Brazilian tree-to-bar chocolate maker Mestiço has been growing cacao for over 40 years, since 1971, at Fazenda Bonança, in Itacaré, Bahia. The chocolate factory, however, is located just that little bit closer to its customers in São Paulo. The factory is also open to the public, so those curious in the art of chocolate making can see the whole process.
Mestiço plant and graft productive and resistant strains of cacao. With hardier cacao growing plentiful, it means farmers face less invasive weeds and cacao-prone diseases, such as Witches Broom. It also reduces the need for cacao farmers to use pesticides.
When introducing a Brazilian chocolate maker to our Library, it’s hard to bypass the pervasive and the persistence of the country’s cacao scene. The pervasive would be the cacao-diseases, the persistence is the farmers that live with, or rather fight against them. Mestico’s story is no different. Although its family farm survived the Witch’s Broom crisis in 1980s Brazil, and even managed to improve the working conditions of the farms, productivity levels have yet to be restored. However, the vision of the Mestico farmers and chocolate makers is to instead focus on increasing the bean quality – from fermentation to flavour consistency.
Brazil, once the biggest exporters of cacao worldwide, is slowly seeing the rise of chocolate makers producing at origin, using cacao grown on its own soil. The Galvão Kamei family runs its tree-to-bar operation – Mestiço – from planting the trees to crafting the chocolate all in Brazil.
The name “Mestiço” (pronounced Mæsteesso) means “mixed race”. It is a reference of both the Trinitarios that grow on the farm and of the mixed heritage of the chocolate maker: Japanese and Brazilian.
To find out more about Mestico, we spoke to the man responsible for the tree-to-bar chocolate factory, and former mechanical engineer, Rogerio.
What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
We are the third generation of cacao producers at the traditional Brazilian cacao area, at the south of Bahia State. I was previously a Mechanical Engineer, head of Rear Engine Bus Development at MAN Latin America, and before that, at Mercedes Benz, also developing commercial vehicles. The decision to make the change came both due to my mother’s retirement and the fact I wanted a closer relationship with the final product, which in a big company is virtually impossible. So I quit the job and went back to the farm. We decided to start a chocolate factory to gain value, but also because we watched this new world of Bean to Bar making. I am passionate about new developments, and I find it on the new formulations and improvements we have on our chocolates.
The farm is with the family since 1971, and before that my parents and grandfather had other cacao farms, and have been producing since the 1940s. My father, who passed away still young during the 1990s, was from the start a sustainability enthusiast, before this was a common concern. My mother, who took charge of the farm since my father passing, was able to survive the Witch’s Broom crisis, and even improved the working conditions.
The overall production was never the same though. We will never be able to reach the same productivity we had until the 1980s, so our work at the farm have been to increase bean quality so to compensate with higher value. We have selected a few varieties based on the flavour and fermentation consistency, and we are investing in new ones as well. We are also heavily working on the fermentation procedures. While we have achieved good consistency in percentage of full fermented beans, we are always tweaking the process improve flavour wise.
When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
My wife, Claudia, is my main supporter. While I develop the chocolate and the factory itself, she runs the company. I consider myself only half of the time at the factory. The other half at the farm. We also do not plan on expanding much more than what we have now, mostly to keep the philosophy of craft making.
What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
Our main challenge now is to deal with the many recipes we are proposing. For our scale, it is not easy to have 12+ types of chocolates! But it is our spirit to deliver different experiences, so we are all the time thinking of bars with inclusions, changing the percentages, modifying the roast profiles and so on. The mission we established is simply to make the best bars, with the best cacao we can provide.