For some people, good is good enough. They are content with a product which gets the job done. For others, however, only the best will do. They know that the extra expense will be worth it for a superior product or experience. When thinking about chocolate, these two types of people have very clear options. All of the mass market chocolate that we are familiar with is produced using bulk cacao, a lower quality type of bean which is usually mixed with sugar, milk, and vanilla to produce chocolate. As Dan Pearson says in Williams & Eber’s book Raising the Bar, “The difference between that [low quality cacao] and the natural flavor of my fine flavor beans and other fine flavor manufacturers’ beans? It’s like the difference between fresh lemonade and Country Time.” Recently, there has been a surge in interest for craft chocolate, produced in small batches using higher quality ingredients. Behind this surge is fine cacao, a type of bean which is grown in much smaller quantities than bulk cacao, but has better flavor. Within the world of fine cacao production, Ecuador is known as the global leader. By exploring the cacao industry in Ecuador through two bars of single origin chocolate, I will argue that Ecuadorian chocolate’s quality contributes positively to the welfare of the people who grow it.
The global market for fine cacao is mostly dominated by Ecuadorian beans. According to Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value, a program started by Nestlé to “create long-term positive value for society”, Ecuador exports 65% of the world’s fine cacao. This dominance in the fine cacao market is a result of Ecuador’s climate being perfect for growing the Trinitario strain which is recognized as a very fine staring of cacao. Interestingly, there is some debate over what fine cacao is. When trying to label a bean as fine or bulk there are many factors taken into consideration. According to a report by the International Cocoa Organization, “Relevant criteria include the genetic origin of planting material, morphological characteristics of the plant, flavour characteristics of cocoa beans produced, chemical characteristics of cocoa beans, colour of the cocoa beans and nibs, degree of fermentation, drying, acidity and off-flavours.”. One of the most important factors is the strain of cacao which is grown. According to Bill Nesto in his essay Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, “In 2008 genetic researcher Juan C. Motamayor and colleagues proposed a classification of cacao plants into groups they called “clusters” based on their degree of genetic similarity. The ten “genetic clusters” proposed— Marañon, Curaray, Criollo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Nacional, and Guiana—could be adopted as the basis for a varietal scheme for labeling cacao.” Though there is contention over what the definition of fine cacao is, it is clear that there is a difference between low quality bulk cacao and high quality fine cacao. I bought two bars of fine, single origin Ecuadorian chocolate to taste for myself what high quality beans can do for the flavor of a chocolate.
My first bar of chocolate was a single origin bar of 70% cacao Ecuadorian chocolate. This was the Cru- Ecuador made by Amedei, a chocolate maker from Tuscany run by the first female chocolate master in the world. This bar is more traditional than the Ritual bar since it contains added cocoa butter and vanilla. This results in a much creamier, smoother bar of chocolate which still retains some of the bitterness expected from a bar of chocolate with a high percent cocoa content. The bar tasted a little spicy with strong fruity notes once the chocolate melted. One issue with this bar of chocolate is the lack of information about the source of the beans. While the packaging and the Amedei website both say that the beans are sourced from one area of Ecuador, there is nothing to specify what farms the beans were grown on or even what area of Ecuador the beans are from. This is problematic because it does not allow the consumer to decide whether they morally want to support this company or not. The implication of a bean-to-bar chocolate producer, which Amedei is, is that the producer controls the supply chain in such a way that each step in the process is done fairly and sustainably. While the price of this bar would make it seem that the company is paying a premium for the cacao, that assumption is a dangerous one as it prevents the consumer from asking deeper questions.
The lack of transparency on the part of Amedei is so troubling because they say they control all parts of the production process of their chocolate. Therefore, a lack of information is not what is keeping them from sharing such facts as where they grow their beans or who works on these farms. Part of this could be in part to the high profile of the company. Amedei is one of the most well known and highly awarded chocolate companies in the world, winning the Golden Bean for the best bean to bar chocolate in the world and multiple other gold medals from the London Academy of Chocolate in 2013. This gives them incentive to protect as much of their process as possible in order to prevent other companies from imitating their award winning chocolate. If we take the company’s word for it that their process is sustainable and fair, we may be overlooking many of the issues that plague the chocolate industry.
Let me first be clear that there is no evidence to suggest that Amedei uses problematic labor practices in their cacao production. On the contrary, many blogs or reviews which I have read say that this is a generally good company, and one which responsibly sources their cacao from organic farms in Ecuador. There comes a problem, however, when there is no information directly from the company or from an independent party which verifies the labor practices that the producer claims. Since there are so many problems with labor in the chocolate industry, especially related to the worst forms of child labor which are defined in Article 3 of Convention 182 of the International Labor Organization as, “(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.”, companies with the means to be transparent should provide as much information as possible in order to combat problematic labor practices. Here is a video showing just how bad child labor can be, and why it is a major issue: CNN Freedom Project
For my second bar of chocolate I chose a bar made by Ritual Chocolate. Ritual is a bean-to-bar chocolate company located in Utah which is unique because their chocolate contains only cacao and sugar. This is an intriguing concept because it allows the natural flavors of the cacao to really shine. Ritual’s beans come from the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador. Camino Verde is well known for producing a strain of fine cacao known as Nacional. Nacional cacao is a particular type of Forastero cacao, which is typically considered bulk cacao. Nacional is well known for being less bitter than other kinds of cacao. When tasting this chocolate, it is clear that this chocolate is different from your normal bar of dark chocolate. At 75% cacao, I expected this bar to be an intense dark chocolate. I was surprised, however, by the strong flavors I tasted. The first thing I noticed was this bar smelled strongly of cut grass. This did not translate to the taste, however, which was a little fruity but had a strong toasted flavor. This bar is definitely craft chocolate, sold at a price of $6.95 for 1.5oz.
This high price for such a small bar of chocolate is a reflection on the growing practices of the Camino Verde farm where Ritual’s beans are grown. Camino Verde’s website states that they grow cacao on a 500 hectare farm, very large for a fine quality grower. This size, along with the high price which producers pay for fine cacao beans means Camino Verde is bringing in a respectable revenue. Camino Verde uses some of the money they make from the high price of fine cacao to support social programs such as education for local famers about best practices in the cacao growing industry. Though there is obviously a premium price for chocolate made with these beans, to a consumer it should be worth it to pay for chocolate which was made with cacao which the consumer can be confident was produced organically, and which the workers were payed a fair wage for.
As we have seen through these two bars, there is a thriving cacao industry in Ecuador which is being explored by craft chocolate makers to create really incredible chocolate. Both Ritual and Amedei create single origin, bean-to-bar chocolates which have won awards internationally. These producers both support the community which grows their cacao through various social programs such as education for farmers. These are great examples of how craft chocolate, sustainably sourced, can have a very positive impact on the community around the farm instead of the normally destructive labor practices which are associate with cacao farming.
- “2013.” Academy of Chocolate. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.academyofchocolate.org.uk/awards/2013-2/>.
- Amores, Freddy, David Butler, Gladys Ramos, Darin Sukha, Susana Espin, Alvaro Gomez, Alexis Zambrano, Neil Hollywood, Robert Van Loo, and Edward Seguine. “Project to Determine the Physical, Chemical and Organoleptic Parameters to Differentiate between Fine and Bulk Cocoa.” 15 Aug. 2007. Print.
- “Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.” Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (1999). Print.
- Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10.1 (2010): 131-35. Print.
- “What Is Creating Shared Value?” Nestlé. Web. 3 May 2015. <http://www.nestle.com/csv/what-is-csv>.
- Williams, Pam. “An Educated Dream.” Raising the Bar. Wilmor. 150. Print.