My Hibiscus Story - Enrique Pérez

My Hibiscus Story - Enrique Pérez

Hibiscus in chocolate—a play on the more typical floral notes you might find in a chocolate bar. But Enrique Pérez of Cuna de Piedra has no interest in the typical; his passion is bringing his understanding of Mexico to chocolate in a way that has never been done before. 

Cuna de Piedra sources all of its ingredients from Mexico, directly from people who have long grown and harvested these ingredients, and produces its final product within the country as well. Flavors are inspired by traditional Mexican offerings such as mezcal and, what we at Ruby are most excited by, hibiscus.

As Pérez explains it, hibiscus became part of Mexican culture four hundred years ago. The Spanish were trading between the port of Acapulco and Manila in the Philippines on a commercial route known as “Nao de China,” or “the Manila galleons” in English. They brought interesting goods like spices, ceramics, and other fruits that became parts of Mexican culture, though not indigenous to the land. Hibiscus was one of the goods brought over, and it has become such a mainstay that it now features prominently in household drinks such as aguas frescas. Recognizing that, Pérez said, “I thought that if we wanted a brand that would reflect Mexican culinary flavors and traditions, hibiscus had to be there,” while explaining the product development stage of the brand-building process. Many people, especially in North America, are unfamiliar with hibiscus’ natural flavor profile—tartness—due to corporations masking it with sweeteners. Pérez wants to educate people and introduce them to this gustatory experience that was a part of life for him growing up.  

“Our hibiscus water here in Mexico, we add lots of sugar to it, but when you finish it, you bite the remaining parts of the flower in the infusion, and you’re so familiar with that tartness, and you like it.”

Cuna de Piedra was born when Pérez, a food consultant, and his friend, Vicky González, a renowned Mexican designer, brought their vision for a 100% Mexican craft chocolate to a family-owned leader in the chocolate industry named Chocosolutions. They loved the idea, and the three went on to co-found the brand together. A big part of Cuna de Piedra’s vision was always to work directly with people in contact with the land. Through a social worker he met named Margarita Muciño, Pérez learned of the Numa Gamaa Ski Yu Me’Phaa, an indigenous community in Guerrero growing hibiscus; their name means “Thank you, God, Mother, Father, for power, strength and knowledge that you give to our people, the ones who have no body /who are free.” Cuna de Piedra sources its hibiscus directly from this community, which has been growing and harvesting for centuries, asking Father-Mother God permission and calculating the moon phases in order to grow the flower without interference from the industrial world. The downside of a lack of development, however, is that poverty and malnutrition have affected the community.

The Me’Phaa worked with Walmart Mexico from 2014-2017 through a vendor development program that provided them with funds to improve their facilities and pay farmers, but in 2017, Walmart dropped them from the program, informing them they were ready to be a normal vendor. During that time, Walmart had been paying for organic certification, but the community could not afford that on their own; more than that, as Pérez describes it, “it doesn’t make any sense to them when you tell them about organic and certifications because they’re like, ‘We’ve been doing this for centuries. Why do we need a third-party company to give us their blessing or validation that we’re doing things right?’” Without organic certification, they had to end their commercial relationship with Walmart, which led to a loss in members of the cooperative from around 240 farmers to 130. The quality of life experienced during the partnership such as improvements in child nutrition and biodiversity are no longer possible, and it’s left the Me’Phaa people feeling discouraged.

Cuna de Piedra is doing what it can to advocate for the community through its own relationships. Most recently, in their partnership with Shake Shack Mexico, Pérez brought up the Me’Phaa people and suggested they make hibiscus water for Shake Shack to put on its menu. In similar ways, Pérez aims to provide support for all of the communities working with Cuna de Piedra.

Up next for the brand is a Mexican drinking chocolate line (with 3 different origins) that is more in line with the heritage of chocolate in Meso-America, where it started as a drink. They have also co-created with Hacer Común, a design center in Oaxaca a molinillo, which is a wooden whisk traditionally used in Mexico for frothing chocolate, in a minimalist style, as well as a black, clay bowl for drinking chocolate. These products indicate the next direction Cuna de Piedra wants the brand to explore: the lifestyle around chocolate. It is an opportunity to share a cultural experience, yes, but it is more so an expression of their desire to connect Cuna de Piedra even further to Mexican tradition and share that love for their country with the world.