Highlights From Dominican Republic

Highlights From Dominican Republic

Posted by Faraji Starks on

Recapping our 2019 Origin Trip To Dominican Republic

As a mission-first company we are radically transparent about where our produce comes from, and we are excited to take you to the origin of it all to meet the farmers behind the beans. Our "Origin Trips" are designed to do just that!

Shaking hands with the farmers that grow your cacao beans give you an entirely new appreciation for the chocolate you eat. Even more so, is seeing the pride, passion, and contentment in the farmers who are using these crops as a livelihood and a sense of purpose.

This is the story of our Origin Trip to the Dominican Republic and our visit to the Reserva Zorzal Farm, a 1,019 acre plot of land dedicated towards the protection of the rainforest and the Bicknell's Thrush (a migratory bird).

The Journey Begins: San Francisco De Macoris

Our Trip began in San Francisco De Macoris, a bustling city known for its industry and agricultural processing, which provides for a variety of local restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and activities. As we became acclimated to the warmer and more humid conditions that are known to support the growth of cacao trees, we cooled off with some fresh drinks and food, picked within hours of preparation. We were pleased to find that the freshness and flavor of the pineapple in the Dominican Republic rivaled the fresh pineapple we reminisce about from Cameroon, West Africa. After a good nights sleep, we were ready to explore the region.

While in the city, its hard to imagine that just outside the city limits, this area also serves as a hub of cacao farms, fermentoriums, and drying facilities. Lead by some of the Zorzal team members, in about 15 minutes we were visiting one of Dominican Republics cacao farms, where we were shown the growing and harvesting stages of the cacao crop. Cacao pod grows off the trunks of these trees until they are mature, to which farmers then harvest and extract the cacao beans to be then moved towards the next stage of processing: fermentation.

We were lucky enough to visit Reserva Zorzal's brand new fermentorium and drying facility. As we were lead through their process, we were shown their techniques and protocols for properly fermenting cacao.

Throughout the world, Zorzal has become a leader in proper fermentation. Dr. Charles Kerchner and his team work tirelessly to document their experiments and findings. As a result, they have created some of the best cacao in the world. They use a tiered fermenting box system, where beans are shifted from box to box after each stage in the fermentation process.

After the fermenting stage, the next step involves properly drying the cacao beans on beds. This involves rotating the beans, and ensuring a proper environment - which the city of San Fransisco can easily provide during the dry season.

After the beans are dried, they are sorted and hand bagged. This is where specialty chocolate makers come in - they take the beans through all of the various steps towards making chocolate. Zorzal even had a treat for us at the end of the tour: freshly made chocolate right from their farm - it couldn't get fresher than that!

Camping in the protected rainforest at Zorzal Reserve

On the third day, we left San Francisco and travelled deeper into the island up into the mountains toward the Reserva Zorzal Farm. We were greeted just like family, and presented with breathtaking views and comfortable accommodations. The lodgings on the property created the perfect environment to hangout and learn about growing cacao. As we all sat around listening to our plans for the next two days, we were eager to get started on the farm, doing hands on work with cacao trees.

After settling in, we were eager to explore the farm. We were immediately organized by the Zorzal team, who couldn't hide their expressions of pride and excitement. Seconds later, we were off on a hike to explore a portion of Zorzal's 1,019 acre cacao farm. All along the way, we were introduced to a variety of cacao plants (including the rare and valuable Cacao Blanco) and a couple of other fruits growing on their property.

After an enjoyable afternoon of hiking, we all decided to cool off in one of the local crystal clear rivers of the Dominican Republic's mountainous region, and ended the night with a delicious meal prepared right on the farm.

Meaningful Work: Volunteering on the Cacao Farm

We awoke the next morning to a beautifully prepared breakfast before heading out to plot #10, where we were taught how to clean cacao trees. We learned about the varieties of cacao trees, how they are treated separately, and went on pruning away branches and leaves.

We also prepared a cacao nursery, making sure to create an adequate tent for sunlight protection. We broke open cacao pods, cleaned the beans, and set them out to sprout. Tomorrow we would plant them in the nursery.

On the last evening of our stay at Reserva Zorzal, one of our guests was surprised with birthday celebrations! Many of us learned how to dance in traditional Dominican Republic style, while others enjoyed the roaring fire, freshly made Pina coladas, and of course... birthday cake!

We finished our last morning at Zorzal by planting black pepper trees. Cacao is highly sensitive to the surrounding plants, and the flavor of the chocolate can be influenced by other trees growing in the nearby area. Zorzal is growing these cacao trees next to the vines of fruit and Black Pepper plants - resulting in a more nuanced flavor.

Exploring Dominican's Coasts

After saying goodbye to our new friends, we headed out towards the last leg of our trip - the beach city of Cabarete. The town's legacy held up to our expectations as we looked over clear blue oceans and hundreds of wind surfers. Known as the surfing capital of the world, we spent our days enjoying the fresh fruit, sandy beaches, clear water, and even explored some of the areas local bean-to-bar makers.

Every evening was filled with delicious fresh food near the beach, and every day was filled with local attractions. Some of our group members went snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and had fresh drinks right from the fruit!

We cannot begin to express how meaningful our time was on the Zorzal farm, and meeting all the team members who treated us like family. The trip was full of chocolate; from tasting all the way to growing, and the experience will continue to grow within us for years to come. All of us were sad to leave, but excited about the new world they had explored and the friends they had made along the way!

For us, it solidified our understanding that sourcing ethical sourced cacao can create impactful change in the lives of the farmers who grow the beans. The story and mission of Zorzal Cacao continues to create environmental impact, and every member of the staff displays enthusiasm and pride in their work; all while creating some of the most incredible chocolate in the world.

Check back soon for news about our 2020 Origin Trip.

Connect deeper with this origin. Try our Single-Origin Dominican Republic Zorzal Estate Bar.

Origin: Reserva Zorzal, Dominican Republic

Harvest: 2018

Tasting Notes: Notes of tart cherries and red fruit

Ingredients: Organic Cocoa Beans, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter

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