Region: Cuyagua “Hacienda Campesina Cuyagua”
Certifications: Direct Trade
We have not had something from Venezuela for nearly a decade and it has been over a decade since I had this origin. This Cuyagua and the Ocumare we have finally live up to their reputations of old. I want you to keep something in mind with this origin and that is that it is not a powerhouse. Many people hear about how wonderful it is and someone relate that to this massive and dynamically impressive explosion of flavor, and if that is how you are coming in, you are more than likely going to be disappointed. Here lies subtle and elegant qualities that you would do best to be mindful of and taste with intent. With that, let’s jump into the tasting.
And oddly interestingly as it sounds the aroma starts off with clean sweet clover hay. Some of you may remember in the way back time (2004-2009) I used to raise goats and sheep. Time and again during haying season it would come up how we wished we could actually eat hay and that the taste was as lovely as the aroma. Well, this is that aroma. Adding too that is an earthy floral note of lilies but a bit less sweet (because it is hay sweet). The flavor that follows though isn’t that green grassy flavor but instead a unique acidity. Immediately following is an unmistakable flavor that some people call fudge or brownie like and I find that it is hard to argue with but that I find it is more delicate and nuanced than that.
I want to come back to that acidity. Keep in mind just how tight and reserved the spider chart shows this bean to be. Yes, there is acidity but that really is just in comparison to the other flavors. The sweetness that comes through is also clear and bright like cane sugar. Like the Ocumare this is that restrained quality I’m talking about. A touch of chocolate, a refrain of acidity, almost no bitterness, delicate cashew and supple elegant earthiness. I talked about the Ocumare being a symphony playing at piano….This Cuyagua is pianissimo…quiet enough that you want to hear it and can but it requires your attention or you might miss a delicate refrain.Boring? Not in the least,, only quiet. Deft and light but assured and measured. In so many ways, words don’t do it justice. You just have to taste it, so please do.
It has been more than a minute since we have had this origin in and it is a relief. My records indicate it has been 12 years. Part of the issue was political. Part was drug trade. More than one person I spoke to noted that having been a frequent traveler to Venezuela, it had become just to dangerous to go there. Many of those issues are still there but I was blessed to connect with someone a couple years back who lived there and they were driven to get some great cocoa out of there again and this is the result.
The following is from Andres Avella of Cacao Americas himself. He said it so beautifully I don’t want to change a word.
CUYAGUA “HACIENDA CAMPESINA CUYAGUA”
The town of Cuyagua, Venezuela has a centuries old tradition of cacao farming involving the entire community producing some of the most rare and unique chocolate. Like many of the coastal towns of Venezuela, Cuyagua has a rich history, culture, traditions and different aspects that could be explored, but cacao is at the core essence of Cuyagua.. Grown in the Parque Nacional Henry Pittier, cacao is the lifeline of the region , representing both the economic livelihood and a tradition of years that has passed from generation to generation. Cuyagua has one of the most famous cacaos in the world.
Since the 17th century, the time of the Spanish colonization in Venezuela, it has been exported along with the cocoa from near by town of Chuao, by the Guipuzcoana company to Europe. The premium fruit could only be afforded by the nobility and the clergy, leaving other cocoas from Americas for the lower classes. In 1660, Lázaro Vásques founded the first cacao farm in Cuyagua with 231 indigenous workers. By 1713 the town of Cuyagua was founded, and workforce was replaced with African slaves. In 1720 the first church was built, and history shows that by then, the farm had grown to 14,000 cocoa plants. Currently, La Hacienda Campesina Cuyagua manages this large plantation as a cooperative.
It is the locals of Cuyagua who really give life to this cocoa tradition. Proudly passed down over centuries, their life stories and their traditions, where both women and men participate equally in the planting, cultivation and processing of this fruit, have earned Cuyagua its premier international reputation of unique flavor and aroma for producing chocolate. Cocoa has become a lifestyle for the local workers, despite the fact that the main activity is fishing off the Aragüeña coast.
The cocoa income supports the Cuyagua Communal Hacienda, and also for the workers to live from it. Each one of those who make life in the Hacienda fulfills specific functions depending on their experience working with cocoa, from cultivation, harvesting, shelling, drying and processing.
Cuyagua has won many awards around the globe, including the International Chocolate Awards and Academy of Chocolate Awards.
Days: 6-7 Depending on weather
Crates: Sweet wood
Temperature: min 25 C max 51 C
Days: 5-9 Depending on weather
Surface: rough and polished concrete
Cacao America is devoted to fulfill our mission in Cuyagua, which is to revive the local economy through paying a fair price for the cacao, fostering capacity building, and a commitment to recover this 125 hectares centenary farm.
We are proud to present this unique product, which represents the past, present and future of Venezuela’s Cacaos. Critically, in an interview with Felix Martinez (in charge of the Cuyagua Community Farm), pointed out that due to lack of budget and personnel it is impossible to attend all the hectares. This depreciation of Cuyagua was concurrent with the surrounding coastal towns in the state of Aragua, such as Ocumare and Chuao, expanding international recognition for their work with cocoa. Cuyagua’s inhabitants want to improve and grow their international image. Its workers not only want to achieve recognition for the fruit they grow, but also to be seen for the quality of their own chocolates. The women of Cuyagua are striving to attract tourism and reactivate the local economy by hand making chocolates, combining past traditions with bean to bar techniques learned from Maria Fernanda Di Giaccobbe.
Currently, the Cuyagua farm continues to be worked by the proud descendants of the Africans who worked on the old plantation and who now see with love and gratitude, the fruit that has given them sustenance for more than three centuries, and a farm that now belongs entirely to them. But younger generations are losing faith in Cacao, mainly due to the challenges that the Venezuelan economy represents for this artisanal industry and the low prices they command at the local market or by selling to a traditional exporter. The farm, neighbor to Chuao and Ocumare, is currently yielding only about 5 metric tons per year. The objective is raising the production to 125 metric tons per year by 2030, and promoting local tourism around the recovery of the farm, including hikes, birdwatching, sports and other entertaining activities to attract tourists. We estimate that in optimal conditions, Hacienda Cuyagua can generate over US$1 million American dollars in additional revenue for it’s population every year, only from the sales of their cacao beans, and with your valued support. In order to achieve this objective, we have acquired two lots of land in the middle of Cuyagua adjacent to the farm, to develop the Social Cacao Club. A venue providing the workers a complimentary breakfast every morning before going to work at the farm, in order to promote a teamwork culture, and to attract talent from younger generations through an internship program aimed at local universities. The Social Cacao club will also host a curriculum teaching the basis of “Cacao Farming Business and Techniques” combined with hands-on farm training. The program aims to replace the image of the poor farmer with one of young successful cacao entrepreneurs. International chocolate makers who commit to working with Hacienda Cuyagua will be able to reserve lots of production from the harvest and thus secure the sourcing and future of Cuyagua’s beans. Furthermore, when chocolate makers reserve a lot and submit a request for a visit to Cuyagua through Chocolate Alchemy, they will be able to stay at the rooms of the new facility, at no additional cost, to meet the farmers and get to know the farm in person.
Profile Drum Roasting: You should approach this roast in the same way I describe the flavor. Quiet but assured. There is a finesse here and you should not quite take that to mean delicate. Really, words are not the best medium for conveying how to roast. The profile I used for this is 14:30 / 16.80 / 21.50 @ 254 F or in slope notation, 10/8/5 @ 256 F. What you should pull out of this is that you should not come in hot and heavy but steady. 2.5 minutes in the development phase to bring out the chocolate without turn the peanut notes bitter. After that, you want to turn the roast down quite a bit. A classic default profile is often 10/8/6. This is 10/8/4.7 meaning you are finishing this roast at less than half the speed (10 div 4.7) as the start and you need to do this too keep the EOR temperature from getting too high. Much beyond that mid 250s and you start to over shadow some of those piano notes. Slow and steady wins the race. But I want to caution about just doing 'long and low' as seems to be a thing. If you do that you run the pretty high risk of not developing the flavors that are there and in that case you could well be left with the dreaded boring chocolate.
Behmor: Due to the cold start of the the Behmor, you can just set it on the 1 lb setting with 2.5 lb of cocoa and go. When you begin getting aromatic notes, somewhere around 4 minutes left (14 minutes elapsed of the 18 minute start) drop the power to P3 (50% power) and continue roasting for about another 6-8 minutes, waiting for the aroma to either decrease or get sharp. This is all of course if you don't have a thermocouple in the beans (Modifying your Behmor) If you have that you can follow the profiles above.
Oven Roasting: I've been experimenting a lot recently with a less fussy way to oven roast and I find this procedure works pretty well. It is moderately predictable, repeatable and although not as dynamic and controllable as a drum roaster, does a good job. You will need an IR thermometer. Roast 2 lb of beans. Preheat your over to 350 F. Place your cocoa beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and into the oven. Stir the beans at 5 minutes and check the temperature. Continue roasting until the surface temperature reads 205-215 F (it may well vary across the beans). At that point, turn your oven down to about 10-15 F above your target EOR, in this case 254 + 15 = 270 and continue to roast, stirring every 5 minutes until approximately 254 F. Again, there will be variation but the beauty of this method is having turned the oven down it is difficult to over roast. If you do find your roast is progressing too fast, adjust accordingly, starting at 325 F and/or changing your target to 265 F. Overall you may well roast 30-40 minutes. The important part here is to get good momentum going in a hot oven and then basically coasting to finish.