Episode 110 of #TheChocolateLifeLIVE streams from 09:00 MST/12:00 EDT on Fri, May 12th from the new HQ of TheChocolateLife: Prescott, AZ (and from somewhere in the Eastern Iténez region of the Bolivian Beni).
Episode Summary: Guest Volker Lehmann joined Clay to discuss the history, uniqueness, and challenges of Bolivian cacao. Lehmann shared his experiences of discovering wild cacao, buying a hacienda, and exploring Bolivian cacao from Trinidad to La Paz. The speakers discussed the differences between Beniano and Alto Beni cacao, the significance of cacao juice, and the improvements made at Lehmann’s chocolatal, the Hacienda Tranquilidad. They also touched on issues of child labor and shared personal experiences of driving down dangerous roads in Bolivia. The production of Bolivian cacao remains small, but it has received praise for its fino y de aroma cocoa, and there are efforts to increase its visibility in the international markets.
My first introduction to wild cacao – cacao silvestre – was a bar of Felchlin’s Cru Sauvage, which I would have tasted, IIRC, in 2006. I was told the story of how the cacao made it from eastern Bolivia near the border of Brazil via boat and then by road to La Paz before being transported to the port of Arica in Chile (Bolivia is landlocked) before heading to Switzerland for transformation into chocolate.
Instantly, I could tell the beans were special, though there was a lot of their story I was not told.
I contacted Volker Lehmann, the German ex-pat who’d done the work to bring the beans to market. A GTZ-trained agronomist, Volker has also worked with other tropical crops, founding Rainforest Exquisite Products to bring them to market.
My idea was to bring a tour group to Bolivia to visit the Hacienda Tranquilidad, the chocolatal (island) in the Iténez region of the Beni where Volker’s cacao operations are headquartered. That tour did not happen, but Volker invited me to be his guest in January 2010 so I would have a better understanding of the adventure when planning future trips.
Since 2006, wild (and farmed) cacao from the Beni has become fairly popular. But there is some confusion about the differences between the Iténez region and the Alto Beni – not just geographically, but also when it comes to genetics and more.
Understanding the cacao of Bolivia – what it is, what it isn’t, where it grows, and the differences in cacao grown in different parts of the country – is what I’ll be discussing with Volker in this episode.
As always, we will be taking your questions – live!
Below are two galleries from my trips to Bolivia in 2010.
January 2010 Trip Gallery
There is no way to include all of the photos I took and even after making a selection I did not include all of the initial selections and I had to resist the urge to go back and select more.
November 2010 Trip Gallery
I returned later in 2010 (my visa was still valid!) as an invited guest to speak at the 2nd International Congress on Fine and Flavor Cocoa in the Andean Region in La Paz. The itinerary had me flying into Santa Cruz, then driving (with Volker as my guide) via Cochabamba to La Paz. After the conference the plan was to head into the South Yungas region via Caranavi, then to Palo Blanco and Rurrenebaque in the Alto Beni, eventually making our way to Trinidad before returning to Santa Cruz. Hopefully before heavy rains would make the roads next to impassable. [Spoiler Alert: That didn’t happen.]
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
A groundbreaking study that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in 1492.