Where once we were surrounded by cement blocks, we found ourselves surrounded by majestic forests. Where once there were traffic jams, now we sit on small boats journeying into the sunset on the magnificent Huallaga river.
With each passing day the Peruvian Amazon opened our eyes and senses. We connected with the Mother spirit, the energy that comes from the mountain, and discovered the knowledge kept in the trees, animals and plants of the area. With its sweet, soft voice, the cacao tree captivated us and it was in the amazing fruit that the mother shared her secret and introduced us to the highest quality chocolate.
We have listened carefully to the forest spirits and have created Tree to Bar chocolate. Using cacao from our own finca (farm) and working with other farmers, from harvesting to processing, we ensure the highest quality product that we want to share with you.
In Chazuta time passed and the local population had forgotten cacao. Rediscovering its cultivation has revived an important economic resource and has also rescued varieties of native cacao that were thought missing. Through our work reassessing the viability of the native cacao, we have strengthened our ties in the community and allowed small farmers to bet on cacao.
Together with our farmers, we aim to gain a Geographical Indication for Chazuta cacao grown with agroforestry practices by optimising the benefits of combining native trees with cacao plants.
The idea of creating a chocolate brand was our original motivation to escape the noisy metropolis and start a new life in contact with nature. Foremost was resetting our priorities and starting a new life in harmony and contact with nature. We sought to learn what we could from a natural environment and a people who have been here since ancient times.
Initially overwhelmed by the amount of wonders that the forest keeps inside, it was time in nature that tuned our senses so that we could clearly hear the “call of the wild” through the sweet, soft and aromatic voice of cacao.
THE LEGEND OF NINA
Along the banks of the majestic Huallaga river runs a girl. Always curious and playful, she could be found playing with Yacuruna, spirit of the waters, where together they bathed in spectacular lakes and jumped into waterfalls invigorated.
Behold, Nina, Amazonian princess, the possessor of fire.
One bright day while frolicking with a deer, she journeyed deep into the forest than she had ever ventured before. She found herself in the protective shade, underneath the tallest tree she had ever set eyes on. While she marveled at this sight, a jaguar silently approached, mesmerising her with its majestic being, Nina felt drawn to him.
Bewitched by the jaguars luminous eyes, Nina travelled to the furthest corners of the forest, where she remained for half her lifetime, gaining wisdom and discovering a world untouched by human footprints. Nina came to know each and every animal and spirit that dwelled in the jungle, but above all she formed a deep understanding and bond with the plants. Plants that revealed to her their power to heal, nourish and protect those who formed respectful relationships with them.
Nina anticipated that the core spirit of each plant would share its wisdom with her, allowing her to establish equilibrium and maintain harmony in the jungle.
One morning, while nibbling her favourite fruit that adorns the forest trees in the shade of the low hanging branches, the mother spirit of the tree appeared. The mother spirit expressed her desire to teach Nina the secrets of the sacred fruit, cacao. Nina was transformed; amazed by the delicacy of the flowers, revelled in the sweet tasting juice and enchanted by the seeds, which held the potential to become a rich, refined delicacy.
Nina spent her time learning about the benefits and the transformation of the seeds, extracting the mother spirits wisdom.
Nina dedicated her life to cacao, seeing firsthand the benefits that cacao bought, extracting wisdom from the mother spirit by the bond they shared. An undeniable truth was realised; Nina was no longer a curious little girl, she has become an Amazonian Princess, responsible for sharing and channeling the power of cacao embodied in Nina chocolates.
FROM TREE TO BAR FINE CHOCOLATE
Our tree-to-bar chocolate is produced in the same vicinity as our farm and farmers who are involved in the final stages of post harvest production and take the finished chocolate home for their family to enjoy.
Crafting premium chocolate is a wondrous and rewarding experience that demands a dedicated lifestyle of patience and persistence. It’s a journey. We have learnt how to nurture our crop to perfection and the delicate methods of producing international standard fine chocolate. We would like to share with you below, the process we navigate and the considerations that are made at each step of transformation from the tree to the bar.
Nina Chocolate uses only single origin cacao from Chazuta, a region at the edge of the Amazon within San Martin, Peru, an area world famous for its consistently high quality cacao. Fundo Qoya, our farm in Chazuta, and other farms in the region, provide us with high quality, naturally grown, fine flavor cacao.
THE TRANSFORMATION FROM TREE TO BAR
In the San Martin region of Peru, we harvest the cacao seeds between the months of April and November, after rains have subsided and the fruit has matured. The cacao fruit develops through shades of dark red and purple before turning to golden yellow. There’s a small window between under-ripe and germinating where our farmers feel and smell the fruit to identify its readiness for harvesting. The seeds and pulp are then scooped out and separated from the husk and the seeds are sorted for fermentation.
For the fermentation process we place the beans, along with their pulp into natural wooden enclosures and monitor their progress very carefully. After an initial 24 hour period, the beans are turned to introduce oxygen into the chemical process and improve uniformity throughout the fermentation process which can cause the beans to attain a heat of 50°C. We monitor the beans carefully during the next several days to watch for the signs that tell us the process is completed.
The cacao beans are spread across large netted tables outdoors and left to dry in the ambient tropical temperatures for up to a week. We analyse the beans for humidity levels and turn them occasionally to uniform the drying process and when the beans are perfectly dry they are moved to the warehouse ready for the next step.
There are several inspections throughout the cacao process, but the post fermentation inspection is the most important. We can analyse the quality of the beans, which we do by guillotining a selection of the beans and visually inspecting the internal architecture, applying a chemical analysis and taste testing to ensure the beans have successfully fermented and dried. We also process the beans and carry out a secondary taste test on the final liquor.
The roasting methods are the most delicate practices for a chocolatier, the temperature and duration are subtly perfected through rigorous experimentation to produce the result that best represents the brand. The heating process is carried out in ovens designed to uniformly heat the beans, give a delicate consistency ready for cracking.
CRACKING & WINNOWING
The beans are now separated from their husks, the method is first to crack them into smaller chips and then separate the husks with a machine that vacuums the lighter shell leaving behind pure chocolate nibs. We sell nibs and also tuck them inside one of our 70% cacao bars.
GRINDING & CONCHING
Our cacao nibs are now ground with stone rollers until the powder transforms into a smooth unrefined chocolate liquor. Different cacao beans have different quantities of cacao solids and cacao butter, the natural fat in cacao beans. We ensure that the ratio is ideal for our fine chocolate.
Tempering is a controlled process of raising, lowering and raising again the temperature of the chocolate to organise the crystals and create the optimum texture and feel to the bar. The smooth finish and the crispness of the bar are determined at this stage before the chocolate is poured into molds, set and packaged for delivery to our customers.
THE CACAO FARM
Our picturesque cacao farm is located in a narrow valley in the San Martín Department of the upper Peruvian Amazon. The valley follows the Huallaga river between peaks of over a thousand metres that guard over our cacao speckled hills. Spread over 16 hectares, we have a plantation of cacao trees planted in an agroforestry system of native trees and other edibles such as the banana palm and majambo, a cousin of the cacao. Part of our vision is to protect the environment, including the forest and the animals living in it. At our farm you can also find an area we reforested with native trees.
We work with several cacao farmers within the Chazuta valley, spending time with them to explain our delicate requirements and supporting them to produce quality beans at greater yields which we buy directly for higher than standard prices. Our farmers are invited to seed analysis and flavour profile testing to ensure we continue to receive only the best quality beans.
One hour from Tarapoto, Chazuta is situated on the Huallaga River and nestled between dramatic mountain ranges on both sides that loom over the upper Amazon village. Cacao is an important part of life here, many residents are organic cacao farmers and cacao is celebrated here in our annual festival. Chazuta is also known for its shamans, as a place of mystical healing and today there are still many natural healers to be found. Fine ceramics, indigenous communities and delicious chocolate bring a steady stream of tourism.