In the beginning of the 18th century, in Puerto-Rico, cultivation of cocoa was still thriving. It was a quite reputable product, as the earth of this island, the sun, the humidity and the temperature lends itself quite well to that crop.
Unfortunately, in the next few years, successive very intense hurricanes completely eradicated the cocoa tree farms. Subsequently, the cultivation never was able to take root again, as labor costs had gone up.
More wide scale production was set up in other areas, where wages for workers were less costly, such as South America, and West Africa. Generations went by, and the heyday of the cocoa production of Puerto Rico was forgotten.
One man, Juan Carlos Vizcarrondo, remembered having encountered wild cocoa plants in the forests of the island. After having tasted the raw beans, and tried unsuccessfully to make chocolate, he developed and learned his own process to make a palatable chocolate. Mr Vizcarrondo was able to sell some small quantities of his chocolate made exclusively with his cocoa bean production that he grew himself.
Thanks to a partner Vizcarrondo teamed up with, Eduardo Cortes, the adventure climbed to a new level. Upon learning by chance encounter of a cocoa pod filled truck that the US department of agriculture was experimenting and developing 9 varieties of very tasty cocoa trees, this initiative took a new turn. Puerto Rico had long forgotten that it was a prime location for the cultivation of cocoa, due to economic factors.
But the richness of the land remained, and two scientists used it to develop varieties of trees that would resist to witch’s broom and other pests and pathogens. Research horticulturist Heber Irizarry (now retired) and research plant physiologist Ricardo Goenaga, over the span of a decade, selected generations and generations of cocoa plants. The kind of work that monks would do. Upon completion, new varieties of some of the world’s best cocoa producing trees were offered to the world’s cocoa farmers.
Cacao pods of the US department of Agriculture
These high yield cacao trees are now available and are not the product of genetic manipulation, but of selection. A careful, manual task that requires much patience. This new crop proposition is used by the first authentically Puerto Rican chocolate made on the island. In San Juan, Loiza now produces this chocolate which is made from tree to finished product. The company offers an organic product in which no chemical pesticides are used in any of the steps of production. Who would have known that in 2017, Puerto Rico’s rich and fertile soil, climate and farming tradition would be put to the task of reviving the cacao past of the island. Not only have the forests of cocoa beans reappeared, but now, actual organic tablets of chocolate can now be purchased from this unexpected chocolate terroir. Anyone with a little time on their hands can truly taste the difference and unique character of this chololate.
For those who want to try out this high quality product, you can order them online here: Loiza Dark
N. Soliman is a writer for the excellent Living Culture blog. She is also on occasion a collaborator for States of SplendorPlease follow us here and subscribe: