The Puma Champi family have long been developing and innovating on their process of growing and harvesting the cacao trees that grow across their 12 hectares in La Convención, Peru.
Efraín Puma, the patriarch of the family, first became interested in drawing out the unique flavors of his cacao in the early 2000s.
What does it mean to process a cacao bean? Pods are harvested at their peak ripeness. A long-handled scythe is required to reach up in between the ancient trees and cut them down. To harvest, Efraín cuts the ripe pods open, scoops out the fresh beans with white pulp still clinging to them, and transfers them to the fermentation boxes. This is where the magic happens.
The artisan fermentation stage is where the flavors of the cacao beans are truly developed. There is no set formula, and many variables are difficult to control within nature. When Efraín determines that his cacao has reached peak fermentation, the beans are transferred to raised drying beds, where they slowly dry under the sun.
When Efraín made the unpopular decision to start fermenting his Chuncho cacao, he was motivated by the possibility of developing deeper, more complex flavors. He knew his Chuncho cacao was special.
Over a decade later, the quality of his Chuncho beans has been recognized on both national and international scales. Three of his sons—Juan, Efraín, and Joel—have inherited Efraín’s vision. Working alongside their father, they have modernized the post-harvest infrastructure to ensure consistent quality and keep up with demand.
After several years of placing in Peru’s list of top 10 cacao beans, the Puma Champi family won first place in 2021. The same year, they went on to secure a bronze medal among the 50 best cacao beans in the world in the global Cocoa of Excellence competition. Recently, it was announced that their cacao was once again considered the best cacao in Peru.
We spoke with the family days after the results were announced. How did they react? More determined than ever to keep improving their cacao. One of the brothers, Joel, effusively details his assessment of where he can tweak certain processes to obtain an ever-superior bean. What will the result be? Only future harvests will tell...