Bolivia, Alto Beni 75%
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Alto Beni is a cacao farmers’ cooperative in the Palos Blancos region of Bolivia, just east of Peru. The cooperative model is by no means unique to the region, and has been gaining popularity in the cacao farming industry. Why? Producing high-quality cacao requires not only careful farming and harvesting, but also careful fermentation and drying of the beans. Cooperatives are able to centralize these two critical steps and perform them with greater quality and consistency than is often possible for individual small farmers. The resulting beans merit better prices, and a cooperative is in a stronger position to secure them than a single farmer would be.
As for Bolivian cacao, there was a time – about 300 years ago – when its reputation in Europe was so lofty and its price so expensive that only elites could afford a taste. Today, the price is a little less exclusionary, but, as this bar proves, Bolivian cacao’s high quality endures. The Alto Beni co-op’s outstanding beans are unusually diverse in size and flavor, ranging from as little as 1 centimeter up to a full 3 centimeter in length, with the most complex flavors usually residing in the smallest beans. Careful roasting is required when bean sizes are so variable, but the right roast sets the stage for chocolate of moderate intensity with a bouquet of soft-tropical fruit flavors, made doubly luscious by a naturally smooth mouthfeel.