Zorzal, Dominican Republic

Dr. Charles Kerchner and Reserva Zorzal team with Greg D’Alesandre and Minda Nicholas of Dandelion.

Source: Cacao del Bosque S.R.L.; DBA – Zorzal Cacao; Produces “Estate” and “Comunitario”

Region: Duarte

Country: Dominican Republic

Source Type: Privately owned fermentary and estate (which is also a bird sanctuary)

Beans Source: Grown on reserve (estate) and purchased wet from neighboring farms (comunitario)

Fermentation Style: Linear two-box system, fermented for 6 days

Drying Style: Greenhouse design with mesh covered decks (using heaters to kickstart the process) as well as a cement patio

Cultivation Notes: 10 cacao lots planted by specific clones with unique flavor profiles on bird sanctuary

Certifications: Organic

Exporter: Cacao del Bosque

Importer: Dandelion Chocolate

Tasting Notes: walnut, caramel and brandied cherry

Start of working relationship: 2013

Last Visit: Oct 2016 by Greg

Tonnes Purchased in 2016: 10.2 MT

Purchased TOTAL (lifetime): ~16.2 MT

Charles (Chuck) Kerchner co-founded Reserva Zorzal as well as Zorzal Cacao (aka Cacao del Bosque S.R.L) in 2012 with the hope of proving that a for-profit business could be a viable, economically sustainable driver of environmental conservation. Chuck and his co-founders ( Jamie Phillips, Jesus Moreno, Jaimie Moreno, Angelica Moreno, and Sesar Rodriguez) bought a relatively undeveloped 412-hectare (or 1000-acre) piece of land in the mountains of the Duarte province. They then divided it into Reserva Zorzal (the bird sanctuary) and Zorzal Estate (the farm) to protect a critical habitat while simultaneously growing high-quality cacao. While Zorzal Cacao processes and sells cacao grown on this Estate under the name “Zorzal Estate”, the company also buys freshly harvested beans from around neighboring farms, ferments them, and sells them under the title “Zorzal Comunitario.”

Zorzal Cacao has grown quite a lot since Chuck first walked into Dandelion’s Valencia street factory and cafe in 2013. He started by fermenting beans grown on Zorzal Estate with Öko Caribe’s infrastructure. Zorzal Cacao then built their first post-harvest facility onsite in 2016 that allowed them to ferment the Zorzal Estate cocoa and cocoa from surrounding farms. In 2018, with an enormous amount of experimentation under their belt, Zorzal Cacao moved their post-harvest processing facilities to a new piece of land that will allow easier temperature and moisture control for drying as well as easier transport with improved road access. The new “fermentorium” is located in Los Arroyos, approximately 10 minutes from San Francisco de Macorís, the bustling epicenter of cacao production in the Dominican Republic. Here, they are implementing lessons learned from their visits to other facilities such as Costa Esmeraldas, Camino Verde, and Sacha Gold in Ecuador. In 2018, Zorzal also worked with Dandelion to create an app to capture data about their bean collection, fermentation, and drying. This information will help grow their understanding of the impact that post-harvest processing variables have on flavor.

While Zorzal Cacao’s primary efforts are focused around land preservation and cacao production, they are also working on reforestation of the Dominican Republic. The reforestation efforts happen through the implementation of a carbon-offset program, Plan Vivo, in which local farmers are paid annually to set aside a portion of their land to grow native tree species. To fund this, chocolate makers who buy from Zorzal Cacao purchase $200 worth of carbon credits for each tonne of cocoa purchased. To date a total of 80 hectares (about 196 acres) of trees have been planted through this Plan Vivo program including some land within Reserva Zorzal itself.

In total, Zorzal and partnering organizations have protected 1,238 hectares (~3,000 acres) of threatened rainforest in the northeast Dominican Republic since 2012. The primary mechanisms used to protect the land are: 1) reforestation via carbon contracts; and 2) setting aside land as Private Reserves.

Unlike many of the places we source beans from, the Dominican Republic has a thriving national cacao industry and in this context, Chuck has been able to support staff retention through continual learning. Dandelion runs annual customer trips to visit Zorzal and the Zorzal team. On these trips, we see a few different cacao producers, spend some time at Reserva Zorzal, and spend time with staff. The best part of working with people around the world is getting to meet in person, learn from each other, and have a new appreciation and understanding for our shared world.

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