Returning To The Source
After traveling for over 40 hours, I was thankful to arrive safely in Davao City. It was good to be back in a place I know so well, and that is so near to my heart. We've been sourcing cocoa beans, developing relationships with farmer partners, and investing in the Davao, Philippines community since 2008, but due to a volcanic eruption in early 2020 (while enroute) and Covid, I haven't been able to get back here since 2019. As with all origin trips, I hit the ground running.
I stayed at the same hotel I have stayed at for 14 years. Though it's showing its wear, the $33/night price (including breakfast) is hard to beat. Early on the morning of my first "official" day in Davao, I reunited with our lead farmer partners, Peter Cruz, and Johnny Silva.
Even though we often communicate via the internet and phone, there’s nothing like a firm handshake or the joy of giving out gifts, like ball caps and necklaces, to farmers and their families. A lot has happened here since I last visited in 2019, but the kindness of these farmers and the incredible beans they are producing on their carefully-managed farms haven’t changed in quality. They are still the gold standard.
My first duty was to distribute bonuses to bean sorters. I then inspected the recently relocated post-harvest facility and performed cocoa bean cut tests with the farmers on our current crop of beans. Unsurprisingly (because these farmers know exactly what they are doing), the fermentation and moisture content was perfect. These beans will begin their journey to our micro-factory in Springfield in late February.
If you aren't familiar with our commitment to direct trade and ethical business practices, you might be wondering why I was so eager to fly across the world to tour facilities, grade beans, and supervise harvesting efforts. It's critical for us to know (and influence) how the cocoa beans we use are grown, harvested, dried, and fermented. We believe that high-quality cocoa beans can only be cultivated if high-quality relationships are formed with our farmer partners. We not only pay above Fair Trade prices for beans (see our Transparency report for details), we profit share directly with our farmer partners, allowing them to pour back into their farms, their families, their employees, and their community.
I wrapped up day one with some local cuisine. Toward the end of the meal, our server asked if I was "Mr. Shawn." She remembered me from years ago when I'd visited her elementary school and given her (and other students) new of shoes. Her school was our first foray into community development anywhere in the world. I was honored that she had recognized me after all these years.
Day Two was another busy day. One of the sweetest parts (pun intended!) of every origin trip is the chocolate tasting. This is the first time our farmer partners in Davao tasted our 100% Dark Chocolate Bar made with their Trinitario cocoa beans (and nothing else!). I also brought bars from our other origins for the farmers to try & locally made chocolate bars to compare against the chocolate we also make.
I learned early on that it is vital for our farmers to taste the chocolate made from the cocoa beans they have worked so hard to harvest. They practice slave-free, sustainable farming. They deserve to know that their cocoa beans are some of the best in the world. Offering them a taste of the finished product strengthens their sense of pride.
After the chocolate tasting, attended by farmers and their families, I awarded Peter and Johnny a plaque commemorating two recent Academy of Chocolate award wins for chocolate bars we make using the cocoa beans they produced; our White Chocolate Bar (2020) & 100% Dark Chocolate Bar (2022).
The final day of any origin trip is one of the most integral to our Direct Trade focus: profit sharing. While we've hosted profit share meetings via WhatsApp during the pandemic, I would much rather be there in person, celebrating our farmers and their accomplishments. My last day was a cool (by Davao standards) 85-degree day. With the jungle humming with life around us and a light, pleasant breeze on our faces, I walked, line by line, through our financial documents with Peter and Johnny. Seeing their pride and speaking to their success was one of the most gratifying moments of the trip and was a great way to end another origin adventure.