What Makes KAKAO unique?

All chocolate is made from cacao beans but not all cacao beans are created equal. Many brands label their cacao ceremonial-grade without understanding what the term 'ceremonial-grade' actually means. Labeling cacao 'ceremonial-grade' has become somewhat of a marketing fad over the last 3-5 years, as drinking chocolate has reemerged as the premier way of consuming cacao. With more and more 'ceremonial-grade' cacao brands popping up every single day and the drinking chocolate trend showing no signs of slowing, it's more important than ever to clarify the distinction, 'ceremonial-grade.'

What makes KAKAO unique?

1. KAKAO is made from native (heirloom) cacao beans: while we may never know the true origins of cacao, experts believe that cacao got started roughly 10 million years ago in a region of the world known today as the Upper Amazon, an area that now includes parts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia (countries that obviously did not exist 10 million years ago). Before cacao was mono-cropped for estate or industrial use, it grew wild in this region of the world. These wild strains from this particular region of the world (which has grown to include Central America and Southern Mexico due to cacao being traded amongst ancient indigenous civilizations) is what we mean when we use the term 'native'. Today, native strains of cacao are the rarest variety of cacao because of the way 'Big Chocolate' has influenced cacao farming. The native strains of cacao we source are called Cacao Chuncho, 'chuncho' meaning 'of the jungle', and Cacao Criollo, 'criollo' meaning 'native', which we gather from small family farms in Peru and Guatemala respectively.

Other varieties of cacao exist, but many have been tampered with and genetically altered (cloned, modified, and hybridized) by man over the years to produce larger seeds, higher yields, and greater resistance to disease. From its native origins cacao has been dispersed globally and taken to regions of the world it would have never reached otherwise. Forestero, for instance, once native to the Upper Amazon, is now primarily grown in West Africa, accounting for roughly 80% of the world's chocolate production.

Many challenges arise for farmers and the planet when cacao is taken from its native origins (Central & South America and Southern Mexico) and transplanted into non-native environments (Africa, India, Indonesia, Asia, etc.). The results are typically devastating, including the destruction of natural habitat from slash and burn farming practices and various forms of slave labor. Makenzie and Michael have witnessed this devastation first hand. In 2018, they met the Peruvian farmer responsible for introducing cloned and hybridized cacao to Peru. Allured by the idea of wage security and the promise of industry demand, he confessed regretting his decision to bring genetically altered cacao to Peru.

Genetically altered cacao is now grown throughout Central and South America. Its cross pollination with native cacao has made it increasingly difficult to locate, isolate, and protect native cacao. To learn more about the dark side of chocolate and our motivation for doing things differently, view the cacao episode from the docuseries ROTTEN on Netflix.

2. We use the whole bean when producing our drinking chocolate. Unlike cocoa powder or the 'raw' cacao powders you find on your grocery store shelves, our KAKAO includes the cacao butter...all of it. In most chocolate products, the cacao butter is separated from the cacao powder before being recombined to make a finished product. Sometimes the two are sold separately as cacao powder and cacao butter. Because KAKAO includes the cacao butter, our product has a higher degree of nutritional value as well as a higher concentration of the plant compounds in cacao that elicit cacao's ceremonial effects (See: The Science of KAKAO under the LEARN tab).

3. KAKAO is minimally processed, meaning the beans still contain as much of their natural compounds as humanly possible. We use the least amount of processing possible to create our finished product in order to minimize the negative effects of over-processing. Our raw cacao beans undergo fermentation to cultivate their flavor profile and activate aromatic compounds. The fermented beans are then roasted at low temperatures, cracked, and stone ground by traditional means. Our KAKAO is NEVER hydraulically pressed, conched, or tempered. Any cacao that is hydraulically pressed, conched, or tempered is not 'ceremonial-grade.'

4. From tree to cup, KAKAO is cultivated with intention and integrity. This means that the land, the farmers, their communities, and every stage of our process is handled responsibly with respect for all parties involved. Through our direct-trade relationships, we let our farmers determine their prices. They are the ones that get to decide on the value of their time, labor, and efforts. Our manufacturing team is paid fairly, provided benefits, treated with respect, and given an inspiring, uplifting, opportunity-filled work environment. As a 501c3 nonprofit, we have a fiduciary responsibility to give back to the communities from which our cacao is sourced.

To sum it up, KAKAO's values include:

  • made from native cacao beans sourced from land cacao is native to
  • made using the whole cacao bean
  • minimally processed
  • cultivated with intention & integrity at every step in the supply chain