Postcard from Cook’s Tonga Operations

Greetings from the beautiful South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, where we’ve been on the ground for the past two months talking with our growers,  overseeing harvest, revitalizing our curing operations, and even meeting with the queen and king.

We have been buying beans from Tonga for more than thirty-five years. Raymond Lochhead first came and fell in love with these islands in the late 1970s. Tonga is made up of three island groups: Tongatapu (where our curing operations are based), Ha’apai, and Vava’o. Vava’o was once a powerhouse in vanilla production, and we hope it will be so again. Our crop this year came from ‘Eua, a beautiful, wild island that produces some of the best quality crops in the kingdom. Moldering mansions tell the stories of the wealth that vanilla once brought, before turmoils in the market pushed out many of the buyers.

We have remained loyal buyers of Tonga-grown vanilla, cultivating lasting relationships here and continuing to source some of the best gourmet beans in the world.

We are in the final stages of curing: the beans are “going, going, going,” beautiful and supple, with the oils forming. Each stage of vanilla production is extremely meticulous. It’s all done by hand, and that’s no exaggeration. We turn over thousands of kilos of beans by hand to sort and assure quality. (My hands have the calluses to prove it.) This year, since the harvest and curing season was colder than usual, we received some gorgeous late-harvest gourmet beans. This week we “cooked” our final batch, and they’re curing nicely.

 

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