#CHOCexplorer Peru & Ecuador October 2017

It’s the last morning of my incredible trip to source cacao and new products in Peru and Ecuador. I am sitting on the 21st floor of a hotel restaurant in Lima, Peru, waiting for a meeting with some new producers and thinking about these past 10 days.

It’s been a whirlwind trip to Peru and Ecuador to visit new suppliers, cocoa farmers and develop our very own dairy free organic cacao couverture for a new product line we are hoping to launch in February 2018. I can’t quite believe how much I’ve packed into 10 days. I’ve taken 7 separate flights and stayed in 6 different hotels, went on 4 long and bumpy pickup truck trips across mountains and jungles and tasted 6 different varieties of cacao. Amazing really!

It all started on October 18th having arrived in Lima, Peru at 9pm after a 12-hour flight. I managed to get 4 hours sleep before heading back to the airport to catch a 5am flight to Jauja, a small town in the province of Junin that’s nestled in the mountain range of central Peru. After a slightly bumpy 45-minute flight on a propeller jet plane, I arrived in a tiny airport in the middle of nowhere.

The scenery was spectacular, bright clear sky, beautiful mountains surrounding the valley and incredibly crisp and thin air (Jauja is approx 3400m above sea level).

I was here to visit the Cacao processing factory of a new company we have started working with and was greeted by a sign with my name on it and a friendly smile by Ing Luis. We waited for another colleague to arrive on a separate flight and then drove into the small town of Concepción. The first thing you notice is the air. We are so high up and I felt a little light headed and fuzzy at first. Luis had the perfect antidote, a hot cup of Mate de Coca!

It was hard to believe I was here, in such a beautiful little town with a stunning blue and white church and an immaculate town square, overlooked by the Virgin of Concepción high above on a hill.  After some breakfast and a short walk around the town (which was in full swing preparing for that day’s procession of La Virgen) we drove off to the factory.

I have worked with Latin America for several years now and am always impressed by the quality of work and high standards of hygiene (as good if not better than some of the factories I’ve visited in the UK!). I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I visited this new factory and was delighted by how open and transparent everyone was. I was even more delighted to have been greeted by the marvellous Virgen de Concepción as well at the reception desk!

I changed in the changing rooms with other female employees into a makeshift space suite, complete white coat, hat and boots. We then went through a cleaning process and entered the factory with many of the workers who had just finished their break. We laughed and chatted about their jobs and lives as they showed me how the cacao beans are shelled, and the nibs separated. Everyone I met took incredible pride in their work and in their expertise in minimally processing cacao to retain as much of the nutrients as possible.

I wanted to completely understand the methods used to process raw cacao and having visited several factories in Peru and Ecuador, it’s clear that a certain level of heating is necessary to ensure the cacao is free from bacteria and safe for consumption. Heat is also needed to release the shells from cocoa beans, so a very quick, flash heat is used on all raw cacao, there is no other way to do this, but the difference is that the nibs are not then roasted or heated any further and the cacao powder and butter are extracted with minimal processing as well.

I am completely fascinated by cacao and the incredible superfoods that have existed for centuries in this part of the world. Having grown up with cacao and superfoods around them, the people I met were incredibly knowledgeable about the nutritional benefits of all the foods that grow naturally in Peru. So we sat down after the factory visit to try some Andean superfoods and try out new cacao combinations for our Blissful Blends range. So many amazing flavours and so much goodness!

After our tasting session, I said goodbye to the people I’d met in the factory, goodbye to the Virgen of Concepción and it was time to get into the truck and head off into the mountains for our epic drive to Satipo, in the Amazonian jungle where the cacao is actually grown.

We drove at breakneck speed over glorious mountains at altitudes of up to 4000m above sea level, through beautiful and colourful villages with temperatures of around 8° degrees Celsius down towards the jungle to 300m above sea level and temperatures of 33°and 100% humidity! But that’s another long story!

So tune in next time as my #CacaoExplorer travels in Peru & Ecuador continue….