Photo by Anthony Tieuli
In Tapachula, Mexico, the morning was hot, and the air was already heavy with car exhaust. I sat in a small hotel room reviewing the four appointments I had that day with cacao growers in the area. My first meeting would be with Hector, who oversees a mid-sized farm situated to the North. Hector was in town on business, and I thought it best to meet with him before heading out to his farm sight unseen. In my experience, you can tell a lot about a given farm's cacao just by meeting the grower.
This was my second trip to Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico. I was determined to find a source for high-quality, organic cacao on this visit. But even finding such a source wouldn't be enough. I also needed to find a producer who was willing and able to meet our strict requirements for bean traceability, flavor profile, and fermentation practices.
Locating this kind of producer in this region would certainly prove a challenge. While the area is home to some of the oldest and most prized cacao varietals in the world, Chiapan farmers have been plagued by recent difficulties. Several years ago, a hurricane struck the area, devastating cacao forests with wind and flooding. The hurricane also brought a more insidious enemy, a fungus that damages cacao pods. Known as Monilia, the fungus affects ripe, healthy pods, rendering them useless for cacao production. In some parts of the country, Monilia has ruined as much as 90 percent of the crop.