After traveling through Mexico and Guatemala in 1979, I stumbled into Belize as a cross roads to get from point A to B. I immediately noticed a unique quality that made this little country somehow different and special. My intuition told me that I'd be back!
Return I did after six years - I came with a sailboat and little more than a dream to do something that somehow mattered. I started taking folks out for sailing trips to help support my romance with a wooden flat-bottomed boat called Juanita. For the next five years my little charter business called Timeless Tours was both a winter retreat from the cold of New England and a chance to discover the many wonders of Belize.
On one of my many sailing trips I ventured up the Moho River and found this beautiful farm along the riverbank that was recently abandoned and for sale. Looming high above was a huge Cotton Tree - my breath was taken away and I knew that this was where I should be! Along with a few very special friends and three years of bureaucracy, the property was purchased and a dream began to become a bit more tangible. For the next ten years little more was accomplished other then a yearly visit to the property and attempts at keeping the jungle at bay.
In 1999 a few life-altering events prompted me to make a move and bring the dream to reality. To be clear, the dream I had was about bringing people from all over the world to experience the magic and mystique of Belize. It was my belief that if I could somehow introduce others to the soul of the country, I could truly impact their lives. You know those times when you experience something and you feel your life has just changed for the better? Well, that's the sort of experience I wanted to share at a jungle lodge in the heart of the rainforest. I saw a chance to create an atmosphere where individuals could appreciate other cultures while learning something about their own spirit. It's a dream of impacting lives... of exploring new terrain... of creating stories for a lifetime.
After three years of formulating ideas and testing some assumptions about living and working in Belize, my longtime friend and new business partner Jeff Pzena and I formed Cotton Tree Lodge. So many people supported our efforts because they understood that we were setting out to do something truly extraordinary. Folks believed, like I do, that Cotton Tree Lodge could be a magical place - where visitors could get in touch with the land, the people, and themselves.
Jeff has always had an interest in how things are made. After graduating from the University of Chicago he moved to Cambridge, MA where he started a beer and wine-making hobby shop and micro brewed his own label, Fat Cat Beer. While living in Massachusetts, Jeff met Chris Crowell, the future founder of Cotton Tree Lodge. Jeff returned to school for his MBA, writing the business plan for Cotton Tree Lodge while still earning his degree. After graduating, Jeff spent a few years in the corporate world, then began consulting full-time for Humble Monkey, an IT firm in New York, and the fledgling Cotton Tree Lodge. He is now a partner in both businesses.
Jeff became interested in chocolate in 2004 on one of his initial trips to Belize. He bought what he thought was a bag of almonds in the local farmers market and discovered that they were cocoa beans.On return trips to Belize, Jeff's interest in chocolate grew. He established a tour for guests to a local cacao farm and began making Cotton Tree Chocolate at the lodge for guests to buy as souvenirs. Before long he was working with expert Clay Gordon to teach chocolate-making classes out of his Manhattan apartment and he now organizes Chocolate Weeks in Belize several times a year. At the February 2008 Chocolate Week he and two enterprising guests decided to formalize the chocolate making and start their own Fair Trade organic chocolate company, Cotton Tree Chocolate.
In 2006, when Cotton Tree Lodge was still under construction, Business Manager Jeff Pzena bought what he thought were almonds in the Punta Gorda farmers market and discovered that he actually had cocoa beans.He became more and more interested in chocolate, visiting cacao farms around Toledo. He learned how to make it himself in his apartment using equipment purchased online.
Jeff began producing Cotton Tree Chocolate' at the lodge as a casual side-project and part of the Chocolate Week Itinerary. Two participants on the February 2008 Chocolate Week thought the product had potential.They decided to invest with Jeff and launched Cotton Tree Chocolate the May 2008 Toledo Cacao Festival.
For the first few months, Cotton Tree Chocolate was produced in a small, climate-controlled room behind the Main Lodge.In less than a year, the company was selling its bars all over Belize and moved into its own factory space in Punta Gorda in April 2009. The factory is open to Cotton Tree Lodge guests, and tours of the facilities are regularly scheduled.
Each batch of Cotton Tree Lodge is made from a single harvest from a single farmer. A slip of paper packed with each chocolate bar includes information about the cacao grower.The beans are purchased through the Toledo Cacao Grower's Association, a cooperative in Punta Gorda, ensuring that all of the beans used are Fair Trade and organic.Cotton Tree Chocolate is available in 70% Dark, 55% Dark Milk, and 40% Light Milk bars.
For more information about Cotton Tree Chocolate, contact:
Sales, Marketing & Distribution