ÖKO CARIBE, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
*For more information and important context on farmgate and producer pricing, please reference our Transparent Trade page.
If you’ve been to a retailer with a craft chocolate shelf chances are you’ve seen, and perhaps tasted, quite a few bars made Öko Caribe cacao. The ubiquity of Öko’s cacao in the craft chocolate world is a testament to the quality and success of their vision. Located in the village of Pimentel in San Francísco de Macoris, Öko Caribe purchases wet cacao from 181 farmers in Duarte Province, centralizes the post-harvest processing (fermentation and drying), and exports the finished, dried cacao to chocolate makers. Their beans are famously balanced, with classic nutty and fruity flavors that yield a complex yet accessible single origin chocolate.
ÖKO Caribe was founded by Gualberto Acebey Torrejon and Adriano Acebey Torrejon. After a few decades of working for another organic cacao producer, the two accumulated a wealth of knowledge around the post-harvest process and in 2006, started ÖKO Caribe. Despite an incredibly competitive market (the Dominican Republic is one of the largest exporters of specialty cacao), Gualberto and Adriano’s commitment to quality, farmer prosperity, and high standards for traceability gained the support of local farmers and international chocolate makers alike.
The quality of ÖKO Caribe’s cacao is all in the details: they take special care to harvest only ripe pods and follow a strict post-harvest protocol which dictates exactly how long they ferment (six days), how many times they aerate the beans, and how long to dry them in order to achieve ideal moisture content (in solar drying beds for about a week). Their facilities are pretty awe-inducing: rows of massive solar drying beds, with separate beds for conventional and organic cacao; stadium seat-like four-tiered fermentation boxes stacked on top of one another for efficient transfer; a destoner to sort out pesky little rocks that can find their way into jute bags; jute bag after jute bag of dried cacao; and even a little chocolate factory!
The El Cibao region, home to ÖKO’s network of farmers, is center of the Dominican Republic’s cacao production. The soil is rich and fertile, and the rainfall plentiful: ideal conditions for Theobroma cacao. As with all the producers we work with, ÖKO sources from small shareholder farmers who practice agroforestry: a more sustainable system of agriculture that is intended to foster biodiversity and healthy soil by planting trees and shrub amongst crop and pastureland. For cacao farmers in El Cibao, this means intercropping fruits like avocado, oranges, and zapote with cacao trees. This helps the cacao avoid many diseases that could plague an entire crop. Most of the beans harvested are Trinitario and Nacional from Ecuador, with Venezuelan Criollo and some hybrids as well. They harvest every 15-20 days in two main seasons: October to February and their main season of March to July.
In addition to paying consistent, stable premiums, ÖKO helps their farmers find the nexus of maximized yields and environmental responsibility, macro-planning for the long-term health of their farms through soil, crop, and land management training, erosion prevention, reforestation, and waste management. Gualberto and Andriano’s vision extends beyond cacao: they’re deeply committed the prosperity and vitality of their community, providing a number of benefits for the farmers they work with and their employees, helping in repairing family homes or assisting with sickness or deaths. They help maintain the local school’s garden, local roads and provide transportation for inter-community youth and religious gatherings.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with ÖKO Caribe since 2014. Every year, our co-founder and head chocolate maker, Nate Hodge, visits Gualberto and Andriano to purchase what we in need in person. It’s a high point of our year, and always reaffirms a core pillar of our business: it’s not about transactions, it’s about relationships and trust. We are a community of chocolate makers, from bean-to-bar.
Read more about Öko Caribe here.