini Cacao Plantation Ltd., but it is also the Garifuna word for Punta Gorda. Punta Gorda (“Peini”) is populated mostly by the Maya and the Garifuna, proud & industrious people living in complete harmony in Belize. Both cultures have become an integral part of our success here at Belize Cacao Consortium.

We are delighted to be able to contribute to the community and during our tour we will be taking our attendees to Peini Park and Landing to see it for themselves.

If you are ever in Punta Gorda please pop by for a visit and send your “I Love Peini selfies” our way!

Our Belize team at Peini Park and Landing.

Next up on Monday, our 4th day, we fly to Ambergris Caye for the final day of our tour. Our chocolate store and kitchen, Mahogany Chocolate, is located in Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, a Curio Collection by Hilton in San Pedro.

This resort will have 305 rooms when fully developed.

On December 6th 2017 the resort officially opened its 1st 105 rooms and we have proudly been supplying boxes of 9 of our delicious chocolate truffles to each and every guest upon arrival.

Our tour attendees will be treated to a complete “seed to bean to bar” chocolate making workshop by our Executive Chocolate Maker, Armando Choco.

During this class they will see the raw cacao beans turned into amazing fine flavour chocolate in front of their eyes. They will even get to make their own custom chocolate bars!

You don’t get that on most “real estate” tours!

To find out more about how you can attend a future tour and how you can become a parcel Owner, visit our website at //belizecacaoconsortium.com/farms-tours/

Or give us a call on our Toll-Free number 877-208-7988.

We look forward to seeing you in Belize and hearing from you soon.

Got Cacao? The Amazing Health Benefits of Cacao

Article #5 by Trevor Miles,

President, Belize Cacao Consortium.

Today we find ourselves living in an era of information. Every day we are bombarded with articles and social media feeds that proclaim new and better ways to advance health. It’s sometimes difficult separating facts from fiction.

Over the last three to four decades “Big Pharma” has convinced most of the civilized world that anyone can simply pop a pill and everything will be ok. Major food corporations have now defined “acceptable” levels of “not-so-acceptable” ingredients and major chemical companies have engineered “not-the-best-of” chemicals that have now become a part of our DNA.

While the quality of our food supply may seem at ebb, we can effectively influence and can quite possibly even change the world through the choices we make.

As we scroll down the list of healthy alternatives we find little gems that are quite often overlooked and certainly not always available at our nearest convenience store. These are the superfoods; natural foods with amazingly high concentrations of nutrients beneficial to our health and well-being.

One such superfood dear to our heart here at the Belize Cacao Consortium is the sun dried, mahogany coloured seeds we call cacao.

Pure Mayan Gold!

As we scoop up a handful of beans and briskly rub them together we experience the beautiful aroma of the beans and simultaneously understand the complexities of single origin chocolate. Notes of molasses, berries, tropical fruit and plum are ever present yet secondary samples of different batches reveal undertones of toasted nuts, coconut and hints of citrus.

This is the art of cacao and why our recently expanded fermentation & drying depot is so closely monitored. Both Chocolate Maker and Fermentation Specialist have been collaborating and now, both grinning with pride, conclude these beans will, and already have made, some exceptional chocolate!

It’s hard to understand why people still eat mass market made chocolate!  Mass market made chocolate with all its artificial ingredients and additives is nothing more than candy and as one would expect not very healthy for you.

Adversely, dark chocolate with no artificial additives and a high percentage of cocoa solids is usually very good for you.

Raw cacao beans, beans that have not been cooked or heated, are even more exceptional and studies are now confirming that they are indeed a superfood. Here are a few of the recent findings:

  • Raw organic cacao has over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. It has an extremely high ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, vs blueberries at 2,400.  ORAC scores measure how antioxidants absorb the pollution and toxins in our bodies which can cause cell and tissue damage and can lead to diseases including cancer.
  • Cacao is the highest plant-based source of iron known to man, at a whopping 7.3mg per 100g.  This exceeds beef and lamb at 2.5mg, and spinach at 3.6mg.
  • Raw, organic cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium, the most deficient mineral in our bodies today.  Magnesium is important for a healthy heart, and helps turn glucose into energy enabling our brains to work with clarity and focus. A daily dose of vitamin C aids our bodies in the absorption of trace minerals especially magnesium.
  • Another amazing fact is that raw organic cacao has more calcium than cow’s milk, at 160mg per 100g vs only 125mg per 100ml of milk. Can anyone say, “GOT CACAO?”

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out some of these independent news articles about the health benefits of raw cacao nibs on our website.

One of the most pleasing side effects of cacao is that it is full of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, anandamide and phenylethylamine. These natural chemicals are often associated with feelings of love, wellbeing and happiness and can even alleviate depression. I guess this can also explain why most Mayan families in Southern Belize are so large and why everyone is always so happy and smiling.

The health benefits of raw cacao have been understood by the Maya people for centuries and in more recent times reserved for Chocolate Makers the world over. Roasted cacao or what the industry calls “cacao nibs” are now becoming more readily available.

Nibs are simply roasted cacao beans that have been cracked into little bits and the shells (or husks) have been winnowed away. Nibs travel easily, have a long shelf life, can be sprinkled into your morning cereal or yogurt and can be added to your favourite smoothie. For the Epicurious, nibs are great in more savoury dishes and can become terrific dry rubs for meat or chicken. Powdered nibs can also be used as a base for many exotic sauces.

Cacao, what an amazing food! So healthy and so versatile yet misunderstood by so many. We are tremendously happy to be bringing these great cacao products to market.

J Trevor Miles
President
Belize Cacao Consortium

What A Week In The Tropics!

Article no 4.

  1. Trevor Miles, President Belize Cacao Consortium.

 

The earth shook and four major tropical storms spiralled all around us yet we had some of the most beautiful weather Belize has ever seen. Flat calm seas, lots of sunshine and lots of new friends all gathered in Belize for our second Belize Cacao Consortium group tour of 2017.

All of our guests arrived safe and sound without any unexpected airline delays. Catherine Barothy, our VP of Operations Belize, was at the International airport greeting everyone in her brightly coloured, green Peini Cacao Plantation t-shirt while the rest of the team headed down to Punta Gorda in anticipation of everyone’s arrival.

After touching down in Punta Gorda and settling into their rooms everyone met around the pool for a “Meet & Greet” social before heading off for dinner. Waluco’s by the Sea did a terrific job and after an excellent meal everyone turned in for an early morning start the next day.

The morning newscasts showed storms intensifying in the Eastern Caribbean. Early morning in Belize at the Coral House, our home for the weekend, showed shimmering sunlight reflecting off calm blue seas. Fresh fruit, scones and exotic monkey bread were paired nicely with dark coffee. After breakfast, we were off on our cacao farm tour.

The first stop was at our Peini Cacao Plantation nursery. This is where the entire business of chocolate begins. Guests were treated to hands on demonstrations of the entire seed to sapling process. One never truly appreciates all the hard work and detail that goes into developing a proper plantation.

Here everyone could see for themselves the entire process and witness first-hand the extremely delicate and very deliberate method of grafting precious mother wood onto solid local cacao root stock.

After the nursery, our team ventured onwards to one of our 3 operating farms. Here guests had a chance to see and harvest cacao growing on the trees. Those more adventurous got down on one knee and split pods open to dig out the sweet beans hidden inside. Mr. Feliciano Pop, our Farm Manager and the gentleman in charge of our nursery, did a terrific job and kept everyone on their toes throughout his entire farm presentation.

Lunch at the Pop’s family home was once again exceptional and prepared by Feliciano’s Mother & Sisters. Everyone was treated to a local Belizean lunch of rice & beans and grilled, farm fresh chicken and got to try Caldo, a clear Mayan soup made with chicken, peppers, fresh herbs and served with handmade corn tortillas.

Once recharged we were off again to find Mr. Eladio Pop at the family’s Agouti Farm. Eladio, the father of Feliciano and 14 other siblings, is quite often referred to as a cross between Darwin and Robinson Crusoe. His knowledge of his farm is evident and he gave a great presentation about how one can live in harmony with nature.

The first day of the tour now coming to an end the group dined and imbibed under the stars at Belcampo Resort and chose from “farm to table” menu selections that change daily based on what their garden produces.

Day two of the tour revealed Eastern Caribbean storms cycling in size between Category 4 and Category 5. In Belize, pelicans broke the early morning sunshine as they dove for fish and shrimp immediately in front the hotel.

Some more energetic guests donned their running shoes and went for an early morning run through the quiet town of Punta Gorda. Once back and everyone fed we were again off to the heart of Belize Cacao Consortium. The fermentation & drying Depot.

The Depot on arrival was customarily busy. The men were busy raking, sunning and bagging many tons of mahogany coloured cacao beans. Samuel Tzui, our Depot Manager and our fermentation and drying specialist, was waiting patiently for our arrival.

Sam has a lot to share and is very proud of his award-winning recipes for processing great cacao beans. Everyone saw first-hand the entire bean fermentation process, from delivery to finished product. Guests were encouraged to try raw, fermented cacao for the first time. While not quite chocolate at this stage everyone could certainly smell chocolate in the air.

Afternoon took us through an extensive local spice farm and a tour of the ancient Maya site Lubaantun. It’s simply astounding what can be grown in Belize. Equally astounding is the great Maya civilization that enjoyed these lands well before our arrival. Today many people speak of single origin cacao.

How about Belize’s single origin cacao strains dating as far back as AD 730?

Coral House ended the southern portion of the tour with an exceptional private dinner while everyone listened to the Garifuna drummers that were playing pool side exclusively for us.

On Monday everyone was up early, breakfast was enjoyed and we headed over to Tropic Air for a flight North to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

Armando Choco, our Executive Chocolate Maker and his team, together with Catherine Barothy (in a Mahogany Chocolate t-shirt this time) were awaiting everyone’s arrival. After a quick check in and excellent lunch at Shaken on MBR campus, everyone attended Armando’s chocolate making class. Our tour guests had a chance to make their own personalized chocolate bars using our fine chocolate with added ingredients such as fruits, nuts, nibs, coconut and more according to their own specific tastes and preferences.

Guests were also able to sample a variety of truffles, pralines and dark chocolate squares thereby completing the entire value-added chain of “seed to bar”.

The tour ended with an exceptional dinner at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club. It was a great week and many new friends were made. We look forward to seeing future tour groups here in Belize in the very near future.

– JTM

Introducing Trevor Miles-President of Belize Cacao Consortium

From reading our regular newsletters you will have heard us mention Trevor Miles on numerous occasions. Those of you who attended our inaugural cacao tour back in May got to spend time with him and his family.

As President of the Belize Cacao Consortium (BCC), a native Belizean, well-respected and well-known local business man, Trevor really is “the face” of BCC in Belize.

His knowledge and connections in the local Maya cacao community are invaluable and we are happy to begin sharing some of it with you.

Below is the first of many communications that you will receive from Trevor and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we do.

Take it away Trevor!

 

Famed writer and adventurist Aldous Huxley once wrote, “If the world had any ends Belize would be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere, to anywhere else. It is all but uninhabited.”

Little did Mr. Huxley realize that the southernmost end of the world was indeed inhabited, populated by the indigenous Maya, with their hidden civilization deeply rooted in agriculture. One of the proud people’s primary and most sacred crops was cacao. It was traded throughout Central America as a form of currency and became the ultimate symbol of security and status. The more cacao a Maya farmer possessed, the better his family’s future.

Circa 2017, Belize’s Maya continue to draw from their ancestral knowledge to identify the best cacao lands, how to source the highest yielding plants and how to use the natural elements such as the sun to create some of the finest flavour cacao beans in the world. This is the very heart of the Belize Cacao Consortium (BCC) and we are thankful to walk amongst and continually learn from these people.

While visiting BCC’s extensive nursery I witnessed a Mayan gentleman sitting on a little homemade desk set amongst a sea of green saplings, all but his head and shoulders hidden by the lush green leaves. His hands were deliberate, his eyes focused and each cut was made to that of a trained surgeon ensuring the perfection of each grafted tree. He looked up for a moment and saw me standing there and immediately smiled. His face filled with amusement and with the friendly sarcasm of a skilled professional he asked, “Want to try it?” My initial response was to say yes but I regressed and said that for now I will leave it to the professionals, but when I come back I will be happy to learn.

I then moved over to BCC’s newly established cacao depot set atop a high hill to ensure full sunlight and continuous airflow. No one was expecting my visit yet everyone was busy going about their daily routines creating BCC’s line of fine flavour cacao beans. Men were raking rows and rows of mahogany coloured beans on the drying decks while others were rotating wet beans in the fermentation boxes. A small group of women were huddled together busily sorting a huge pile of properly fermented and dried beans ensuring that only the best and fattest beans will be taken to market. Everyone smiling and chatting away in their native Mayan tongue yet the work never stopped. At this moment, I understood how the great Mayan civilization was created – by the many hands of skilled and hardworking people consistently performing their duties to the best of their abilities.

My deep thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a sudden torrential downpour of rain. No hard winds or flashing lightning gave warning. I looked down into the adjacent valley of the depot property expecting to see everyone running for dry shelter. The men were still staggered at various points along the mountainside busy planting newly grown cacao saplings. No one stopped planting. No one ran for cover. I walked down into the valley and as I passed, each employee looked up from his planting task and smiled. When asked about the rain the response was, “Yes! Now it’s nice and cool and the trees love it!”

As suddenly as the rain began the sun reappeared. Water glistened off shades of green in every direction. The air now fresh and charged with life was again flowing through the valley. I know our trees will do well here. The soil, the people, the elements and the combined experience are all contributing to the success of BCC’s cacao plantations. These newly planted cacao trees will grow strong and bear much fruit and will fill BCC’s coffers with many tons of fine flavoured cacao beans.

In retrospect, maybe Mr. Aldous Huxley had it wrong. Maybe Belize is not the end of the world …but instead …. only the beginning. One with a bright future for cacao with many chapters yet to be filled.

J. Trevor Miles
President, Belize Cacao Consortium.

Belize Cacao Tour
Belize Cacao Tour Update Video!

It seems like only yesterday that we hosted our inaugural cacao farm tour in Belize…back in May!

And now just around the corner is our 2nd group tour which is scheduled for September 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th.

It promises to be another fun-filled and educational 4 days (or more, if you wish) in the Tropics.

We will take you on a journey like nothing you have experienced before.

Starting in the jungles of Southern Belize you will be immersed in the Maya Cacao culture. You will experience the living and working conditions first-hand of the people who work so hard day-in and day-out to provide us with the basic ingredient for our favorite chocolate treats.

But you can still stay in a nice hotel!

During these 4 days we will take you all the way through the chocolate making process, literally from “seed to bean to finished chocolate product”.

Or as we like to call it “from dirt to dollars”

You will walk through our nursery and learn all about grafting versus regular seedlings and why we chose the varietals of cacao that we did. You will walk the farms and see how and why we prune our trees so diligently and how the farmers harvest the cacao pods.

At our purpose built fermentation and drying depot, already the biggest in Belize by the way, you will witness the meticulous care that our team takes with our cacao beans through every step in the process.

The locals call it Maya Gold for a reason!

And we will round off the tour on Monday day 4 in Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club on Ambergris Caye, a Curio Collection by Hilton 4-Star resort, and home to our Mahogany Chocolate shop and state-of-the-art chocolate making kitchen.

Here you will receive a chocolate making class from our Executive Chocolate Maker, Armando Choco, and you will walk away with some artisanal chocolate that you made yourself.

To give you a “taste” of what is in store we are pleased to provide you with a short video of our last group tour.

And also the most recent update video from Robert Helms as he shows us around Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club and the progress being made there.

We still have a few seats available on this upcoming tour so if you like what you have been reading in our newsletters and what you see in the videos, please contact me by phone or email and we will reserve your seats on this truly unique cacao experience.

THE 3rd AND FINAL PART OF OUR AMAZING CACAO TOUR IN BELIZE!

Welcome back again for the 3rd and final part of our amazing group cacao farm tour.

There was so much to tell you that we simply could not pack it all into 1 email, or even 2!

Even after reading this there will still be lots of information that it was just not possible to squeeze in.

Luckily for you, we are taking reservations now for our 2nd 2017 Group Cacao Farm Tour in Belize which is booked for September 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th.

So, back to the tour where we left you as the team and our group of intrepid travelers were arriving in beautiful Ambergris Caye and on our way to Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club (MBR). MBR is a Curio Collection by Hilton resort and home to our 5-star gourmet chocolate shop and production kitchen, Mahogany Chocolate.

The group was treated to a free class in the art of chocolate making hosted by our Executive Chocolate Maker, Armando Choco.

Starting with the fermented and dried beans which came from our depot the day before, Armando talked everyone through the next stages in the process from “seed to bean to bar”. From roasting, cracking, winnowing and tempering all the way to the finished chocolate product.

And every one of our attendees got hands on in every stage.

First Armando demonstrated the “old school” traditional Maya way of completing each stage by hand. Then he demonstrated how our brand new, 5-star chocolate making equipment completed the same steps in less time, more efficiently and more precisely.

He explained the importance of only using zero defect beans in our chocolate. Most of the sorting for this very important stage is still done by hand. Armando also explained the importance of only using perfectly fermented and dried beans to give our chocolate its distinct profile, smooth texture and sharp snap!

Suddenly everything we witnessed back in our fermentation and drying depot the day before started to come together!

There is certainly an art to making gourmet, fine flavor/organic chocolate and Armando showed off some of his skills by hand tempering the liquid chocolate on our granite counter top before filling the molds to make the shells for our truffles.

Once the molds were set, our tour attendees got to try their hands at filling the truffles with our delicious mixed berry, caramel or banana foster fillings. The attendees did very well and one or two may even have a future in chocolate making. The same cannot be said for yours truly!

With the truffles filled it was time for each of the attendees to make their own chocolate bar which they got to take home with them as a souvenir.

You need good timing and a steady hand to fill your chocolate bar molds from the liquid 70% dark chocolate pouring from the Compatta, our chocolate tempering machine. After shaking out the bubbles each attendee added a selection of toppings of their choosing and placed their molds in the fridge to set.

Then it was out to the front of the store where everyone got to sample some of the delicious chocolate truffles, hot and cold drinking chocolate and cacao nibs that we have on sale in our store, Mahogany Chocolate, now open 7 days a week from 11am to 6pm in the Downtown Area of Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club.

When class was over and everyone was freshened up, we hosted our last meal of the tour, our farewell to Belize group dinner at Shaken, MBR’s casual dining restaurant.

Drago and his crew did an amazing job setting us up poolside and serving a delicious meal. Tour attendees and team members swapped contact information as new-found friends for life made plans to meet up again soon.

We chatted with our attendees after dinner to see what their biggest take-away was from the tour. Almost everyone one of them told us that they were leaving with a new-found appreciation for all the hard work and dedication that goes into making a product that we typically take for granted.

No one stops to think about the farmers and the workers who grow and produce cacao, about the conditions they live and work in or about how little they receive as compensation for all their hard work.

And all of our team are very pleased to be a part of the Belize Cacao Consortium’s plan to help right that wrong by rewarding the workers, treating them with respect and providing a better way of life for them and their families.

WELCOME BACK FOR PART 2 OF OUR AMAZING CACAO TOUR!

We finished up the last newsletter with the team and our intrepid travelers arriving at our newly built fermentation and drying depot in San Antonio, Belize.

This purpose built facility can already handle up to 40 metric tonnes of raw cacao annually and plans are in place to expand the facility over the coming months to increase capacity to over 60 metric tonnes.

That’s a lot of cacao!

This stage in the process is critical in producing high quality fine flavor cacao. And unfortunately is ignored by far too many cacao producers.

No amount of skill in the kitchen can make 5-star gourmet chocolate out of improperly fermented and inadequately dried beans. Fermentation and drying are where the flavors develop.

This is why we built the facility so that we can have 100% control over all of the beans we buy from the local Maya farmers making sure they are processed correctly.

The biggest single point of failure for international buyers when it comes to getting what they want in Belize, is that they cannot get a reliable, steady, consistent supply of high quality beans.

With this new facility and our team of experts in place we will solve that problem.

When the wet beans are collected from the local farmers they arrive at the depot in buckets or sacks and are placed into our fermentation racks which you can see below.

These were very carefully built using precise measurements and a specific type of wood to get the best results for our beans.

The beans are placed into the top box and covered with banana leaves. In these boxes a magical process takes place…naturally!

Don’t just take my word for it….see for yourself!
http://thechocolatejournalist.com/fermentation-magical-step-chocolate/

Inside these wooden boxes the yeast and micro-organisms begin to break down the wet cacao beans and give off a huge amount of heat. With temperatures getting up to  40°/ 45°C (104-113°F) during the first 48 hours of fermentation.

As the pulp starts to break down and the juices drain away, it leaves space for more air and bacterial activity. In the meantime, the seeds are prevented from germinating which would make the beans taste bitter.

The beans are moved through the 5 levels in our fermentation rack until they reach the bottom box.

Fermentation will last between 5 to 7 days depending on many factors (type of beans, quantity, fermentation method, etc).

Our team at the depot will constantly monitor the beans and perform “cut tests” where they cut a selection of beans in half to see if they are fully fermented. When the beans have passed the cut test and have reached a “chocolate color”, they can start the drying process.

The first time I saw the drying beds chock-full of cacao beans I was quite impressed.

The beans are laid out in batches in the drying racks and raked every few hours. You can see a noticeable difference in the color of each lot as they get to the optimum level of moisture content. We still use a lot of the traditional Maya techniques, but by adding quality material and modern equipment like moisture meters will can fine tune our process to get the exact results we want.

When I say we, I really mean our Mahogany Chocolate Executive Chocolate Maker, Armando Choco. All chocolate makers love to say that they make “bean to bar” chocolate, but not many can boast actually being hands-on in the farms, in the nursery, in the fermentation and drying depot and actually being able to control each process to produce the type and quality of beans that he needs for his many chocolate recipes.

Truly a “seed to bean to bar” operation.

We always try to make out tours a balanced experience between education and fun as well as including some cultural experiences.

Well it’s hard to get a more unique cultural experience than visiting an ancient archeological Maya site and witnessing a re-enactment of historical customs and traditional ceremonies.

As part of the 11th Annual Cacao Festival we attended an event at the Nim Li Punit ruins where we were treated to traditional dancing, music, food and even got to see an ancient sport re-enacted for the first time in hundreds of years.

It truly was an amazing and unique experience.

And it’s great to see young people who are committed to keeping their heritage alive.

Our tour attendees were able to pick up hand crafted souvenirs and help to support this initiative.

The highlight for most of us, I think it’s safe to say, was being able to see a sports called Pok ta Tok played between two ancient Maya temple ruins by locals dressed and painted like their ancestors were, competing using an 11lb rubber ball and not being able to use their hands or feet!

After this we all went back to the hotel to freshen up and enjoy our “farewell to Punta Gorda” dinner which we held poolside at the hotel.

We were entertained by local Garifuna drummers, our tour attendees got to learn some traditional dance moves and we even got to toast the weekend with some Na’Lu’um Cacao liqueur.

Next morning we were up bright and early to fly to Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club on Ambergris Caye to witness our cacao being made into amazing, fine flavor chocolate bars and truffles.

Stay tuned for the 3rd and final part of this tour report.

WE JUST HAD AN AMAZING CACAO TOUR IN BELIZE

On Wednesday morning we said good-bye to the last of our tour attendees who were flying back home after a fun-filled, educational and unique cacao tour, a tour like nothing else they had experienced before.

This group cacao farm tour is not for the faint hearted!

If you really want to see where the raw ingredients of your favorite chocolate comes from and meet our team of native Maya cacao farmers, be prepared to get your hands and boots muddy and to experience the conditions they work in on a daily basis. It’s equally as hot and sweaty as it is eye-opening an informative.

We are happy to say that all of our attendees left with a smile on their face and a new found appreciation for the hard work and dedication that the Belize Cacao Consortium’s “boots on the ground” team put in week-in and week-out.

Our inaugural group cacao farm tour began in Belize International airport where we all gathered and most of us met for the first time, after flying in from 8 different destinations. One group got in extra early and so they were treated to an impromptu tour of our downtown Belize City chocolate kitchen!

Then we all squeezed into 2 little 15 seater Tropic Air planes and flew down to Punta Gorda, in Southern Belize, where our farms are located and our tour began.

We hosted a “get to know you” cocktail hour at our host hotel, the Lodge at Big Falls, a beautiful and somewhat rustic Eco-Lodge which we booked out exclusively for our tour attendees. It was a great place to relax and recharge and “really” get in touch with nature. Some got more in touch with the local wildlife than they anticipated!

Friday evening we attended the opening ceremony of the 11th annual Wine and Chocolate festival. Every year the local chocolate makers get to display their hand made chocolate products at this event. Usually made with beans they grew themselves and hand processed in the original Maya tradition using stone tools, just as their ancestors did centuries ago.

We were also treated to some amazing local music as a Garifuna drumming band was there to perform. It was a full-on cultural experience enjoyed by everyone.

Saturday morning started bright and early as we headed off to see our babies, all 120,000 of them!

Gabriel Pop, our Regional Director and Founder of the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute, has been instrumental in building our 22,500 square feet nursery and then planting and caring for our baby cacao trees.

Gabriel and his team explained how only the best seeds are selected from “mother trees” to make it into the nursery as well as explaining our plans for grafting in phase 2. More on that in a few months!

After the nursery we headed off to the first of our 3 farms, a 31 acre property in the district of Columbia. Here Gabriel’s brother Feliciano took us through the farming methods his father had passed on to him and that he and the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute were now passing on to the local Maya cacao farmers who need their help.

He showed us all how to prune, how to select only the perfectly ripe pods and how to harvest these pods and collect the seeds inside. We were delighted to see our attendees get their hands dirty cracking pods and scooping out the raw cacao seeds.

He also explained the challenges facing the local subsistence cacao farmers and what we are doing to help.

Hot, sweaty and tired we then headed off for lunch! hosted by Eladio Pop, father to Gabriela, Feliciano and 13 other children! We were all welcomed into their home where his family had prepared a very traditional meal of stew chicken, rice, beans, salad and homemade lemon juice. And of course some of Eladio’s organic, hand-made chocolate for desert.

Eladio had been described to me by David Sewell as being a mix between Robinson Crusoe and Darwin! It proved to be an apt description.

After lunch we went to see Eladio’s farm which he has worked for the last 42 years. He uses no machines or chemicals. He only uses what nature and the animals provide and he lives off what his farm gives him.

It must be working because he sprang up the steep hills like a 15 year old!

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed listening to his stories and were amazed when he started to pull all-spice leaves from the trees, turmeric from the ground and showed us medicinal cures that nature provides and that he has used to heal his 15 children when they were sick.

He is a remarkable human being

By this stage everyone was beat so we headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and cooled down before having dinner by the sea in Asha’s, made with 99.9 percent Love! (Inside joke! Come on a tour to find out)

Sunday morning we went to visit the 2nd of our 3 farms in San Antonio, a 24 acre farm that has been cut back and pruned by the team at Peini Cacao Plantation over the last 8 months.

The jewel at the farm is our cacao fermentation and drying depot. This facility was built from scratch under the supervision of Trevor Miles and Gabriel Pop. It now has the capacity to ferment and dry up to 40 metric tonnes of cacao.

To put that into perspective that is equal to at least half of the entire national production of Belizean cacao.

The fermentation and drying process is critical in providing a steady, consistent supply of high quality, zero defect, fine flavor/organic cacao that is in such a huge demand today but in a very limited supply.

Until now!

By now you must be as tired from reading this as our attendees were during the tour, so tune in next week for part 2.

We will take you through the fermentation and drying process in more detail and then take you with us to Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club on Ambergris Caye where you will see inside our retail store and 5-star chocolate making kitchen, Mahogany Chocolate, where you will learn more about the final stages of the chocolate making process.

OUR CACAO FARM MANAGEMENT TEAM IN BELIZE

Those of you familiar with us, when we set up International Coffee Farms in Panama back in 2014, know that we started out with just a small team and our first farm was a very small farm. A mere 3.3 hectares (8.3 acres) acquired in January 2015!

We added the 2nd farm a month later and then another, and another, and each time we added a farm we added the appropriate number of workers as we needed them.

No need to overburden a new company with excess staff and not much coffee (yet)!

Andres Lopez started as a consultant and as we grew and grew he came on full-time as the Farm General Manager and now he is International Coffee Farms General Manager and in charge of everything from seed to exportable green bean, with a full-time team of 21 permanent workers, and with about 35 temporary contract cherry pickers, looking after 10 farms totaling just under 100 hectares (250 acres).

When we began structuring the Belize Cacao Consortium we knew we needed an “Andres of Cacao” and Trevor Miles, our President, knew just the man.

Gabriel Pop is the Founder and Executive Director for the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute.

Gabriel is a Belizean cacao farmer through and through. He knows his people, the native Maya farmers, and the land and he and his team know everything there is to know about growing cacao.

Farming practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. With a few sprinklings of modern techniques added in.

We joke that he could lick the soil and tell you what minerals are missing…and he probably could!

Click on the link below to view his Bio on our site and if you wish check him out on Facebook.

https://belizecacaoconsortium.com/management-team/

Gabriel recognizes the amazing quality and even greater potential of Belizean fine flavor/organic cacao. He also knows the obstacles that the local subsistence farmers face, like lack of funding, inadequate training and most of all getting a steady supply of their product to market in quality condition.

So he set up the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute to educate, train and help his fellow Maya cacao farmers.

To educate them on how best to manage their land like a business, not just taking what nature provided. How to harvest, process and ferment their cacao to produce the highest quality cacao that is in such high demand, yet limited supply.

Like most non-profits, he struggled to make as big an impact as he would really like due mainly to the lack of funding.

When David Sewell, our Founder, first met Gabriel he took him and his wife Debra trekking through local cacao plantations, served them lunch in their basic huts, drank cacao the traditional Maya way from dried gourds giving them a glimpse of his culture.

Gabriel then spent a few days explaining the problems the local farmers face and what he needed to fix them.

Right away David knew we had our man.

In the photo above you probably recognize the 2 usual suspects on the left! With Gabriel in the center and on the right you have Marion and Mr. Em both BCT key employees.

The Belize Cacao Consortium has a very special relationship with Gabriel and the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute. Gabriel has already used his vast experience and local connections to help us identify the 3 farms we own so far.

He oversaw the construction of our nursery which already holds 120,000 newly planted seedlings that will be ready to plant in our farms in a few short weeks, come rainy season.

He consulted and advised on the design and location of our fermentation racks which were completed a few months ago and are in daily use. The size, location and type of wood used are all vitally important for the fermentation process. One of the most important stages in processing fine flavor/organic cacao and often done improperly.

The Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute (which is Maya for Mother Earth) are also supplying the farm labor staff for the work we are undertaking on our farms including cleaning, pruning, preparing the soil and cutting back trees.

Gabriel has also been instrumental in the design of our new cacao bean drying depot which has just been completed and is now drying beans daily.

Now, all of the above is great in helping the Belize Cacao Consortium but how does it help the local cacao community?

Together with Gabriel and the Na’Lu’um Cacao Institute we are implementing several local programs as part of our Social Sustainability initiative.

For those farmers who really want to work their way out of this cycle of poverty they find themselves stuck in, we can help.

Through Belize Cacao Traders (BCT) we can act as a steady, consistent buyer for their cacao paying a premium over the local going rate for buying wet beans. The going rate is so low it’s no wonder they cannot afford to plant new trees! With a guaranteed buyer they are more motivated to plant, grow and harvest the cacao and to do so to a high standard.

On top of the increased purchase price, we will also provide 20% of that cash sale back to them in the form of “credit” which can be used to acquire saplings from our newly built nursery.

This program should eliminate the cycle of poverty for those farmers as it allows them to add more tees to their property thereby producing more cacao to provide for their families in the future.

We are not just giving it away though. If they want us to continue to buy their beans then the quality needs to be good and they need to be actively growing their farm using the seedlings we provided.

The Na’Lu”um Cacao Institute will also provide ongoing training on how to run their farms more efficiently and how to care for the seedlings.

We are launching a “Millennium Starter Pack” for the younger adults who are old enough to work and even have family land, but have no capital to start a cacao farm.

Once they have been vetted and approved by Gabriel we will supply the saplings for them to get started and Gabriel will supply the training. Once in production, BCT will provide a steady, reliable buyer for their beans at a fair price. This micro financing program will be provided over a ten-year period with repayments beginning in 5 years when the trees mature.

It is not just a catchphrase when we say “a rising tide floats all boats”!

There is such a shortfall between the demand for Belizean fine flavor/organic cacao and the current supply that we cannot fill this gap by ourselves, nor do we want to, but we can help the community as a whole to meet the demand and then we all prosper together.

The international cacao trading arm of BCC, Belize Cacao Traders, is already buying beans every weekend from existing local farmers who have been vetted by Gabriel. To date, we have acquired about 24 metric tonnes (53,000 lbs.) of wet, raw cacao beans and signed up about 50 Maya cacao farmers to our sustainability programs.

Those of you reading this who were at our soft opening on April 6th, got a chance to visit our chocolate shop, Mahogany Chocolate, in Ambergris Caye and to try the amazing chocolate treats our team prepared. These chocolates were all made from cacao purchased from these Maya farmers and processed by BCT.

So we really hit the jackpot when we found Andres in Boquete and lightning struck twice when we found Gabriel in Belize.

Under his guidance I think it’s fair to say our Cacao is in safe hands.

If you want to get a chance to meet Gabriel come and join us on one of our Group Cacao Farm Tours. Unfortunately our inaugural group tour May 19th– 22nd is completely full but if you move quickly you can sign up for our next tour on September 8th to 10th.

We look forward to seeing you in beautiful Belize!

THE BELIZE CACAO CONSORTIUM GROUP TOUR

We are pleased to invite you to come and spend a fun-filled and educational weekend getting to know the team at the Belize Cacao Consortium and to learn all about what it takes to grow fine flavor cacao and make gourmet artisanal chocolate.

This is our inaugural group tour in the amazing country of Belize and we currently have 6 (of only a total of 16) spaces left.

Learn all about the whole chocolate making process from “seed to bean to bar” and get to know the team that makes this happen.

Below is the itinerary and travel details for our next tour, May 19th to 22nd. If you are interested in attending or learning more about what is involved, please visit the Farm Tour section on our website www.belizecacaocconsortium.com or respond to this email.

See you in Beautiful Belize!

 

Fri May 19, 2017

The tour kicks off on Friday May 19th.

You must arrive at Belize International Airport (Phillip W. Goldson, Belize City, Belize) no later than Friday morning or very early afternoon. (before 1:30 – 2 pm CST). Be aware that the local time in Belize is Central Standard Time.
On Friday afternoon we will all be taking a short, and very scenic, flight down the west coast of Belize to Punta Gorda, in the beautiful Toledo region of Southern Belize, to spend the next 2 days and 3 nights exploring Cacao Country!

We will meet you at the Belize International airport per your personal travel itinerary and be sure you get onboard the Cacao Country adventure flight!

We will book your round-trip flight for you with Tropic Air from Belize International to Punta Gorda on Friday May 19 and return to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye on Monday, May 22, the last day of the tour.  The Tropic Air flight will depart from the Belize international airport (Phillip W. Goldson) at 2:45 pm.  You will receive a confirmation email directly from Tropic Air once we book and pay for your flight (your credit card information will be required with your tour registration for us to be able to make this payment on your behalf).

We have local ground transportation organized to collect you at the airport in Punta Gorda and transfer you to our host hotel, The Lodge at Big Falls.

The whole hotel is reserved just for us! … and we have organized a discounted room rate for all attendees (see Your Responsibilities below). Our team will introduce you to the hotel staff when you are ready to book your trip so you can finalize and pay for your hotel reservation.  Your reservation must be complete not later than Monday, May 8, to ensure you have a seat on this amazing weekend tour.

Friday evening is already planned out!
5:00 pm…  Welcome Reception at the hotel… The Lodge at Big Falls

6:00 pm… We will be attending the Gala Wine and Chocolate Festival Dinner … 11 th Annual Belize Chocolate Festival Kick- Off Celebration, food and drinks included, with local chocolatiers displaying Belize’s best (until Mahogany Chocolate enters the market!)

 

Saturday May 20

7 – 8 am…Wake up to an amazing (all inclusive) gourmet breakfast at The Lodge at Big Falls
Saturday morning starts with us leaving the hotel at 8 am, with cameras at the ready for an amazing day of education in the “Art of Cacao Science”.

First, a guided tour of our own Belize Cacao Traders brand new cacao processing depot in San Antonio, where the “magic” of fermenting and drying wet cacao beans actually happens every day.  The most critical stage in creating delicious gourmet chocolate.

Then, we’ll walk an easily accessible part of one of our nearby Peini Cacao Plantation’s producing 31 acre farms. You will get to see, touch and hug a whole farm of real “chocolate” trees!

Next will be a real treat, and time to relax and take a break, with a traditional lunch provided by Eladio Pop and his family at their home in Columbia Village … the coolest traditional Maya food experience in Belize.  You can buy some authentic handmade Maya souvenirs right from the family.

After lunch…

Enjoy a once in a lifetime experience with Eladio Pop personally guiding you on a tour of his amazing nature preserve and cacao farm. He is truly a cross of Robinson Crusoe and Darwin! He will give you an afternoon that you will never forget.

Then we’ll take you to downtown Punta Gorda so you can enjoy an hour at the Chocolate Festival Street Fair, meet the locals, shop for gifts and enjoy an ice cold Belikin (the famous beer of Belize).

Then on to dinner at Asha’s…. right on the Caribbean Sea. With undoubtedly the best seafood buffet, drinks and Reggae music in Punta Gorda.  Afterwards, we can enjoy the fireworks at 9 pm.

After a very full day, fully sated with food and drink, tired and ready for bed … back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep!

 

 

Sunday May 21

8 – 9:30 am…Another amazing (all inclusive) gourmet breakfast at The Lodge at Big Falls

Then on to visit with our “babies” – experience Belize Cacao Consortium’s own nursery with 120,000 baby cacao trees getting themselves ready to be planted this year, so they can grow up to produce fine flavor specialty cacao on Peini Cacao Plantation farms.  You will learn how the ancient Maya germinated cacao “seeds” and created their own nurseries, a skill still practiced in much the same manner today, all the way through to the saplings being ready for grafting and planting.

After the nursery experience, we will visit the local Mayan House Museum to learn more about the culture and the cacao process.  Bathrooms will be available and you may even be able to buy a few souvenirs to take home!

Then in the early-afternoon, another experience you won’t forget.  The Chocolate Festival of Belize is hosting, at the ancient Maya ruins of Nim Li Punit, an afternoon of cultural events, an ancient Maya baseball game re-enacted as it was actually played 500 hundred years ago, a local soccer tournament, Garifuna and others music and entertainment, food and drinks and generally a fun-in-the-sun (hopefully!) afternoon to be enjoyed by all.

Once we are full of fun and culture, we will head back to The Lodge at Big Falls for some rest and relaxation…

A swim in the pool… or if you wish, a nap could be in order.

Or you can go on a guided river tubing adventure for an hour on the river that surrounds the hotel property …. Or use the hotel kayaks, both are right on the property!

Then freshen up for our come-as-you-are Sunday evening…. Party by the Pool!

6:00 pm – ish… cocktails and friendship

6 – 8 pm… Native Garifuna drummers and dancers will entertain you in typical Belizian Caribbean style

6:30…BBQ sunset dinner poolside

Stay up as late as you wish but remember…we all fly to Mahogany Chocolate at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club on Ambergris Caye on Monday morning.

Monday May 22


Finally, you can sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast!  The buses will leave the hotel about 10 am for the Punta Gorda airport and we will arrive in the San Pedro airport about 1:30 pm, after 2 spectacular short hops over Belize and the Caribbean Sea.

The rest of the afternoon will be spent learning the intricate details involved in “creating” gourmet hand-made artisanal chocolate.  Our Executive Chocolate Maker, who will have been with us throughout the weekend, and his very talented associate will give you an unforgettable first-hand look at the process of actually making gourmet chocolate from the beans you saw just a few days before growing on our farms and ageing in our processing depot….all in our brand new state-of-the-art chocolate kitchen and retail store.

And you will get to taste a whole range of these gourmet chocolate “treats” to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content.

 

The evening will be filled out by a (spectacular) sunset dinner in the Great House at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, graciously prepared for us by the Hilton hotel hospitality staff.  An evening dip in the enormous salt water pool may be in order before dinner or just take a moment to relax in your Hilton by Curio Collection guest cottage (aka- really cool hotel suite).

Tuesday May 23

Unfortunately, it could be time for you to…Go Home!
Or better yet, extend your stay for a few days in Belize.  Scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, beer drinking, parasailing, walking the white sand beaches, more Maya ruins…

We can help you set it all up… just ask!  We will help you make arrangements for your departure flight from San Pedro back to the international airport in Belize City, per your own personal schedule, for you to catch your flight home.

 

IN SUMMARY…

 

So, the question we get the most is how much??

The cost of participating in the Tour is $0.00 (our treat!)

Includes all events on the tour, all meals, all cocktails and wine at group parties and dinners, all event admissions and tickets, hotel and other gratuities and local private ground transportation in Punta Gorda and Ambergris Caye.

To summarize your responsibilities…

Return airfare to Phillip M Goldson Belize International Airport in Belize City…arrive May 19 by 2 pm CST

Airfare from Belize International to Punta Gorda on May 19 with return to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye on May 22 ……… about $375 USD per person (flights to be booked by us)

Hotel for 3 nights (May 19-21) at The Lodge at Big Falls, Punta Gorda at our group rate….$153 USD per night plus local taxes (up to 4 per room)

Hotel for 1 night (May 22) at the 4-star resort Hilton by Curio at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club on Ambergris Caye at our group rate… to be announced, but it will be a great deal!

Airfare from San Pedro to Belize City International on the day of your departure… about $100 USD tax included, per person

All discretionary personal expenses before, during and after the Tour

That about sums it up!

 

If you are interested in reserving one of the few remaining places just let me know.

Hopefully we will be seeing you soon in Beautiful Belize!!

A bit about us…
Our mission is to own and operate fine flavor/organic cacao farms in Belize that are Environmentally, Economically and Socially Sustainable.

Come and join us on our journey!