The Beniano cacao exists in isolated wild stands since thousands of years, distributed largely in man influenced forests islands called “chocolatales” alongside river forests. I became aware of this cacao in 1991 near Rurrenabaque when a T’simane women (with a little monkey in her hair) showed me wild cacao stands with tiny fruits. I understood immediately this is special, but is there a business?
In 2000 back to Bolivia my risk assessment resulted in “better stay away from it”, but my ego and the perspectives to bring this cacao as the very first to the international market (some tried and failed) was too appealing to me. Here was the adventure I always dreamed of. Fitzcarraldo – here I am, not knowing that I was going to discover a real treasure from the origin of cacao, the Amazon. Years later I learned from the Motamayor (et.al.) expedition, that took place about the same time I started, that we have a new classification of origins in the Amazon as they identified some ancestors (Urkakaos) of all cacaos on the planet. But what happened after science looked into this? Is it important to save these cacaos and for what purpose? I didn’t know that I was going to give some answers.
Soon it became clear that selling existing chocolates brands from Bolivia was no option. Why not just selling the beans!? For a start, no-one could tell me what type of cacao I was going to sell and it did not qualify to the ICCO standards, because of its bean count (size/weight ratio). I went to several fairs in 2001, but no-one was interested in the beans. “Too small – bring the big ones” was the general comment and I had doubts about how much of it is available and for what price can I produce and sell it? I turned the key by making my own (65%) chocolate in a small factory in Santa Cruz, using a “Lehmann” conch for 24 hours and as much knowledge I could get from chocolate makers and books. The result was surprisingly good and outmatched existing bars in Europe at the time. Now I could show what this bean could do. I ended-up with 50 one KG blocks and several test bars (after ten years I found a box of blocks and the chocolate was still good!). When I went back to the same fairs I presented first the chocolate. People liked it immediately, but still I could not sell the beans until I found a Swiss company in 2003, that wanted to take the risk, when I was close to give up.
Ten years later we learned that this cacao we called “criollo” in Spanish for “local” variety, indeed was a new variety! But in between this cacao had already paved its way to some of the finest chocolate shops around the globe, with me providing the beans, convincing chocolate lovers only with its superior taste spectrum. This was recognized in 2014 by the FCIA and their Heirloom (HCP) http://hcpcacao.org/heirloom-designees/heirloom2/ initiative. Heading to the HCP event, when I drove in a taxi on 5th Av. in NYC I smiled about myself and this cacao adventure in deep down Bolivia: where does it take me!
CNB Genetic Results (2010) USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab
“The initial analysis revealed that Tranquilidad samples are related to the new cluster of cacao found on the Beni River. This population is new and there are no clones of this type in any of the international GenBanks. Both Beni Department populations are isolated from most of the upper and lower Amazon cacao types.”
Lyndel W. Meinhardt Ph.D.
The “Cru Sauvage” was the starting point of a long adventure. The creation of that chocolate became a story in itself, I am going to tell in another blog.