The flavor of raw cacao will remain in your memory forever. It has a rich, honey-sweet taste that reminds me more of a mango than a chocolate bar, and it hits you in the mouth with a powerful punch. The sweetness, on the other hand, is short-lived since it is followed by a sharp acidic bite that brings to mind how fruity chocolates obtain their edge. The taste of cacao fruit is also transitory since the liquid starts to ferment as soon as the fruit is removed from the tree where it was grown.
Why Visit a Cocoa Plantation
When you go farther away from the source of the flavor, it loses some of its intensity and finally dries up to the point where it is unrecognizable from its previous self. This is just one of the many compelling reasons to spend some time on a cocoa plantation.
Visiting a cocoa plantation (which, depending on the nation, may also be referred to as a farm, finca, hacienda, or any number of other names) is an experience unlike any other, and just as the many titles imply, the experience is unique to each individual plantation. Therefore, even if you are able to get your hands on some cacao juice or cacao liquor, it will never quite compare to the experience of sucking the pulp directly off of a freshly cracked cacao pod.
The act of removing chocolate from the environment of a store and bringing it closer to its roots is what distinguishes a cocoa plantation as something really unique. A piece of chocolate transforms from an item on your list of things to buy into a live, breathing result of someone’s labor. All of the anti-oxidants and tastes that can be found in chocolate had their beginnings on cocoa plantations located in various parts of the globe. This special origin may be traced back to Vietnam, more especially to the southern region of the nation, in the case of some of my most favorite chocolates.
There aren’t too many cocoa estates in Asia that provide tours or educational programs, but we’ve been fortunate enough to find at least one that does. Azzan Chocolate, which has its headquarters in Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam, has only very lately begun providing tours of both its breathtaking plantation and the adjoining fermentary. Now, let’s have a look at the itinerary for the excursion. Please take into account that as of the time of writing, tours are only available in Vietnamese, Japanese, and English, and they can only be arranged by prior appointment.
Arriving at the Cocoa Plantation
As soon as I got to the farm, I inquired about the meaning of this Vietnamese term right away. Since the proprietor has a limited command of the English language, I felt it was appropriate to convey my response in his own tongue. Vui signifies cheerful. On Azzan’s plantation, this is the term that describes the sensation you receive when you see the rich vegetation working in your favor, such as the cacao trees flanking the walkway and the mango trees adjoining the home. You are instantly oblivious to the thirty-minute drive that it takes to get here from the city.
In the month of May, the organic fields are alive with the fluttering of many iridescent green butterflies that emerge in the late spring. There are puppies running about and relaxing under the bridge; the amount of time you spend there will determine whether or not you get to interact with any of the canine inhabitants. When you finally have a chance to roam about for a little while, you’ll be astounded by the wide diversity of plant life that has been cultivated all around the farm.
Every fresh field is bordered by a rainbow of colorful flowers, and the owner plants a different kind of tree or shrub every month in an effort to keep up with his ever-expanding imagination.
Tree to Bar Chocolate in Vietnam
Tung, who owns the farm, has a strong connection to both the area and the people who live there. His enterprise was launched with the sale of only coffee and a few meager quantities of regional fruits. Now he keeps as many fruit species as you can name in a dozen breaths, and as the good reputation of his coffee spread throughout Vietnam, he began looking into how he could give back to the community while expanding his business. He now keeps as many fruit species as you can name in a dozen breaths. On his property, over the course of the last two years, a total of one thousand cocoa trees—11 distinct varieties’ worth—have been planted. When you add these to the thousand coffee trees he already had, he has quite a large land mass that is functioning for him.
But because his trees are so young, and because Tung and his business partners wanted to begin learning how to make chocolate as soon as possible, they have been supplementing the scant amount of beans that they get from their own young trees with cacao that they buy from a community of farmers that is located nearby. They gather cacao at set intervals with the assistance of a community matriarch and ferment all of the beans in a single location that serves as the fermentary for the group. They have been gathering so many beans that they are now selling some of them to various other manufacturers located all throughout Asia.
You will have the opportunity to fly out to the gathering location for their cacao, as well as the much older cocoa plantation that is situated all around it, should you want to pay a visit. It will depend on the whims of the weather gods and the mood of the rainy season as to whether you go by automobile or by boat. May and December are the months with the highest volume of cocoa harvesting.
In terms of the tree-to-bar chocolate enterprise that they run, every step of the manufacturing process takes place away from the farm, in the nearby city. Their chocolate factory is located only a few meters away from their café; if you’re fortunate, the door will be open when you stop by to check it out. In any case, you should make it a point to pick up a couple bars from the café, since the exquisite packaging makes for an excellent gift of Vietnamese chocolate. To put the cherry on top of it all, Tung creates the package himself.
Tasting the Fruits of Our Labor
The decisions he’s taken with regard to his company are the kind that the vast majority of business owners would crow about if they could. A donation of 5,000 dong, which is equivalent to around $0.25, is made to Operation Smile for each can of ground coffee that is sold. Additionally, Tung gives up 5% of the company’s income to fund the education of children who belong to ethnic minorities, particularly the children of the cacao farmers he collaborates with. My acquaintance could not stop gloating over Tung’s decisions for his company, despite the fact that he does not speak English very well himself, and I got the impression that he would never have directly disclosed this information. It’s not that he’s operating a nonprofit organization or a business geared toward social innovation; it’s simply the way he is. His personal philosophy is that he should give to others if he is fortunate enough to have riches.
There are very few qualities in a person that I appreciate more than a conscious effort to give up one’s own interests for the sake of others.
However, he does not reserve this aspect of himself just for the sake of the company. During the time that I was there, despite the fact that the only thing he knew about me was that I had gone all the way from Korea to see his farm, he just couldn’t seem to stop doing this for me. He was so pleased with his farm that he beamed like a child as he showed off the garden that he had personally planted, just as the first tomatoes were beginning to ripen. When I turned around, he was prodding at a mango tree with the biggest stick you’ve ever seen in order to capture ripe mangoes, something I was completely unaware of at the time. One minute, he was showing out the many types of cocoa, and the next, he was doing so.
In much less time than that, he was climbing the next tree to get jam fruits, and he was rolling them down while grinning the whole time.
After two minutes, as you continue to make your way through the cocoa trees, you hear the thud of a cashew fruit hitting the ground only a few meters away. And another, this one a little bit more in your face. Try the rich, succulent taste of a sun-warmed mango that you peeled with your own hands. Cool down with a piece of soursop that was cut off for you after it had been waiting in the refrigerator for your arrival. Even though you are dripping with perspiration, you can’t force yourself to care since the grin that is plastered on your face is even brighter than the sun that is shining outside. The season for rambutans was very close to starting. In this lush tropical paradise, you won’t be able to locate any apples or oranges, but there are lots of avocados.
They need to give this farm the name vui.
Because the first delicious taste of cacao transports you back to the moment you caught your first sight of this place, this heaven, and after that, all you have to do to get back there is shut your eyes.
How to Arrange a Tour
At this time, tours are not provided on a drop-in or regular basis, and they are only accessible when specifically requested. Visit their website, then either write an email, give them a call, or ask at their café if you chance to be in the area and want to learn more about their tours.
Cafe Address: 3 Quang Trung, Buôn Ma Thuột
Cafe Hours: 7:30am-6pm, daily
Azzan Cafe Map
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Have you ever visited a cocoa plantation?