All of our cocoa beans at Meridian Cacao are single origin, in broad terms meaning they are grown and processed in one specific country. We have a variety of countries represented in our cocoa bean offerings, all with their own characteristic tasting notes and flavors. Of course, we can also look closer into a country of origin: there are specific farms where these cocoa beans have been grown and fermentaries where they have been processed. You may notice that each single origin we offer has a “type” listed that tells whether we buy the cocoa beans from a centralized fermentary, a co-op, or a single estate. So, what’s the difference?
Single Estate - A single estate has the smallest footprint on the map of origin. It is a specific land-holding or regional collection of farms all owned by the same entity that both grow and process their own cocoa beans under one label. They grow, ferment, dry, sort and bag from start to finish at the same source. They transform their own cacao pods and seeds into their own finished cocoa beans.
Centralized Fermentary - A centralized fermentary is more of a regional hub, not tied to a particular farm. It is an independent processing center that buys “wet” (fresh) cacao seeds from neighboring farmers and blends them together to ferment in coherent batches. After fermentation, they also dry, sort and bag their finished cocoa beans. A centralized fermentary doesn’t grow the cocoa pods and seeds they process.
Cooperative - A cooperative can take many forms. It is a legal business structure where people own equal shares of a business together. A cooperative could own a farm, a centralized fermentary, a marketing label, or any other business in relation to the cocoa industry. Most cooperatives in the industry are individual farmers who own a centralized fermentary together. A cooperative does not denote a process, but more an organization of ownership.
The advantage to buying from a single estate is the control and potential influence they have over all inputs and processing that the other structures do not have, unless a cooperative of farmers also owns a single estate together. They have the potential to experiment with small batches and different types of flavor profiles for superior quality and flavor variation. The advantage to buying from a centralized fermentary is the potential for a more standardized flavor that is replicable, using standardized fermentation processes.
The advantage to buying from a cooperative is variable, depending on the type of business, and is usually more about supporting an egalitarian and democratic ownership structure. Often this involves farmers who may not traditionally have access to owning a business, many work towards issues of social justice, both in the global market and in their own communities.
Cooperatives allow for a more diverse representation of farmers, often allowing women more access to the industry, and links to articles: http://www.storey.com/article/what-is-single-origin-chocolate/