Certifications: Direct trade
These are pristine beans. And basically perfectly fermented. The first aroma I get is of soft leather, like a supple piece of deer skin. Buttery almost. With that comes along bright dried fruits. And what I mean by that is that it is like the fruits in question (slightly indefinable) were bright (like raspberry, or tangy grape) before they were dried and some of that comes though, but subdued. That light, soft leather stays with the chocolate in the flavor, along with an almost milk like softness, with layers of that concentrated sweetness you get in caramel and dried fruits. In particular I get very light banana and bing cherry. There is a very slight, balancing astringency (very good in this case) but no particular bitterness to speak of. In the finish I find an almost 'mocha' like flavor - not really coffee but that synergistic melding of coffee and chocolate which lends a satisfying richness to the whole flavor profile.
These beans are Direct Trade and Organic. In the first case, that isn't certifiable and in the second, in this case, they are not certified but organic nonetheless. These beans were sourced with care about the farmer and co-ops, premiums well above the market minimum were paid (nearly double in this case) and only the best beans were accepted.
When I asked about organic, this was the response. "The beans are organic. The answer is yes (in fact) but no as far as certifications go. They come from a remote part of Honduras (two days by canoe) where there simply are no chemicals and they have never been used." In addition, these were shipped in and through customs with no fumigation. And everything I can find about the Wampusirpi (goodness I love saying that name) district leads to the fact that the whole region is committed to organic.
Bioshpere is who is making these beans possible. This is part of a conversation we had along the way.
As you can see from attached buy sheet (during our last buy, we bought from over 150 growers) we pay 8L per lb for wet beans. This is roughly the same price they would get for fermented beans in port but without two day's travel.
The volume which we are willing to buy from individual growers spans three orders of magnitude: from 1 lb to 700+ lbs; this means that people who would normally not be able to sell because they lack the volume to ferment, can make money selling to us.
We pay cash on the spot, and our technical assistance has reduced almost to nothingness the % of “B” class beans that producers sell.
We make advances against production, for which we charge no interest
What some of this means is that farmers can depend on not having their time and energy wasted. Too many times in the area farmers had to choose between focusing on crops or cocoa. And sadly, when some chose cocoa, they had to take them two days into the local city where they didn't know the price they would get but had basically no choice but to sell at what was offered or come back empty handed.
Biosphere is alleviating most if not all of these concerns by in effect paying up front for beans before they even arrive. Basically they are committed to the area and the farmers for the long haul. The beans that are purchased are always raw baba. This is a win/win situation. The sellers do not have to travel two days with no guarantee of selling their beans (they are all purchased locally) and Bioshpere, getting the raw beans, can combine and ferment them for the results you see.
Finally, I just have to tell you about the fermentation process. These are box fermented under the supervision of a local gentleman who has been doing so for the last two decades. Per his instruction they beans are checked and turned every four hours. Yes, you read that right. This accounts for the super even fermentation you see. And it is more than just surface appearance. At this point I have seen six lots over two and a half years. And I can not tell them apart. Which is fantastic to my mind. Maybe there will be some subtle changes due to weather and such, but it certainly will not be due to random fermentation. And let's talk about record keeping. The beans are traced start to finish in logs. At one point two finished bags of cocoa were discovered without their attached documentation. I heard about this because they were about to throw them out. I begged to have samples pulled so I could evaluate them. They agreed and I tested the two bags. Totally consistent as expected. They were part of what I brought in last year and they were what sold out quickly. That Biosphere was willing to take the loss on these beans impressed me. And that they relented with supporting quality data made me happy.
As for roasting, feel free to experiment here. The bean is sturdy enough to handle a wide range, but fermented well enough to accept a light roast if that is to your liking. Really, you are going to be hard pressed to mess these up. I know that scares some people, but just do it. You will be fine.