Shawn returned to Ecuador four years to the WEEK after being unable to travel there due to political unrest and the pandemic. It was a trip of sweet reunions, profit share meetings, chocolate tastings, and adventure. We can't think of a better way to celebrate 16 years in the craft chocolate business than by returning to our first-ever origin and celebrating our wins with Vitaliano, Monica, and their families.
A Visit From Vitaliano
Many people may not know that our Del Tambo, Ecuador chocolate isn’t just single origin– it’s single estate. Vitaliano Sarabia, our Ecuador lead farmer partner, has been growing exceptional Arriba Nacional cacao on his several-hectare farm, which he inherited from his grandfather, for decades. Because of safety concerns, including the recent disbanding of the Ecuadorian government, it was decided that it would be unsafe for Shawn to visit and equally unsafe for Vitaliano to host Shawn at his farm, so Vitaliano and his family came to Guayaquil for an in-person meeting.
As always, we sampled chocolate; this part is crucial because it allows our farmer partners to taste how crops of beans vary and compare them against other origins. Shawn brought gifts to share with Vitaliano and his wife Norma and also brought along a banner and poster to recognize the awards and accolades we have received for our craft chocolate made with Vitaliano’s superior-quality beans. While presenting these awards, Shawn FaceTimed Lawren so she could share in the joyful moment.
When Shawn visits our origins, he always brings banners and plaques commemorating any recent awards or accolades. There’s a simple reason that we do this: without exceptional cocoa beans, we couldn't make exceptional chocolate. It all starts with our farmer partners. Our wins are their wins. When Vitaliano viewed the banner of awards we've won together using his beans, he became deeply emotional and said, "I would've never dreamed that God would bless me in such a way."
Then it was time to review financials and share profits. Even though we did a profit share with Vitaliano in October (when Shawn was originally scheduled to visit), Shawn and Lawren determined that calculating an additional profit share based on current sales would be the right thing to do. Practicing direct trade means practicing transparency and trust. The profit share documents were translated into Spanish, and Shawn and Vitaliano reviewed them line by line.
A Trek to Monica’s Farm
Shawn was equally excited to meet with our lead cocoa farmer partner in Zamora, Amazonia, Monica Guaman. Her farm, one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, is situated on top of a mountain at a 6,000-foot elevation with a sweeping view of the confluence of the Rio Zamora and the Rio Nanguaritza. Bringing supplies up and down the mountain means carrying them by hand up the narrow trail and slogging through the mud while avoiding snakes and tree limbs. Every bag of wet beans- weighing up to 45 kg (approx. 99 pounds) must be carried down the mountain in this manner. It was an arduous bean and farm inspection- if not a stunning one. In addition to visiting the farm, Shawn toured Monica's newly constructed fermentary and drying beds, a crucial upgrade that helps ensure the most premium cocoa beans.
After visiting the farm and the facilities and sharing lunch (fresh fish & Monica’s homemade Pan de Calatraba topped with cocoa nibs!), Shawn led a chocolate tasting and a profit share meeting. Shawn and Monica walked through the profit share statements line by line and discussed next year’s contract. Monica's family, including her children and new grandchild, enjoyed tasting the 72% Amazonia Dark Chocolate bar featuring Monica's photo, as well as chocolate made with beans from our other lead farmer partner in Ecuador!
Monica and her team produce some of the highest quality Arriba Nacional beans in the world, and importantly, she remains the first female cocoa bean exporter to be licensed by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture. Direct trade is about seeing the visions of our farmer partners and working with them to achieve those goals. By investing in Monica's operations early on in our partnership with her, we played a small part in helping Monica attain this amazing accolade. This win is her own, and we are proud that our commitment to direct trade allowed us to help her achieve this dream.
Exploring Palanda Archeology Site
Palanda, located in southeastern Ecuador, is a world-renowned UNESCO archeological site that Shawn visited on his trip this week. The site is meaningful because it yielded information confirming that the Mayo-Chinchipe-Marañón grew cocoa 5,000 years ago–before that of the Mayans or the Olmecs!! Shawn and Monica traveled treacherous mud-covered hairpin switchbacks in a passenger van to the site. They learned about the unique and spiraling rock architecture and visited a temple structure where the first evidence of ancient cocoa bean cultivation was found.
This site visit was incredibly impactful for Shawn. In his own words:
"After so many years traveling around looking at farms and talking to people about cocoa, it was overwhelming to stand in that place and take in what happened there. People drank fermented cocoa pulp right here a long, long time ago. And now we are eating chocolate made from beans not far from here... I opened up a Zamora bar and shared it with Monica and the others."
These beans are the predecessors of the cocoa beans that Monica Guaman, our lead farmer partner, grows on her farm, meaning her beans are directly connected to the origins of cocoa cultivation!! While she utilizes modern practices to raise her cocoa bean crop, she relies on hard work, tenacity, and genuine respect and love for her craft to achieve the many accolades she has won. Direct trade is knowing your farmer partners, knowing the origins of their beans, and caring about their culture and heritage.
Supporting Smallholder Farmers
By sharing a portion of sales with our farmer partners, we are investing in their farms and their communities. That's just one way our business model is unique, and though it’s not the easiest way, we’re proud of this nearly 20-year relationship with Ecuadorian farmer partners. This is direct trade, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
When you shop Askinosie bars and bites, you’re investing in farmer partners like Monica and Vitaliano, too. Shop all our directly sourced, farmer-forward chocolate offerings.