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Forest Stories

The Amazon Wild Cacao

Cacao does not come from Central America, as one may have thought. It comes from the Amazon Rainforest.

Literature on cacao being cultivated in farms is so vast that we believed that, like almost all fruit we eat, cacao could not be found in its native state as Nature created it thousands of years ago. Luckily, we have found out, with the precious help of Brazilians and foreigners cacao specialists, that we were wrong. Still today we can find cacao in its original state – the wild fruit – in the jungles of the Amazon Rainforest. Studies conducted by those specialists showed the existence of wild cacao in the region close to the borders of Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. After reading many research papers, we have learned that, differently from the cacao that grows in farms, there is not only one wild variety but several families of cacao genetically different from each other.

Only ten genetic distinct cacao populations have been identified until now, but there are possibly many more. We took as our mission to bring to the world the flavors and aromas that each variety can offer. There are taste profiles that only reveal themselves in the chocolates made with the wild cacao that grows by the riversides and streamlines of the Amazon Basin . Since the day we started making chocolates, we have been in the search of the biodiversity and opulence of the wild cacao. Varieties differ from each other by their unique genetics and that is what enables us to produce unique chocolates and to lead a company with a business model just as unique.

Together with our partners we performed genetic tests and analyses on the wild cacao we use in our chocolates. These tests confirmed that they belong to varieties of high genetic purity. These beans reproduce with no or almost no genetic crossing between families, being considered heirloom. Indeed, those are ancient heirloom cacao beans, untouched by mankind for millennia.

THE FIRST EXPEDITION

We first got in touch with the Amazon cacao through our aunt Heloísa, our father’s sister, who worked in the state of Acre for some months. She was the one that told us about COOPERAR, Cooperativa Agroextrativista do Mapiá e Médio Purus (Agricultural Extractivist Co-operative Society of Mapiá and Médio Purus), dedicated to the wild cacao that grows by the Purus River. In 2014 we spent four months trying to reach COOPERAR (coop) to talk about the possibility of buying the wild cacao fermented by them. The precarious phone signal made communication very difficult. We were only able to talk to them when we reached the president of the coop while he was traveling to a city where cell phone signal was strong enough. As soon as we talked to him, we scheduled our first trip to the Amazon.

We packed our stuff and off we went to Acre, in a very long trip. We took a connecting flight from Brasília to Rio Branco, Acre’s capital city, where we spent the night, because there were no more boats leaving for that day. On the next morning we traveled by car for four hours, crossed through two indigenous reserves, and finally arrived in the city of Boca do Acre that, despite its name, is in the Amazon state where the Acre River and Purus River meet. Four more hours on a boat down the Purus river, we finally arrived.

We visited the São Sebastião community in the Purus River with COOPERAR. It took us two days and navigation through streamlines with no lights at night to reach the Purus cacao. It is quite common to see cars breaking down on the road because there are miles of dirt and muddy roads to get there. Most of the times we slept in Boca do Acre so that we could avoid to travel at night . The first expedition was led by me (Luisa) and André, my father and business partner. And that was how we first got in touch with Purus River wild cacao.

We came back to São Paulo with a few kilos of dryed and fermented beans. We produced our first chocolate bar with the wild cacao from the Purus River. We were delighted with the magnitude of the Rainforest, with the cacao, and with the people who live there. We saw the opportunity of building a partnership with them and offered to buy COOPERAR’s amazing fermented cacao. I remember paying 5 times the price of the commodity cacao traded in the New York commodity exchange. Until that moment we did not have the exact dimension of what we were up to: producing chocolate with wild cacao, with the help and work of one of the ten cacao varieties catalogued by Brazilian and foreigner researchers.

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