Region: Ocumare de la Costa
Certifications: Direct Trade
We have not had something from Venezuela for over a decade. This Ocumare and the Cuyagua we have finally live up to their reputations. The aroma starts off velvety, with some supple notes of brown fruit. It is a full, warm, rich smell that begs you to take a bite…after one more inhalation. The flavor follows complete in step with a round and velvety mouthfeel.
The thing to keep in mind with this particular origin is that it is not a powerhouse and even more subtle than most. Many people come in thinking about how wonderful it is and somehow 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. This is a study in the more elegant qualities of cocoa and it would be best to be mindful of that and take time to taste with intent. That is not to say it is boring nor challenging. There is an unmistakable that some people call brownie or light fudge that is hard to argue with but that I find more delicate and less heavy. The sweetness that comes through is clear and bright, very much like cane sugar.
You’ll note that none of the attributes in the spider chart are huge. This is that restrained quality I’m talking about. Some chocolate, some acidity, some bitterness, some fruit, nut and earthiness. Think of a symphony playing…but just a little quiet, making you want to lean forward just that much to catch those notes and counter points. Boring? Not in the least, but quiet. Piano (in term, not the instrument). Deft and light but assured. 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 8 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.
Ocumare de la Costa (known simply as Ocumare) is a district on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, located between the ports of Puerto Cabello and La Guaira. Today's residents are mostly Afro-Venezuelan population living from coffee and cacao cultivation, fishing and increasingly from tourism. Next to the beaches, it is mainly the Afro-Venezuelan folklore that attracts foreigners to Ocumare, especially the San Juan Festival (June 23-24) and Corpus Christi.
Ocumare was colonized in the mid-seventeenth century by the Spanish empire as a royal territory belonging to Captain Lorenzo Martínez Madrid, with the aim of producing cacao using indigenous labor. The Ocumare community and cacao production expanded with the introduction of African slave labor, becoming a recognized town in 1731. The farming and processing of cacao continues to be an elemental part of Ocumare since its inception nearly three centuries ago. In mid-late 19th century, Ocumare’s economy continued to be based on cacao cultivation, while neighboring regions specialized in coffee, Venezuela's first global export product. While Venezuela was able to integrate into the world market based on the export of coffee and cacao during this period, Ocumare remained isolated.
However, this changed at the beginning of the 20th century, under the dictator Juan Vicente Gomez, who bought up numerous lands and redistributed them throughout the working class population, igniting an economic boom in Ocumare. Gomez integrated the region into the national infrastructure, with the construction of a road link with Caracas and introducing electricity and water supply in Ocumare. During his tenure, numerous fishermen also migrated from Isla Margarita into the region, which brought, among other things, the Afro-Venezuelan folklore into Ocumare. After Gomez's death, there was another economic slump, which is also reflected in the massive migration of the elite to the urban centers of the country, resulting in a shortage of workers for the cacao harvest in the 1940s and beyond. The passage of the Agrarian Reform Law of 1960 sought to redistribute arable land into the hands of peasants promoted another migration to Ocumare. However this new wave of migration didn’t endure and the plantations were soon abandoned again. Due to the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela, today there are only a handful of farmers endeavoring to sustain the cacao farming tradition in Ocumare de la Costa. Of note, for baseball fans, David Concepción, famous Venezuelan baseball player with the Cincinnati Reds Dynasty, hails from Ocumare.
The Ocumare Cacao is harvested at each of the pre-selected producers' plantations (chosen for their similar genetic profile), and immediately transported wet, to our privately owned facility in Ocumare, where the post-harvest process is performed. First, we remove any overripe, diseased, green or damaged beans before they are fermented. Then we transfer the beans to the wooden fermentation boxes to apply the fermentation protocol, developed and supervised by a renowned agronomic engineer from Venezuela. Next the cacao is moved to drying drawers, where we begin with a slow drying process under full sun exposure and shade, that intensifies as the beans become dryer. After the beans have been dried, they are carefully hand selected, retaining only medium and large sized beans, to facilitate the roasting process for our customers. Finally, the beans are stored in Grainpro bags, until they are loaded in the container to travel to California.
Cacao America’s mission in Ocumare is to foster capacity building for each one of the 58 independent farmers that we have carefully selected, by providing them with the technical assistance and the tools required to double their production over the next three
years, and provide them with access to international market prices.
Like most of the small Cacao farmers around the world, the pre-selected producers have a plantation of 1-5 hectares, and an annual yield of ~300 kgs of Cacao per hectare on average.
Through an initial visit and assessment made to each one of their farms, we were able to
identify micro opportunities to improve their harvests through the three following ways:
By executing these micro-projects, we estimate that we can increase production from the
current 15,000 kgs, to at least 30,000 kgs in the next three years. By doubling their production and giving them access to better pricing, we expect to quadruple the income from their cacao trees for these producers. Empowering the locals and refocusing the attention back to the amazing cacao beans, will allow Ocumare to regain its place as one of the leading cacao producers in Venezuela once again
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 14:45/2:30/4:45 @ 256 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 10/8/5 meaning you are finishing this roast at half the speed (10 div 5) 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 10-15 F above your target EOR, in this case 256 + ~15 = 270 and continue to roast, stirring every 5 minutes until approximately 255 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.