We first met the lovely Deya at WOMAD festival, after we had just given a talk in the World of Words tent on connecting with herbs. Her open bright spirit instantly attracted us and we exchanged our book for some of the most delicious raw cacao we have ever tasted. Her personal tale of where the cacoa had come form, the endeavours she has been through to ensure a quality of completely fairly traded cacao is inspirational. Here’s a little more about her story and the company that she runs….
When was the last time you had some chocolate?
Perhaps it wasn’t that long ago. As you reminisce about it now, you can probably remember the taste of it in your mouth or more importantly how it made your feel. Peaceful, happy, energised, content?
Chocolate is magic. Chocolate is everywhere! It has spread across the globe and can be found in various forms in all seven continents. Surprising to some, the world’s favourite treat comes from a tree! The Theobroma cacao tree to be exact, domesticated in what we now know as South America at least 6,000 years ago.
The stories and myths about Cacao’s creation are many, from it being a gift from the gods to humans; to beings from another galaxy showing our ancestors how to create the tree by crossing wild strains. Whether nature, nurture or divine intervention, the Theobroma cacao tree was born, as too was many a lifelong relationship with humankind.
Yet Cacao’s history is bittersweet and as varied as its many flavour profiles. At its first appearances and cultivation we assume that the pulp of the cacao pod was eaten fresh and, whilst we know little of its ancient usage, when the Spanish arrived to the Americas, cacao beans were used as currency or ground down and made into drinks reserved for royalty. Recent genomic research in Ecuador has found evidence of the use of Cacao from around 3300 B.C., some 500 to 1000 years prior to its apparent use in Central America. Suggesting an alternate history of the cultivation of cacao which was thought to have begun with the Mayans.
Exportation of cacao from Ecuador to Europe began with the Spanish in the 17th century, though perhaps the pod had been shared was before then, by indigenous peoples who visited far away lands. By the mid 1800’s Ecuador was the biggest exporter of cacao in the world. At that time, cacao cultivation was a monopoly run by the elite, with farms worked by slaves, both indigenous to South America and from Africa. As recently as the 1940s workers could be seen wearing the pearl necklaces and bracelets that served as the only payment for their labour.
Disaster struck in the early 19th century with the arrival of fungal pests affecting Ecuador’s heirloom cacao varieties, including the world famous Arriba Nacional. Ecuador’s export of cacao plummeted to less than 10% of the world’s export. This was a sad chapter in Cacao’s history; the vast majority of cacao crops were moved to Africa.
Clone species were also introduced, such as CCN51 which yields twice as much cacao and it does not need the protection of the jungle’s canopy. The nutritional properties and flavour profiles of these newer clones lacked the diversity of those found in heirloom cacao. In addition child slavery became the norm in the cultivation and harvesting of cacao, specially in Africa, an issue still present to this day; hence why is so important to educate ourselves and buy fair trade chocolate.
Although in Ecuador and other parts of the world Cacao cultivation practices have improved, the farmers are still struggling. Their biggest challenges come in the form of underpayment for their crops, introduced pests, cloned species, chemical farming, deforestation for things such as cattle and more recently, global warming. In Ecuador whilst some cities are seeing record breaking temperatures of over 37C, in areas where cacao grows, there is often non-stop rain for months. This has meant that the trees are not ready for harvesting at the usual time, drastically reducing the number of successful annual harvests.
Yet this is not something that the average ‘chocolate’ consumer may consider when they observe the apparent abundance and range of bars and powders on the shelves of their local supermarket. Truth is this seemingly ubiquitous product, produced from cloned species grown in Africa and harvested by often unpaid labour, is a far cry from ancient Ecuadorean lineage that gave birth to Cacao. To the extent that it cannot really be considered to be ‘cacao-based’ at all, in its truest form.
After 5 years of sharing Cacao in ceremony, and growing increasingly more aware of the struggles faced by Cacao, I was inspired to do something. Seeking to help. CacaoAmor was officially launched in early 2019, committed to respecting and honouring the Earth and Cacao’s natural environment, supporting sustainable agriculture in the form of small farmers and finding ways to help their families to flourish. Our aim is to keep alive traditional cultivation methods and to preserve ancient varieties of Cacao, as well as the ecosystems they support.
Cacao farmers do not get paid enough, for their hard work. It seems that big chocolate corporations, and to an extent consumers, care little about the lives of those who farm this magical bean let alone about preserving ancient varieties in the natural habitat where they originated. When I founded CacaoAmor, I made a promise to be more conscious of where the Cacao I use comes from and how those involved in its cultivation are treated. As such we pay farmers more than the set world trading price for cacao, as well as finding more ways to support their farms.
In our first year, we imported just 200kg of Cacao paste and sold out in just a few months! As the demand for quality fair trade heirloom cacao rises, so do the challenges faced by the communities. In an attempt to help the preservation of cacao, and considering our small batch import, we are now aiming to focus our efforts in areas where we can make a meaningful difference. As such we are narrowing down from working with 200 farms to just 3. These 3 remote farms grow cacao trees in their natural habitat, surrounded by many other trees and plants and under the protection of the jungle’s canopy. These farms have been hit hard by a range of environmental factors. They used to have at least four good harvests a year now they have one or two at most. Our goal is to support these farms to develop in harmony with nature and in turn import larger quantities of cacao at a time, to make the most of their good harvest.
In addition, we are establishing ‘Garden of Amor’ a fund to provide resources in support of the farmers and the land. £2 of every package of CacaoAmor sold goes towards helping create more sustainable conditions for the farmers and the trees, whilst benefiting consumers with top quality Cacao.
Furthermore, we will be teaching the women of the farms how to ferment and dry the cacao beans themselves, meaning they get better rates for their cacao where it will travel directly from the farms to our chocolate laboratory to be lightly toasted and stone ground into our signature ceremonial paste.
We believe that if you want to make a difference then you need to do something different. We are dedicated to encourage our customers to be contributors not only consumers. When you purchase Cacao from CacaoAmor you are contributing to the preservation of Cacao’s natural habitat and improving the quality of life of those who protect and care for it. If you would like to learn more about ways you can support us please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org www.cacaoamor.com In Cacao We Trust
Deya is a Cacao sorceress, Chakra Dancing and Creative Meditation facilitator and the founder of CacaoAmor. No one quite embodies the Cacao Spirit like Deya does. Her passion, charm and loving nature often leaves her ceremony attendees wondering whether or not, she is in fact the Cacao Goddess Ixcacao herself, reincarnate.
Deya’s love of Cacao began as a child in her home country of Ecuador, though it wasn’t until many years later that she experienced her first ceremony in Palenque, Mexico. It was at this moment that Deya realised her calling and began to study the art of Cacao Ceremony in a traditional way.
Her mission is to share the healing powers of cacao with as many people as possible around the world. She travelled the world, sharing her skills and developing her awareness and understanding both of herself, and of the need to help others to open their hearts.
After 6 years on the road, sharing her medicine, Deya settled in the UK where she established her unique brand of Ceremonial Cacao – CacaoAmor.
Deya has generously offered of a 7% discount on CacaoAmor to all our readers, with this seedsista case sensitive code when ordering from her website……