General News

News About Chocolate: MOCCA Initiative Standardizes Tasting Chocolate In Ecuador

Heard about MOCCA? Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cacao in the Americas.

It’s a fairly massive, five-year, $36.4-million dollar project created and implemented by Lutheran World Relief and TechnoServe.

The goal? Build the key agricultural sectors of cocoa and coffee in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru to directly improve the livelihoods of more than 120,000 farmers and throughout the cocoa value chain.

As part of that effort, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s Mey Choy Paz and John Kehoe, director of sustainability at Guittard Chocolate Company, conducted two sensory training sessions and a follow-up workshop in Ecuador to provide useful (and measurable) quality standards for tasting chocolate.

>>Discover The World of Chocolate: The Fine Chocolate Online Market

This process is being conducted with cooperation from INIAP (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agropecuarias) at their facility in Ecuador and ANECACAO (Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Cacao e Industrializados), a private sector non-profit dedicated to the well-being and development of Ecuador’s cocoa producing and exporting sector.

Tasting Chocolate: ANECACAO Sensory Training #1

Sensory training was provided by the MOCCA Project, Guittard Chocolates and Bioversity for INIAP and ANECACAO at the INIAP—Pichilingue facilities on March 10-11, 2022.

The objective of the Capacity Building for the Sensory Analysis of Cocoa in Ecuador project is to develop chocolate tasting sensory capacities for representatives of the public sector (INIAP) and private sector (ANECACAO).

Sensory training was provided by the MOCCA Project, Guittard Chocolates and Bioversity for INIAP and ANECACAO at the INIAP—Pichilingue facilities on March 10-11, 2022.

Previously, equipment was delivered to the Cocoa Quality Laboratory at INIAP and samples of cocoa paste and liquor were processed following the protocols worked by the ISCQF working group (International Standards for the Evaluation of the Quality and Flavor of Cocoa) with the aim of aligning the operation of the equipment and having samples of cocoa paste for this training.

Reference samples from the CoEx were also used to collect data for the baseline of the participants and to know reference flavors by sample origins. Continuing with the objective of training and aligning quality standards, training using Excellencia Cocoa’s Sensory Evaluation Form for Cocoa and Chocolate Liquor.

The activities were developed by John Kehoe (Guittard Chocolates) and Dolores Alvarado (Bioversity) with FCIA’s Mey Choy Paz (Private Sector Liaison ) as facilitator and in-person coach.

This first training included 14 participants, two of whom participated virtually. The training started with a sensory analysis exercise to produce data that will serve as baseline information of the participants, and will serve to evaluate the capabilities of participants in this first sensory training.

An introduction to the ISCQF protocols was made by Alvarado of Bioversity to publicize the evolution and work done by this group. During the two days of training, cocoa tasting sessions were held with reference samples and the use of the Sensory Evaluation of Cocoa Excellence to explain the use of this file and explain descriptor references to participants. These sessions were developed by Mey Choy in person and John Kehoe virtually.

The success of this project is based on the action and joint work of collaborators who provide resources and knowledge for the implementation and correct operation of the laboratories, as well as sensory evaluation of cocoa liquor to value and highlight Ecuadorian cocoa—the starting point for the creation of the Panel of Tasters of Ecuador.

Tasting Chocolate: ANECACAO Sensory Training #2

The second sensory training was provided by the MOCCA Project, Guittard Chocolates and Bioversity for INIAP and ANECACAO at the INIAP Litoral Sur—Boliche facilities May 31-June 1, 2022.

As part of the project Capacity Building for the Sensory Analysis of Cocoa in Ecuador, the objective of which is to develop sensory capacities for representatives of the public sector (INIAP) and private sector (ANECACAO). In this second training, we worked with 25 participants who had received requests from their partners to join these training as indicated by the representative of ANECACAO.

The second sensory training was provided by the MOCCA Project, Guittard Chocolates and Bioversity for INIAP and ANECACAO at the INIAP Litoral Sur—Boliche facilities May 31-June 1, 2022.

The activities in this training were developed by John Kehoe, Alvarado, Nubia Martinez (Member of CoEx) and Mey Choy Paz. The event kicked off with a presentation by Nubia Martinez on the Sensory Evaluation of Cocoa Liquor and the ISCQF evaluation sheet.

Next, Alvarado presented the results of the baseline exercise performed by the participants of the first sensory training; Prior to this, the results were shared with each of them individually so they could visualize the development of the evaluations and offer feedback on possible improvements.

The first tasting session was carried out with three Cocoa of Excellence reference samples to calibrate and compare the scores of the participants against samples previously evaluated by the CoEx panel. The second tasting session consisted of six samples of Cocoa Liquor prepared by the participants of the first training. Cocoa beans EET484 provided by INIAP Pichilingue were distributed. The objective of this exercise was to see the differences in the flavors of the same type of cocoa by processing in different equipment and with different parameters (as they work in their own laboratories). It was a valuable exercise because they were able to visualize differences in taste.

On the second day of training, we started tasting one of the samples of the EET484 analyzed the day before to calibrate the participants. After that, the exercise began with the nine samples of the intermediate line to all the participants. This data was sent directly to Alvarado to process and gauge participants’ progress. The last tasting chocolate session was carried out on samples of iniaP clones 800 and 801 and on three samples from different sources to evaluate the differences in flavors.

Continued training in tasting chocolate is being supplied to the participants with samples of cocoa paste via Guittard for the third and last training session coming up in September, 2022. Also, an introduction to the ISCQF protocols was conducted by Alvarado to publicize the accomplishments and evolution of this hard-working group.

The success of this project is based on the action and joint work of the collaborators of the project, who will provide resources and knowledge for the implementation and correct operation of the laboratories and sensory evaluation of the cocoa liquor to value and highlight Ecuadorian Cocoa—the starting point for the creation of the Panel of Tasters of Ecuador.

ANECACAO Sensory Training Workshop: Evaluation of Cocoa Quality and Taste Per International Standards

This workshop was held 100% in person June 7-10, 200. Alvarado of Bioversity/CIAT oversaw carrying it out together with members of the Network of Cocoa Tasters of Peru in the Specialized Workshop for the Strengthening of Capacities for the Evaluation of the Quality and Flavor of Cocoa aligned with International Standards—ISCQF.

The tasting chocolate protocols worked to date with the ISCQF were presented, as well as the Sensory Evaluation Form of Cocoa of Excellence, which will soon be used in Peru to have a common language with members of the cocoa value chain at an international level.

Although Peru has worked on a sensory evaluation sheet, which they have been using since 2016, as members of the Network of Tasters they want to use the Cocoa of Excellence file to be aligned with international standards.

General News

Using Cacao to Reverse Deforestation

Guest Blog Share By: Jerry Toth, To’ak Chocolate

Short Summary

Despite its “forest-friendly” reputation, cacao farming is actually causing deforestation in some parts of the world. Fortunately, there’s a way to reverse that trend. This is what we’ve been working on in Ecuador.  

We’re using cacao trees to help restore forest on degraded agricultural land. It’s one element of a holistic regenerative agroforestry project that combines cacao trees with a diversity of tall native shade trees, fruit trees, and other food crops like bananas and plantains.

This approach gives a boost to farmer incomes and local food security, removes CO2 from the atmosphere, and improves the overall health of the ecosystem. It’s an example of how businesses, conservationists, and local farmers can join forces to help regenerate the forest rather than cut it down.

We call it Regenerative Cacao.


This project is in partnership with TMA (Third Millennium Alliance), a nonprofit rainforest conservation organization that has been protecting and restoring forest in Ecuador since 2007. Additional funding was provided by MOCCA (Maximizando Oportunidades en Café y Cacao en las Américas).

Cacao farmer Dany is harvesting a single cacao pod hanging from its branch

How Eco-Friendly is Cacao Farming?

The eco-friendliness of cacao farming entirely depends on where and how the cacao trees are planted. In the worst of cases, people cut down a native forest to make way for a monoculture plantation of cacao. In the context of both biodiversity and climate change, this is a bad outcome. Native forests store 4x as much carbon and 35x more species than cacao monocultures.

And yet, clearing native forests to plant monocultures is how most new cacao plantations are created throughout the tropics. A lot of trees are being cut down in the name of chocolate.

Regenerative agroforestry, on the other hand, is a different story. That’s what this article is about to explore.

For a deeper dive into the ecological pros and cons of cacao farming, check out “How Eco-Friendly is Chocolate and Cacao Farming?” 

Cacao Monoculture (left) vs Cacao Agroforestry (right)

Cacao & Agroforestry

Cacao trees are naturally adapted to survive and thrive in the understory of the tropical forest. In other words, they grow well in the shade of bigger trees. Therein lies the advantage of cacao farming in the realm of tropical forest restoration.

It bears mentioning that some high-yield/low-quality cacao cultivars (namely, CCN-51) have been bred to prefer full sunlight. Most heirloom varieties, however, actually need to grow in the shade, especially when they’re young.

Cacao trees can be planted in combination with a diverse array of other food-producing trees and native trees. That’s what agroforestry is—it’s an agricultural method that grows crops in the form of a forest.

Regenerative agroforestry uses this principle as a mechanism for forest restoration. One of the benefits of this approach is a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Other happy byproducts include soil conservation, watershed protection, and biodiversity preservation.

The cacao that is harvested from a regenerative agroforestry system is called Regenerative Cacao.


Agroforestry: Cultivating crops in the form of a forest.

Cacao Agroforestry: Agroforestry that includes cacao trees grown in the shade of taller trees.

Regenerative Agroforestry: Using agroforestry as a mechanism to restore forest on degraded land.

Regenerative Cacao: Cacao that is harvested from a regenerative agroforestry system. 

an illustration of cacao agroforestry - cacao trees are growing beneath the shade of other species of trees in the forest

To’ak and TMA

Regenerative agroforestry is a strategy we’ve been experimenting with for over a decade and a half. At this point, I should explain that when I say “we,” I mean both TMA and To’ak. I co-founded TMA in 2007 with a few like-minded conservationists. Five years later, I co-founded To’ak with a few like-minded entrepreneurs.

Both organizations have been working together on cacao genetics and agroforestry dating back to 2018, when TMA and To’ak jointly created a genetic bank of 100% pure Ancient Nacional cacao trees in the Jama-Coaque Reserve. The genetic bank is our collective effort to prevent the extinction of one of the most legendary heirloom cacao varieties on earth, and to nurse it back to health.

Our regenerative cacao project is the next step in that process: it’s the part where we distribute the seedlings of this historic cacao variety to local farmers as a mechanism for forest restoration.

But this story has its roots in earlier efforts—some of which didn’t work well.

cacao farmer Marquez kneels as he places a seedling in black soil

The Failures Before We Got It Right

Coastal Ecuador, which is part of a global biodiversity hotspot, is also one of the most deforested ecosystems in South America. Much of the forest has been converted to cattle pasture and slash-and-burn corn plantations.

TMA has been experimenting with different ways to encourage reforestation among local landholders for over fifteen years, with mixed results. We ultimately learned that it’s very difficult to convince people to plant trees unless those trees will provide them with food, income, or both.

Simply handing out cacao seedlings to farmers, with a vague promise to help them find a good buyer, also does not work well. (We tried it. Doesn’t really work.) Directly planting cacao trees on people’s properties (with their help) doesn’t work either; once the trees are planted, landholders may not nurture them to maturity unless there is a strong incentive to do so. That’s why simply “planting trees” is usually not an effective way to truly reforest land.

Eventually, we learned our lesson. We identified four main obstacles that were impeding farmers from reforesting their own land:

  1. Lack of seedlings and other basic equipment, like fencing (easy to solve)
  2. Lack of water access (more difficult to solve, but surmountable)
  3. Lack of market access for tree crops (much more difficult than most people think)
  4. The opportunity cost of other activities like cattle ranching (this is where most projects fail)

Our approach with this project was to systematically overcome each of these obstacles.

Mario kneels as he connects a rubber hose to the bottom of a blue vat (irrigation system)

Making Agroforestry the Path of Least Resistance

The first obstacle—lack of seedlings and equipment—was the easiest to overcome. We supply every farmer with all the seedlings and equipment that he or she will need to reforest their land. Some of the seedlings are sourced from the genetic bank of pure Ancient Nacional cacao, spearheaded by To’ak and implemented by TMA. MOCCA also provided key funding for creating and maintaining a local nursery and clonal garden of high-quality cacao trees. TMA also supply farmers with fencing, access to mechanical weed-whackers (a massive boon to labor efficiency), and organic fertilizer.

Overcoming the second obstacle—water access—was critical. A reforestation project is worthless if the trees don’t survive the dry season. In most parts of the tropics, where the year is divided into wet and dry seasons, some level of irrigation is usually necessary for agriculture to be productive. So we built irrigation systems for every single farmer, each of whom helped with the installation and shared 50% of the costs.

The third and fourth obstacles—market access and opportunity cost—are the most difficult to overcome. This is where most well-intentioned NGOs, government institutions, and chocolate companies fail in their effort to promote sustainable cacao farming.

a cacao seedling germinating in a nursery

“Show Me the Money!”

As many cacao farmers will readily admit, planting cacao trees is the easy part. The hard part is finding a buyer willing to pay fair prices. This is where To’ak’s role becomes indispensable.

Standard farmgate prices for wet cacao are punishingly low throughout the tropics, including in Ecuador—where prices usually hover in the range of $0.20 to $0.30 per pound for wet cacao. At those prices, the rate of return for most farmers—on both investment and effort—is negative.

Most farmers are rational economic actors. If there is no economic benefit to planting trees—be it cacao or any other species—why do it? For beauty and the good of nature? For anyone who is struggling to feed their family, those lofty reasons usually aren’t enough. The rational economic response to this conundrum is best captured by that famous line from the movie Jerry McGuire: “Show me the money!”

To’ak has long taken pride in paying cacao farmers the highest prices in the industry—ranging from $0.80 to $2.00 per pound, depending on the Cru. This is 200% to 800% above the standard farmgate price. Check out To’ak’s Transparency Report for more details.

This same pay scale was offered to farmers in TMA’s regenerative agroforestry program, and it immediately captured the interest of nearly every farmer in the area. But here’s the catch: these prices are only paid to farmers who plant cacao trees in combination with a specific and diverse array of other trees. 

The price premium is explicitly structured as an incentive to restore forest on degraded land. Monocultures don’t count!

Winning the Battle of Opportunity Costs

Another classic pitfall in many regenerative agroforestry projects is the failure to account for opportunity costs. It’s not enough for agroforestry to generate a positive return for farmers. The revenue stream from agroforestry needs to exceed the revenue stream from whichever activity the farmer is currently performing on his or her land. Otherwise, “business as usual” will likely continue.

In this part of Ecuador, the two most common land uses are cattle ranching and slash-and-burn corn cultivation—both of which are also the two primary drivers of deforestation. We calculated the net revenue stream for both of these “business as usual” activities and then compared this to the revenue stream for regenerative agroforestry.

As you will see, the benefit of a “direct trade” relationship with a premium cacao buyer like To’ak is a critical piece of the economic puzzle.

Bar graph showing a comparison of net revenue streams for "business as usual" activities versus regenerative agroforestry
A comparison of net revenue streams for “business as usual” activities versus regenerative agroforestry

As the table shows, regenerative agroforestry does ultimately win out against both cattle ranching and corn cultivation, as well as coffee cultivation. But there’s another problem: it takes four or five years before cacao trees begin generating revenue, whereas cattle and corn can generate returns in the first year.

One solution to this problem is to intercrop cacao trees with banana and plantain crops, which produce food and income within twelve months. But this still doesn’t entirely erase the short-term deficit. Considering most families in this region live month-to-month, short-term revenue takes precedence over long-term revenue.

This is where the mechanism known as “payments for ecosystem services” (PES) comes into play.

farmer poses with a cacao seedling held with both his hands. In the backdrop sits a hill and beyond that an open field

The Clincher: PES Payments

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) are financial incentives offered to landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide some sort of ecological service—for example, planting trees that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

To learn more, check out TMA’s article that explains the concept of Payments for Ecosystem Services, which we believe to be a veritable game-changer in the realm of tropical forest restoration.

In the context of this specific PES project, TMA pays farmers $4,500 per hectare over five years to convert their own deforested land into a regenerative forest that features shade-grown cacao trees. This payment immediately increases farmers’ earnings by 44% relative to slash-and-burn corn cultivation and over 300% relative to cattle ranching. This is enough to convince farmers to shift their activities away from degenerative agriculture and toward regenerative agroforestry.

In addition to the $4,500 in direct payments to farmers, an additional $2,900 is invested in each hectare, including all equipment and seedlings, site visits, technical assistance, and monitoring. The total investment is $7,400/hectare ($3,000/acre). 

bar chart showing a comparison of annual earnings per hectare for farmers at To'ak farmgate prices versus standard farmgate prices with and without PES income
A comparison of annual earnings per hectare for farmers at To’ak farmgate prices versus standard farmgate prices with and without PES income

This payment is not a subsidy or a welfare payment. It’s a payment in exchange for the service of removing carbon from the atmosphere and preserving biodiversity in a global conservation hotspot.

It also bears mentioning that the PES payments only last for five years. It is a short-term measure designed to bridge the gap until farmers begin to generate an independent revenue stream through the sale of cacao, banana, and other tree crops that their regenerative agroforestry parcels produce. You can learn more by checking out our other article “Why Paying Farmers for Reforestation is a Game-Changer.”

Planting Design & Ecological Impact

The species mix and planting densities for our regenerative agroforestry program are quite specific. We created this design ourselves, informed by fifteen years of agroforestry trial and error in this particular ecosystem and in these same communities.

Here’s the breakdown of trees and crops, per hectare:

  • 80 native shade trees, across 11+ species
  • 40 large fruit trees, across 5+ species
  • 600+ cacao trees, using 12 different cultivars (including 100% pure Ancient Nacional cacao)
  • 300+ banana and plantain plants

This means that each hectare contains a minimum of 720 trees across at least 17 different species, in addition to a healthy dose of the region’s most important staples: banana and plantain. We estimate that each hectare planted according to this design, on land that was previously deforested, removes 191 tons of CO2 over the 30-year project life, net.

cacao farmer, Veronica, sits surrounded by numerous large cacao seedlings

Human & Economic Impact

The first round of farmers started planting in January of 2021 and the second round put their seedlings into the ground in January of 2022. This is still a relatively small-scale project. We hope to keep scaling it up. Thus far, here’s the impact:

  • 77 acres (31 hectares) of land is being restored to forest
  • 37 families are participating
  • 16,320 trees have been planted across 20 species
  • On average, this project boosts overall family income by 50%

The Future

Once these cacao trees reach maturity, starting in 2024-2025, the farmers currently enrolled in this program will likely produce about 40 tons of wet cacao per year. This equates to roughly 13 metric tons of high-quality dark chocolate each year. In the process, it helps restore the forest in one of the most deforested ecosystems in South America.

Click here to watch a video about Reverse Deforestation with Regenerative Agroforestry.

Read more from To’ak.

General News

How Cuna de Piedra is Changing the Perception of Mexican Chocolate in the United States

Guest Blog Feature by: The Chocolate Professor and writer, Pamela Vachon.

At a recent seminar sponsored by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, one of Cuna de Piedra’s founders, Enrique Pérez, described the brand’s somewhat inauspicious product launch at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November 2019. The brand had just been conceived of in March of that same year, and the team behind Cuna de Piedra had only received the wrappers for their bean-to-bar chocolates the night before the event. Pérez was already unsure that the brand’s value would resonate with U.S. consumers, consisting mainly of single origin, 2-ingredient, Mexican dark chocolate: “we don’t have creamy chocolate; we don’t have chocolate and hazelnut, etc.” he says.

When the team initially found that not a lot of people at the festival seemed interested in trying their samples, they thought their fears might be confirmed, if it weren’t for one lady who expressed a lot of enthusiasm for what they were doing and wanted to taste. Pérez describes her reaction: “‘You know what? This is incredible and I love it,’ she said, “but I cannot taste the Tabasco…’”

“People weren’t trying our samples,” Pérez explains, “because they saw the word Tabasco and thought, ‘hot sauce.’’ Five of seven of Cuna de Piedra’s chocolate bars (at the time) had the word Tabasco on them, as the cacao beans are sourced from the Mexican state of Tabasco. “After that we started saying out loud every 5 minutes, ‘this is cacao from Tabasco, not with Tabasco,’” and eventually a crowd gathered.

While it might have seemed inauspicious at the time, it is actually a fitting launch for Cuna de Piedra, as it highlights precisely the challenge that the brand was built to overcome: a misperception of what it means to be hecho en México.


“We wanted to create something that was an homage to our land, to our people, to our biodiversity, and to Mexican cacao,” Pérez says. His particular lens was that of a food consultant, who had years of experience working with brands and producers on matters of innovation, quality, and safety. One thing that struck him as a matter in need of serious rebranding was the idea, both inside and outside of Mexico, that Mexican-made products were not naturally of high quality.

He cited a 2016 study conducted by public brand strategy firm Vianovo on the “Perception of Mexico’s Brand in the U.S.,” that found that not only did U.S. consumers not have a high degree of confidence in Mexican products but that its overall perception of Mexico was one rooted in crime and corruption. Perez, who partnered with designer and brand strategy developer Vicky González, wanted to make a difference, even if on a small scale, and create something that Mexicans could be proud of.

“We wanted to create a remarkable product that was not only delicious, but that also had an outstanding design,” says Pérez. “Even in Mexico, people place a higher value in products that come from outside the country, because they are considered to be of a higher quality and more worth spending money on.”

Along with González, they recruited Jorge Llanderal, a former tech worker turned chocolatier, whose family business Chocosolutions provides chocolate supplies and equipment to restaurants, who would help produce the first, Mexican-made, bean-to-bar chocolates for Cuna de Piedra.


Part of Pérez and González’s original mission was also to create a brand that had “human sense,” that raised the quality of life for everyone involved in the making of their chocolate, beginning with the cacao farmers themselves. Doing so meant removing the distribution piece that exists between the cacao farmers and the chocolatiers, partnering directly with growers, and paying them above market price for their cacao beans.

“There’s a tremendous amount of history and culture related to cacao,” says Pérez. “So we envisioned a brand to make 100% Mexican chocolate with Mexican cacao.” This also meant going to the source: a small region called Soconusco in the state of Chiapas, believed to be the birthplace of cacao in Mexico, from which the practice of making chocolate spread. In addition to a Cooperativa Rayan in Soconusco, Cuna de Piedra sources cacao from several growers and cooperatives from numerous Mexican states including Tabasco and Oaxaca


In addition to its collection of various Mexican dark chocolate bars, the Cuna de Piedra team also wanted to bring light to other important aspects of Mexico’s culture and gastronomy, especially heirloom crops. Read more by clicking here.>>

General News

Celebrating Women in Cacao

Guest Blog Post, Shared Via Uncommon Cacao

International Women’s Day has come and gone, but we don’t just celebrate women one day a year. We continually recognize them as essential in the cocoa value chain and chocolate industry.

Women play a critical role in small-scale farming, whether they are formally recognized as doing so or not. According to Oxfam, approximately 80% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming, with women comprising an average of 43% of this agricultural labor. Yet women often face multiple challenges and barriers, including less access to land and capital, and juggling food production with the extensive unpaid work they do caring for their homes and families. If you’re looking to support women producers in the cacao value chain, here are some of the organizations that are working hardest on ensuring inclusivity, market access, and leadership opportunities for the women producers in their networks.

  • Semuliki Forest, Uganda: 51% of the producer network are women, and there are many women in leadership positions across the company operations
  • PISA, Haiti: 43% of the producer network are women, and it is a women-led organization (Aline Etlicher, general manager, and Fenise Pierre Antoine, cocoa post-harvest manager)
  • ABOCFA, Ghana: 27% of the producer network are women, and 2 women (Sarah Larweh and Janet Aframea pictured above) sit on the ABOCFA executive board
  • Lachuá, Guatemala: 25% of the producer network are women, and 6 women sit on the leadership boards of the Lachuá associations
  • Tumaco, Colombia: 26% of the producer network are women

I’d like to try some of these cacaos!

Please meet Shirat Nansubuga (first, above), Accounts Assistant at Latitude Craft Chocolate, our partner in Uganda who provides us with the delicious Semuliki Forest beans! When asked what she likes most about working with cacao, Shirat shared this: “It’s interesting to see the whole process – from sourcing cacao directly from farmers at our dedicated collection points, to the fermentation process in our production facility, and reaching the final export stage. Working with a company like Latitude that gives back, helping these communities by buying fresh cacao directly from them and giving the best rate, makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger which is a great feeling.”

In the second photo above, we have Fenise, the fermentation and drying manager (on right), and Aline, general manager (on left). Fenise and Aline have worked together since PISA’s first harvest in March 2014. These women are making their mark and leaving a strong legacy in Haiti’s cacao production.⁠

These ladies are leading the charge in cacao production in the Tumaco region of Colombia. The first photo is of Doña Blanca Vivera. She is part of the Cortepaz association in Tumaco and has been a cacao producer her entire life. Her love for cacao doesn’t stop there! She also makes chocolate in her home and says that cacao is her favorite tree and fruit. Second is a photo of Maria Josefa. She is in charge of purchasing management, fermentation management, drying oversight and lot tracking at the Cortepaz association.

General News

Chocolate Is Always In-Season

It’s April 1st and although the official first day of spring was two weeks ago, today feels more like the long-awaited season. With the transition to spring and the month of April beginning, there is a natural shift for many of us to start thinking about Easter chocolate, especially in the fine chocolate industry. 

In fact, our members have been very busy preparing special seasonal offerings of their delicious chocolates. From the adorable shapes of bunnies and chicks, to gorgeous pastel egg colors and speckled designs, our members do not disappoint. Even their spring flavors are extraordinary! 

We couldn’t be happier to share these works of art. Have you seen our social media posts over the last couple of weeks? We’ve been leading up to this memorable season with incredible chocolates and will continue to do so until the Easter ordering window closes, or our members sell out. So, be sure to check out all of the fun flavors and designs and grab them up while you can.  

In case you’ve missed it on our Facebook and Instagram, we have featured the following members’ Easter offerings, to date.

andSons Chocolatiers, Signature Easter Eggs
Garcia Nevett, Dulce de Leche Egg
  • The Goodtime Bunny from Lake Champlain Chocolates, crafted from three pounds of gourmet milk chocolate, decorated with white and dark chocolate accents and standing at over one foot tall.
Lake Champlain Chocolates, The Good Time Bunny
Chocolate Maya, Salted Caramel White Chocolate Eggs
  • From a typical Brazilian delicacy, the Honey Bread Egg was born. Mission Chocolate developed this egg based on pão de mel, a typical  Brazilian dessert that they love and want the whole world to try. Made with chocolate milk and a touch of spices, it is the perfect option for fans of this dessert.
Mission Chocolate, Honey Bread Egg
  • At The Violet Chocolate Company they’re getting their Easter treats ready, including a Fluffle of Bunnies with all new flavors. This year the trio includes Raspberry Lemonade, award-winning Strawberry Basil, and a dark chocolate Blueberry Cherry. All crafted by hand, in bite-size bunny ears, packaged together to celebrate spring.
The Violet Chocolate Company, Fluffle of Bunnies
  • Celebrate Easter with one or both of the Easter Egg truffle sets from Maya Moon Co.  They are available in traditional flavors of dark chocolate and mixed berry dark chocolate; or bold flavors of lemon dark chocolate, chai spice dark chocolate, peppermint dark chocolate and dark chocolate.
Maya Moon Co., Easter Egg Truffles

Do we have you in the mood for springtime chocolates yet? Stay tuned for more

Be sure to visit these FCIA member sites, and follow us on Make Mine Fine’s Facebook and Instagram for more delicious and unique seasonal chocolate specialties like these. We know that chocolate is always in-season, but we like to have a reason to celebrate fine chocolate in any way that we can.  

If you would like to learn more about chocolate, its origins and a group of amazing chocolatiers, be sure to check out our website here at Also, learn more on the Fine Chocolate Industry Association website at  

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. We promote the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional, focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. We believe in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; as well as transparent labeling and marketing practices.

General News

Cacao Expeditions With Unparalleled Flavors

Guest Blog By: Dale Erwin, Conexion Chocolate

 Last week, our team visited Esmeraldas. Raul invited us to his finca. He’s the former president of the UOPROCAE cacao Co-operative. His farm is about 4 hectares of jungle, reached by a bumpy road lined with emerald cow pastures and glassy ponds. I sat in the back of the truck with Jenny, watching snowy egrets, bright yellow birds with names unknown to me, and kingfishers take to the air as we rumbled down the track. 

     A small gaggle of cattle caused a minor traffic jam, but soon enough we reached the finca

     Raul walked us through a diverse jungle of banana trees, mamey, laurel (not the european one), mango, avocado, breadfruit, guava, mandarin, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and others whose names I’ve already lost, and, of course, cacao. 

     Taking his machete in hand, he sliced a cacao pod neatly off the tree and carefully cut it open to reveal the pulp that covered about fifty seeds within. Over and over, he repeated the process, pointing out different trees and naming the varieties – Trinitrario, Forastero, and Criollo. They all represented, though always with Nacional lineage.

     He drew our attention to subtle differences in flavor between the yellow Nacional Forastero and the red Trinitario. I stumbled along after him, I wondered:

     What did he use to maintain the soil so healthy? To which he replied – cacao pods, leaf fall, and home-made organic fertilizer.

     Which trees grow well next to cacao? He kindly smiled and said – The small tropical tree of guava fixes nitrogen, while banana trees provide shade, and citrus trees share nutrients inside the underground.

     As we walked around the finca, some of his neighbors and family were harvesting avocados together. Raul shared that the community tends to get together on a neighbor’s farm to do a minga (shared work project). The host, after the group has finished a large task, like harvesting bananas or building a chicken coop or digging an irrigation/drainage canal, provides food and beverages for the assembled workers. Part of a far-reaching reciprocal understanding of communal life is that the next month the host of that project will help out on someone else’s farm.

     After we had walked to the far edge of his land, abutted to a national forest preserve, we heard the gradual crescendo of the downpour breaking above. The foliage was so thick it took a while to register, but Raul and Luis hacked off banana leaves with nonchalance and distributed them as umbrellas. 

     The chickens that had been roaming in our wake dashed back to their coop, to which we followed in single-file. 

     The care and attention that Raul and all of UOPROCAE’s farmers bring to bear on their farms – the biodiversity and community coherence – are the vital genesis of our process. We believe that, through our diligent and passionate transformation of cacao into Conexión Chocolate, our bars, couverture, derivatives and snacks can give flavorful expression to our producers’ labor of love.

Learn more about Conexion Chocolate on their website!