Cacao, Bicolandia’s Tree of Life

Daraga, Albay – To celebrate the World Chocolate Day, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in partnership with Ayala Malls Legazpi launched an exhibit showcasing local producers of cacao chocolate from Bicol region last July 7-9.

The warm chocolatey smell has enveloped Ayala Mall’s ground floor with the different stalls of cacao chocolate products beneath the venue’s corners. 

Representatives from Sorsogon, Masbate, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, and Albay has displayed diversity in what Bicolandia can offer especially when it comes to food products.

The city of Masbate proudly presented their pure cacao tablea through Nerisa Escorel’s Ticao Tablea. 

The 49-year old mother founded her business in 2014 and she takes pride on her passion in tablea chocolate making

“Marami kasing kumakain ng chocolate, why not gumawa tayo ng sariling processed na cacao instead na mag-angkat tayo sa ibang bansa,” Escorel said.

[Translation: There are many people who eats chocolates, why not make our own processed cacao instead of exporting.]

The cacao trees and beans she’s using now were from her grandmother.

As the new generation to handle the cacao beans, Escorel conquered the fear in her heart to take risk in the cacao industry. 

“High school pa lang ako tumitingin-tingin na ako sakaniya (lola), tumutulong na ako sakaniya gumawa ng tsokolate pero hindi naman niya binebenta. Kasi hindi nila alam i-process ito at i-market,” Escorel said.

[Translation: Since highschool I’ve always observed her (grandmother), I’ll help her to make cacao chocolates but, she isn’t selling it. It’s because they don’t know how to process and market it.]

Through tablea chocolate making, Escorel also managed to fulfil her dreams as a teacher.

Escorel was hired by TESDA to share and teach her experience with cacao processing in which she had 60 students.

According to her, some of her students became her competitors now in the industry but she isn’t losing hope.

“Hindi pinagkakait ng isang teacher ang kaalaman nila, ganoon ako. Kasi isa akong guro kaya lang sad to say na hindi ako nakapasa kaya dito na lang ako nag focus sa passion kong ito,” Escorel said.

[Translation: A teacher isn’t greedy to share her knowledge; I am like that. I am a teacher but it’s sad to say that I didn’t pass (Licensure Examination for Teachers) so, here I am focusing on my passion.]

Escorel also shared some advice to Bicolanos who plans to pursue this industry.

 “Huwag sila mawalan ng pag-asa. Gumaya sila sa mga taong nagmamawot (hoping) na kung paano i-adapt cacao. Dito ko nakikita talaga na naging masaya talaga ako sa pamamagitan ng cacao,” she said with a bright smile 

[Translation: They should not lose hope. They should take those people who hopes to adapt cacao as an inspiration. I’ve seen myself happy through cacao.]

In one with Cacao

Attendees from Cam Norte attracted consumers by bringing their products.

With them, are their quality graded chocolates with targeted consumers, they take pride with the variety of products they have brought to the exhibit.

Mark Balce, 30, business manager and in-charge of product development in Camarines Norte Cacao Growers & Producers Association (CANOCAGPA) proudly introduced their cacao polvoron, chocolate tea, tablea chocolate, refined tablea, coco jam, vegan dark chocolate and many more.

They specialize in considering their product’s grade in order for them to produce quality flavors to cater not just the majority of people’s taste but also their specific target customers.

Balce also mentioned that to develop their most high-end chocolate’s bean, they always check their cacao beans’ quality. 

Starting from post-harvest, picking and breaking the pods, fermenting, drying, sorting, roasting, cracking, until grinding they maintain strict quality control.

This is essential to produce their luscious vegan dark chocolate that just literally melted in my mouth, thanks to the generous amount of taste-testing from the Cam Norte stall of Mr. Balce.

Balce also mentioned that CANOCAGPA is grateful for the local government unit’s (LGU) help and support on their cooperative’s initiative.

“Actually lahat ng public office doon, supportive sa pag ca-cacao. I thank them for supporting us farmers and local producers sa pagtulong sa flavor development ng tsokolate,” he said.

[Translation: Actually, all of the public offices there is supportive of our cacao processing. I thank them for supporting us farmers and local producers in helping us develop the flavors of our chocolates.]

From the cacao’s seeds, trunk, leaves, and fruit, cacao trees have sustained the local’s way of living.

Bicol’s very own cacao have clearly been and will continue to be the Bicolandia’s tree of life. | Allyza Morcozo

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