In November of 2013 Ned and Debi spent 2 weeks living with a Mayan family in Belize experiencing how cacao is grown at its source. As our host, Juan Cho of Ixcacao, the only Mayan chocolate maker in Belize explains, "Modern monoculture farming typically clears the forest and plants one crop. Because cacao thrives under a canopy of taller trees it can be planted to co-exist with the large indigenous trees such as cahoon, coconut, palm, rosewood and copal. This allows local farmers to make a living without destroying their native forest. Thus, chocolate will save the rainforest."
Debi worked for a number of years in sales and marketing for Sybase, Oracle and Apple Computers. She oversees the business and sales side of Cello Chocolate -- and also does all the wrapping. Debi works alongside of Ned and does a LOT of chocolate tasting, you know for quality assurance. With Ned's manufacturing experience and Debi's sales experience, this was a match made in heaven.
Cello Chocolate buys their Ecuador beans from the Camino Verde Estate in Balao. These are the very highly prized, flavor grade Nacional bean. Debi and Ned spent several days with the owner of Camino Verde, Vicente Norero, witnessing his unique process. The highlight of their trip was presenting to the workers their Ecuador bar. It is not uncommon for workers who grow cacao to never taste the finished product. It was a thrill, and quite emotional, to see the happy looks on their faces as they tasted Ned and Debi's handcrafted chocolate, made from their beans.
The highlight of their volunteer experience was participating in the education of Mayan women on the process of converting the cacao bean, which Mayans have traditionally grown, into chocolate bars. For thousands of years Mayan have used cacao to prepare a sacred beverage, but only recently have they been introduced to the conversion of cacao into chocolate bars. This empowers local farmers to raise their standard of living. Ned and Debi felt very privileged to be a part of this process. They will continue to support small farmers by working toward their goal of making the best chocolate possible with Fair Trade/Direct Trade and Certified Organic beans.
In May of 2014, Ned and Debi spent a week in Trinidad visiting with the Director and Professors at the Cacao Research Center (CRC). CRC's activities includes the maintenance of the International Cocoa Genebank, where hundreds of varieties of cacao are saved as live trees (since dried cacao seeds will not germinate). They also evaluate different varieties for quality and flavor as well as assess for resistance to diseases. Ned and Debi spent time at the Genebank viewing the different cacao varieties which are grown there as well as seeing the Center's techniques for harvesting, fermenting and drying of cacao beans.
Here is Debi and Ned visiting their supplier in Conacado. They toured their fermentation and drying facility, and one of the cocoa farms. Ned was particularly impressed seeing the wood-fired bean drying, along with the normal sun drying. Can you imagine in this tropical environment, with the heat and humidity, stoking up a huge boiler sized dryer? In this picture Debi and Ned just performed a bean cut test which checks for proper bean fermentation. The highlight of the trip for them was being invited to a wonderful meal at the farm.
A Peace Corp Volunteer, Henry Harrison, contacted Cello Chocolate with questions about making chocolate. Henry is stationed in Arosemena Tola, Ecuador, a small village in the Amazon region. This village grows their own cacao and has started making unsweetened chocolate from their own beans. Most cacao growers only grow the beans and don't process them into a finished product, which is a more profitable enterprise. Members of the village established an association called Tsatsayaku which is made up of 140 families. In the fall of 2015 Ned and Debi spent a week with Henry and the workers of Tsatsayaku helping them with the chocolate making process.