Tag Archives: trade

Cacao and the Environment

Background:

            Around 2,000 years ago, people in the Americas began the cultivation of a small tropical American evergreen tree, Theobroma cacao, for its fruit, the cacao bean. The bean quickly became part of everyday life for Mesoamericans, who not only consumed cacao but also considered it to have elements of divine nature.  Although it is not certain how cacao arrived in Europe, thought to be by Spanish conquest, by the late 1500s it was a treasured treat that quickly gained popularity with upper class citizens. However, “chocolate didn’t suit the foreigners’ tastebuds at first… but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain,” which led to the creation of chocolate, a sweetened food prepared from roasted and ground cacao seeds (Smithsonianmag). Over the next two centuries, chocolate expanded to include a spectrum of inexpensive treats all with more sugar and additives than the next. The growth in demand and expanding market created a need for large-scale cacao tree farms to produce at unmanageable rates.  Additionally, limited regulation on cacao production has manifested issues that will become unsustainable, given the restricted natural resources found on earth. Initially brewed as a drink for social, medical, and other cultural principles, over time cacao’s role in society has developed into a complex component of societal complications such as climate control, biodiversity, deforestation, and unfair trade on a global scale.

Chocolate Production:

Today, the largest producers of cacao are Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana followed by Nigeria and Cameroon. From 2000-2010 cocoa production increased from about 2,000,000 tons to around 3,000,000 tons. However, the average yield for farms has remained relatively low because many use poor soil and outdated growing methods (Wessel and Wessel).  Consequently, farmers hoping to increase their cocoa output sought out new land within the possible growing regions of cacao.  This exploration for new land has resulted in large-scale deforestation.  This issue has begun to impact the production levels of cacao and working conditions for farmers. In order to sustain production, farmers need to adapt new growing techniques which produce high-yielding harvests with reused cacao trees and farmland, new fair trade policies, and outside investment to improve infrastructure within these developing countries.

            Cacao farming can only take place approximately 15 degrees above or below the Equator.  After planting cacao trees it can take as long as three years for them produce enough to be harvested. A machete or sharp knife must be used to cut cacao pods as the trees are highly prone to disease. The beans are then removed from the pods, fermented, dried, removed from shells, and roasted. The farmers generally rely on cacao for large proportions of their household income selling their product to traders, who sell to exporters. The product is then sold to established companies which process cacao into different products to be sold on the market. This value chain has been subject to positive change within the last 20 years but there are still major flaws which will be address later in this post.

Due to the specific environmental needs for the production of cacao, lowland tropics including Latin America, West African, and Indonesia, the amount of land needed to produce cacao is very significant. “In fact, cocoa had the largest land-use footprint of all crop production in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, accounting for about one quarter… for Nigeria, cocoa has the largest land-use footprint of exported crops, accounting for 55 per cent, while in Indonesia cocoa accounts for 12 per cent of the exported footprint” (resourcetrade). Furthermore, this area continues to grow in countries where investment to improve production technique and equipment has stagnated. Consequently, around seventy percent of total global cacao production is produced by smallholder farmers, where productivity is loosely regulated and labor conditions are extremely poor.  This has given large companies the ability to unfairly treat these laborers by lowering compensation, only adding to the myriad of issues with cacao production.

Another problematic aspect of chocolate production is found during the manufacturing process.  A study published in the journal Food Research International, found that the chocolate industry creates around 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.  To put in perspective, this is comparable to the annual emissions of a city the size of Pittsburgh, PA. Additionally, it found that it takes as much as 1,000 liters of water to produce a single bar of chocolate (economictimes). There are other factors that could be added to these totals such as transportation costs, dairy production, and the materials used in packaging.

Deforestation and Biodiversity:

            As mentioned above, cacao is a grown by small-scale farmers in humid lowland tropics.  These areas are known to have high biodiversity which is a key element for producing high rates of healthy cacao beans. Farmers tend to use one of two growing techniques, the use of shade to compliment biodiversity benefits or full-sun exposure. With the market price volatility of cacao and the fragile nature of cacao trees, the full-sun exposure practice has become appealing to producers as it helps for a better harvest.  However, this technique results in more likelihood of disease and requires the use of herbicides to eliminate weed growth. Consequently, the different chemicals found in herbicides destroys the land.  Disease, loss of fertile soil, and other difficulties has also impacted the sustainability of such crops. Such concerns result in the continued clearing of new lands threatening biodiversity and deforestation of tropical forests (Franzen and Mulder). “Global forest loss due to cocoa production has been estimated at between 2 to 3 million hectares for the period 1988-2008, equivalent to about 1 per cent of total forest loss over this time,” which is substantial loss for producer countries (resourcetrade). By eliminating forest lands, there is a major reduction in biodiversity and other living systems living in such areas.  Wildlife habitats are eliminated and plant variety is reduced.  The loss of an ecosystem can also have lasting effects on production. As cacao farming becomes more stressful on the environment, the yields of cacao tress will start to diminish. With the increase in greenhouse gases, the higher average temperature is changing the location where cacao can be produced.  If this trend continues, the undesirable effects of production could start to impact more regions around the globe. With current practices in place, this is added pressure to the already high demand for cacao is unmaintainable.

Shade grown cacao
Sun exposure to Cacao plants

Unfair Trade:

            A major reason for this trend is the idea of unequal ecological exchange mentioned in Ndongo Samba Sylla’s work, The Fair Trade Scandal.  It is described as, “the non-observance by market prices of the scarce and sometimes non-renewable nature of environmental resources is the cornerstone of a new form of unequal exchange between North and South. Indeed, according to this approach, the environmental ‘energy’ which is embedded in developing countries’ exports is not factored into the invoicing of the prices they receive” (Sylla 2014).

Furthermore, countries with currently abundant natural resources sell to more developed countries at a price that does not compensate for their environmental deprivation and loss of resources. Cacao production regions have been victims of this crisis since the original European chocolate craze. Although cacao production techniques have many faults, it is not something farmers can control within the procedures of the current system.  The value chain of cacao trade has taken its toll on local farmers.  More specifically, international trade has hindered economic equality not taking into account economic, social, and environmental concerns of underdeveloped countries.

            For countries which produce large amounts of cacao, the private sector the chocolate industry has determined exports, market power, and price. The close relationship between supply and volatile demand has impacted the global markets inconsistency dealing with the price of cacao.  The regulation of production is important for sustainability, yet governments of producing countries have slowly lost the capability to manage international trade markets for cacao, which has deteriorated their ability to maintain domestic regulations. This unregulated market has left farmers susceptible to unjust trade.  Low export prices and privatized purchasing of cacao have therefore had negative externalities on the environment incentivizing farmers to plant and harvest at rate which natural resources cannot support (Ingram et al).

What Can Be Done:

            These economic, political, and market modifications have begun to transform as the cacao industry becomes more and more of a threat to the ecosystem. The United Nations, and groups alike, sustainable growth programs have created capacity to improve outdated farming practices and to reform financial and institutional framework for agricultural production.  A few key elements discussed below are the first steps towards cacao sustainability:

  1. Improve outdated Farming practices.
    • The rehabilitation of existing farms- the economic lifetime of a cacao tree is between 30 and 40 years. Farms that qualify for rehabilitation can integrate good maintenance and innovative disease control which can help raise their harvest yield by forty percent over a 4-year time period (Wessel and Wessel). Additionally, these farms can be partially or completely replanted. Trials have shown that planting young trees among old trees can lead to more successful harvest than planting under temporary shaded fields that have been deforested (Nalley and Popp).
    • Government supported replanting arrangements—the distribution of seeds which have more resistance to disease. Amazon hybrids have been associated with forty-two percent higher yields (Wessel and Wessel).
    • Shade-grown cacao— Naturally cacao grows in the shade of rainforest cover.  Farms have the ability to transition from sun-grown cacao back to more natural ways of farming, either by planting in areas of the rainforest untouched by deforestation or by planting tropical trees and plants around their cacao plantations.
      • The use of more advanced fertilizers, pesticides, modified soil, and improved seeds would supplement these practices (Franzen and Mulder).
    • Technology and Improvements in Knowledge—Due to the small average size of cacao farms, farmers do not have access to new technologies that would increase yields, limiting the need to expand plantations.  Additionally, as the knowledge frontier in farming advances, cacao farmers remain unable to adapt these methods on their lands.  Local governments and the agricultural sector need to incentivize farmers to adopt new, more efficient farming practices through the stabilization of farmer’s incomes, easier access to credit, and more effective land tenure systems (weadapt).
  2. Reform financial and institutional framework for agricultural production
    • The introduction of due diligence requirements for importers
      • Prohibit the import of illegally produced cacao
    • Inclusion of sustainability provisions in trade agreements
      • Negotiate mutual trade agreements with producer countries intended to support legal forest zones through the formation of national systems to certify authorized cacao (resourcetrade).
    • Improvements in infrastructure for production countries
      • Target rural areas to improve education, health, roads, and access to new supplies and credit.

All reforms mentioned above are all needed within the cacao Industry. The high dependence on cacao production and the risks of climate change are both convincing arguments as to a reason for exploration into improving the business and livelihoods of all those involved.  There will be roadblocks establishing truly sustainable cacao trade, economy, and environmental system but there is great motivation to improve the culture around cacao as a whole.

Sources:

blog.generalmills.com/wp-content/uploads/care-cocoa-2.jpg

foodfreedom.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/cabruca.jpg

thebftonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/deforestation.jpg

resources.mynewsdesk.com/image/upload/c_limit,dpr_2.0,f_auto,h_700,q_auto,w_670/xxuzvpvmjg1cphs3boro.jpg

Sylla, Ndongo. Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

Fiegl, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.

“Cocoa Trade, Climate Change and Deforestation.” Resourcetrade.earth, resourcetrade.earth/stories/cocoa-trade-climate-change-and-deforestation#section-186.

“NCAP Ghana: Assessment of Agriculture Sector.” WeADAPT, www.weadapt.org/knowledge-base/national-adaptation-planning/ghana-agriculture.

“Chocolate Production May Be Harming Environment: Study.” The Economic Times, 2 Apr. 2018, economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/global-warming/chocolate-production-may-be-harming-environment-study/articleshow/63576249.cms?from=mdr.

Franzen, Margaret, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder. “Ecological, Economic and Social Perspectives on Cocoa Production Worldwide.” Biodiversity and Conservation, vol. 16, no. 13, 2007, pp. 3835–3849., doi:10.1007/s10531-007-9183-5.

Ingram, Verina, et al. “The Impacts of Cocoa Sustainability Initiatives in West Africa.” Sustainability, vol. 10, no. 11, 2018, p. 4249., doi:10.3390/su10114249.

Wessel, Marius, and P.m. Foluke Quist-Wessel. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

The Industrial Revolution: The Transformation of Chocolate from a Rare Delight to a Global Commodity

Industrialization greatly improved the quantity, quality, and variety of food of the working urban populations of the Western World. This development was due to reasons which were two-fold: first, historical developments such as colonialism and overseas trade were structures which inspired this process, and second, specific technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business allowed for the distribution and access of chocolate to flourish. Technologies which were developed from the Industrial Revolution greatly changed the worldwide consumption of chocolate, greatly increasing the quantity and ease of its production and distribution and subsequently increasing the ease and diversity of consumers’ access to chocolate products.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the early 19th century, and stemmed from factors such as a smaller population and thus a need for a more efficient workforce. Prior to industrialization, the majority of people in Europe subsisted on peasant farming and leasing land from the elite (Dimitri et al. 2). In the latter half of the second millennium A.D., voyages of discovery around the globe sparked colonialism in foreign lands soon thereafter. There were various philosophies in justification of colonialism; one was that of social evolutionism and intervention philosophies, or the idea that natives were incapable of governing themselves and in need of outside intervention. According to research published by M. Shahid Alam of Northeastern University, industrialization of countries across the world was unequal; some countries underwent industrialization centuries prior to others (Alam 5). The reason for this was partially due to the fact that some countries colonized other countries for their own imperial or industrial benefit, so the colonized countries themselves could not go undergo industrialization at that time. Great Britain, Spain (and subsequently Portugal), and France were a few imperial superpowers which underwent industrialization first and each dominated many colonies.

Image Source: Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.

Because of the far-reaching, global geography of these mother countries’ colonies, the colonial economy depended on international trade. For example, the British empire depended on the American colonies’ production of goods, as did the colonies on the goods of the British Empire. Merchants sent out ships to trade with North America and the West Indies; in 1686 alone, over 1 million euros of goods were shipped to London (“Trade and Commerce”). While wool textiles from England’s manufacturers that spurred from the Industrial Revolution were shipped to the Americas, the colonies shipped goods such as sugar, tobacco, and other tropical groceries from its plantations back across the pond. Due to Europe’s incredibly high demand for some of these American goods, the slave trade developed to meet Industrialization’s hefty needs for cheap labor (“Trade and Commerce”).

Image Source: “Colonial Trade Routes and Goods.” National Geographic Society, National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/colonial-trade/.

A few hundred years later, significant agricultural technologies spurred from industrialization. By the early 1900s, most American farms were diversified, meaning that various animals and crops were produced on the same cropland in complementary ways. However, specialization was a method which developed in farms at around this same time, used to increase efficiency by narrowing the range of tasks and roles involved in production. This way, specialized farmers could focus all their knowledge, skills, and equipment on one or two enterprises. Furthermore, mechanization allowed for the tremendous gains in efficiency with getting rid of the need for human labor with routine jobs such as sowing seeds, harvesting crops, milking cows, and feeding and slaughtering animals. Within the 20th century only, the percentage of the U.S. workforce involved in agriculture declined from 41 percent to 2 percent (Dimitri et al. 2). This greatly increased the efficiency of the production of ingredients which go into chocolate such as milk, cacao, sugar, salt, and vanilla from their respective farms.

In addition to farming technologies such as specialization, methods such as preserving, mechanization, retailing (and wholesaling), transport, and the growth of the commercial catering business improved the quality of the chocolate product itself and lessened the amount of time many large chocolate companies produced these chocolates drastically (Goody 74).

The mechanism of preserving was spearheaded by Nicolas Appert, who developed a process called canning (“bottling” in English) in response to conditions in France during the Napoleonic Wars, when the preservation of meat was important for feeding on-the-road soldiers (Goody 75). Glass containers were also developed around the same time to preserve wine and medicine. Methods such as artificial freezing as well as salt — which became such a popular form of preservation that a “salt tax” was eventually implemented — also developed to preserve foods. Pickling inside vinegar, as well as sugar, which was used to preserve fruits and jams, were also methods which advanced. This, in turn, also caused the imports of sugar to rapidly increase during the 18th century (Goody 75). With preservation mechanisms highly developed compared to before, chocolate products could finally be distributed from manufacturers and remain on shelves for quite some time — it did not necessarily need to be fresh to be sold and readily available to consumers.

Additionally, the process of mechanization was the manufacture of many processed and packaged foods, and this process was furthered by Ford’s assembly line and interchangeable parts. Through these technologies, packaged foods and products could be produced much more quickly and efficiently at greater quantities. This greatly increased the production efficiency and quantity with which packaged chocolate could be distributed, allowing for the proliferation of the some of the biggest mass-brands in chocolate production, such as Hershey’s and Nestle (Goody 81).

Video Source: “HOW IT’S MADE: Old Hershey’s Chocolate.” YouTube, 1976, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk.

Furthermore, the process of retailing was marked by the shift from open market to closed shop; this process began as early as Elizabethan times. Back in the Elizabethan era, great efforts were made to ensure that there were no middle men in terms of sales and that there was no resale at higher prices. Eventually, however, grocers overtook the import of foreign goods. Just as imported goods became cheaper with the new developments in transport, so too did manufactured goods and items packaged before sale came to dominate the market (Goody 82-3). This allowed many various chocolate products from manufacturers all across the world to hit the shelves of grocers, readily available to consumers of any city in the United States. These products were generally branded goods, “sold” before sale by national advertising. Advertising itself, additionally, led to the homogenization of chocolate consumption, allowing similar brands of chocolate products to be distributed across the U.S. This even led to the eventual homogenization of American taste preferences for chocolate; because the Hershey’s chocolate bar was so heavily distributed and popularized, eventually, Americans were unaccustomed to anything that did not have Hershey’s uniquely sweet and salty taste (“Here There Will Be…” 108).

The final large component of industrialization which greatly increased chocolate production and distribution was the revolution of transportation. Rail transport provided the masses with cheap and wholesome food; in fact, there were certain periods of time during the Industrial Revolution in which U.S. railways were transporting goods more than people (Goody 82). Last but not least, the growth of the commercial catering business led to the decline of the domestic servant. This decline of the domestic servant also allowed English families to explore quick, sweet recipes incorporating chocolate such as brownies, cookies, and cakes.

Bigger-picture progressions in history such as colonization and international trade connected the world economy and allowed for technologies such as preserving, mechanization, retailing, and new transport to grow and flourish. These methods, in turn, caused global companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle to revolutionize the production and distribution of chocolate into a massive, global business. What was once enjoyed by the few and wealthy was now easily accessible by the masses, homogenizing the tastes of Americans to a few specific chocolate brands. None of this impact on chocolate products’ consumers and producers alike would have been possible without the historical and technological developments of the Industrial Revolution.


Works Cited

Alam, M. Shahid. “Colonialism and Industrialization: Empirical Results.” Review of Radical Political Economics, 1998, pp. 217–240., doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031131.

“Colonial Trade Routes and Goods.” National Geographic Society, National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/colonial-trade/.

Dimitri C, Effland A, Conklin N. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA ERS. 2006.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” Food and Culture: a Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, Routledge, 2013, pp. 72–88.

“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.

“HOW IT’S MADE: Old Hershey’s Chocolate.” YouTube, 1976, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ophXa_LvUKk.

JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Industrialization of Agriculture.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 5 Aug. 2016, foodsystemprimer.org/food-production/industrialization-of-agriculture/index.html.“To the Milky Way and Beyond; Breaking the Mold.” The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, by Brenner Joël Glenn., Broadway Books, 2000, pp. 49–194.

“Trade and Commerce.” Understanding Slavery Initiative, Understanding Slavery, 2011, http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php-option=com_content&view=article&id=307_trade-and-commerce&catid=125_themes&Itemid=152.html.


From Cultural to Commercial: Cocoa’s Geopolitical Transformation

Molded by years of exposure to masterfully crafted marketing campaigns, average consumer knowledge of cacao [or cocoa] is limited to its function as an ingredient and source from which their beloved chocolate is derived. There is much more to the birth, rise, and spread of Theobroma cacao.

The following seeks to explain how a culturally significant crop among early civilizations dating back to 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013) transformed from a highly treasured ingredient and social currency cultivated within a fairly limited zone to a globally produced and traded commodity: a highly reformulated, mass-produced, and readily available confectionery product.

This journey traces cacao back to its genetic and cultural beginnings where it was religious and cultural fixture among early civilizations; how exploration and migration played into the geographical expansion of its cultivation and rise in popularity as a food; role in accelerating industrialization; and transformation from a social currency and treasured ingredient to a heavily traded commodity and mass manufactured consumer product.

Genetic and Cultural Beginnings

From births and burials, recipes and rituals, cacao’s cultural origins are linked to Mesoamerica (present day Mexico through Central America), where its social and religious significance among the Olmec dates back to 1500 to 400 BCE (Coe and Coe, 2013). The rise of Maya and Aztec civilizations gave way for cacao’s evolution utility and proliferation as a consumable.

Cacao’s Role in Society and Religion

Evidenced by archeologic discoveries, translated texts, and scientific testing, several vessels and writings have been unearthed, clarifying and validating cacao’s significance, religious ties, and early application as a currency.

Mayan and Aztec civilization associated cacao with the gods. As such, they were believed to enrich and afford protections during and after life, playing a central role in offerings and rituals (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Ceramic vessels similar to those pictured here which date back to 455 to 465 CE were found in burial tombs at Río Azul (Martin, 2019). Further testing confirmed positive traces of caffeine and theobromine—two of cacao’s alkaloid signatures (Martin, 2019).

Dating back to 455 to 465 CE, “funerary vessels” similar to those pictured here were discovered in tombs at Río Azul. As testing revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, two of cacao’s signature alkaloids, this further supported evidence of cacao’s religious significance (Martin, 2019).

As a food or drink, cacao took many forms. Popular among the Maya and Aztec, “cacahuatl” was a frothy preparation often transferred from one vessel to another and served cold (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Described by Coe and Coe in The True History of Chocolate and drawn by Diane Griffiths Peck, this illustration provides a glimpse into one of many Maya and Aztec cacao preparation and serving methods.
Of the 15 discovered, translated, and still intact, the Dresden Codex contains the aforementioned Mayan hieroglyphic depiction of cacao being consumed by gods and used in rituals (Martin, 2019). Other major works include the Popol Vuh or “Book of Counsel” is a colonial document later translated by Friar Francisco Ximénez that reveals the importance of cacao among early civilizations.

Exploration and Migration: Changes in Cultivation and Consumption

By definition, explorers were bound to make new discoveries and learn from their experience. Capturing the innocent confusion and eye-opening experience (only to be realized years later), the following briefly details just how one explorer mistakenly thought that cacao beans were almonds.”

Mistaken for Almonds: When recounting observations from his 1502 landing at Guanaja, one of many landmasses that make up the Bay Islands archipelago, Ferdinand Columbus, one of Christopher Columbus’ sons wrote about cherished “almonds” that traded hands similarly to how currency would pass between customers and merchants (Coe and Coe, 2013). It was not until years later after multiple interpretations and sources concluded that what he presumed to be almonds were in fact cacao beans.

As it came to be more widely known, not far from where Ferdidnad landed, throughout the Rio Ceniza Valley (present day coast of El Salvador), cacao was an increasingly popular form of currency being produced and traded in record volume—something . In time, this led to further learnings about the “Nahua counting system” and subsequent adoption of cacao as payment for “protection” by Spanish conquistadors.

Generally relegated to tropical climates falling 10-15 degrees north and south of equator, is was inevitable that cacao would make its way around the world. So as people moved, and culture spread, so too did the cacao, as a crop, currency, and curiosity, ultimately leading to its introduction to new geographies, and paving the way for new industries and traditions around the world (Martin, 2019).

New Formulations and Complementary Ingredients

As ingredients such as vanilla, chili, and many others traveled around the world, pairings and formulations rapidly evolved. Marking a major development and informing direction for the confectionery side as we know it today, sugar was introduced to Europe around 1100 CE and chocolate followed shortly thereafter in 1500 CE (Martin, 2019).

Cacao’s Role in Accelerating Industrialization and Expanding its Place in Society

While cacao consumption continued to be reserved for certain classes during its journey around the world, increasingly sophisticated processing methods streamlined productions, regulation eventually brought its price down, and despite medical and religious challenges to its place in society, cacao products were increasingly available to a grander population.

By the 1600 and 1700s, advances in processing continued to align with rising and more diverse consumption habits. Of course, by this time, the separation between “producing” and “processing” countries (read: colonies vs. industrialized nations) was increasingly clear.

So while cultivation and production spread across Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to meet demand, industry began to take shape on the consumer side as well with the emergence of social gathering halls or “Chocolate Houses” in Britain, France, Spain, the United States, and other “industrialized” nations who had transitioned to managing the cacao’s trade as a commodity and processing for various food and beverage applications. It was not until Rudolphe Lindt’s invention of the conche in 1879, an advancement that bolstered flavor and feel (among other things), and set the stage for quality, processing, and mass production to take off (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Illustrated above, the matete, grinder, and conche are examples of what cacao processing tools were used by early civilizations (and are still used in the same or similar forms today) and evolved or industrialized processing equipment employed today (Martin, 2019).

From early civilizations to present day, cacao’s role in society, cultural significance, availability and consumption have evolved tremendously. However, its mystique and association as something special are still true to this day—just as they were in different and more elaborate forms among early civilizations. Perhaps this condensed history will give pause and reason for the average consumer to think beyond commercialization of cacao, cocoa, or chocolate, and value and validate its history and claims made by brands to improve global understanding, perception, and consumer habits.

Works Cited

  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
  • Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.Hu, Vol. 3, 2015, pp. 37–60.
  • Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018

Media Cited

  • Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past”. Nawatl Scholar. January 1, 1970. Accessed March 15, 2019. http://nahuatlstudies.blogspot.com/2015/01/cacao-how-contested-history-of-single.html?spref=tw.
  • Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline FAQs: Aztec, Maya, & Inca foods and recipes”. Lynne Olver 2000. March 1, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmaya.html.
  • Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “Map of Mesoamerica.” Accessed February 17, 2019. http://www.famsi.org/maps/.
  • Río Azul [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Wikimedia Commons. File:Popol vuh.jpg. (January 16, 2015). Retrieved February 17, 2019. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Popol_vuh.jpg&oldid=146695431.
  • Matete [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Grinder [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.
  • Conche [Electronic Image]. Retrieved from Lecture. Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.

Lectures Cited

  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 13, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. February 20, 2019. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Politics: How History, Multinational Corporations, Governments, NGOs, and Critics Influence the Chocolate We Eat”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. January 30, 2019. Lecture.

CacaoCoin: Cacao Beans as Currency in Mesoamerica

Motecuhzoma II

Today, people think of chocolate as a delicious dessert. However, in Ancient Mesoamerica, cacao beans had a much greater societal significance. According to Professor Martin, cacao influenced numerous facets of society: religion, culture, art, politics, and the economy. Cacao’s impact on the economy is the primary focus in this blog post. For example, cacao allowed the wealthy to distinguish themselves from the poor. According to anthropologists, the consumption of chocolate “was confined to the Aztec elite – to the royal house, to the lords and nobility, to the long-distance merchants, and to the warriors” (Coe 95). It was commonly served at the end of meal along with tobacco. The ”frothy, stimulating drink” was a common feature at many elite Mesoamerican events such as weddings (Baron 211-212). They also classified it as the “food of the gods”. In addition, the warriors consumed cacao as an energy stimulant before battle to make them feel invincible (Martin 52). Cacao quickly took over alcohol’s spot as the “new marker of social status” (Baron 211). Aztec ruler Motechuzoma II possessed 960,000,000 cacao beans (Martin 72). This incredibly large number of beans cemented his spot as the wealthiest individual in Aztec society. The high value of cacao as a beverage is directly correlated to the value of cacao beans as currency in both the Mayan and Aztec societies.

Most anthropologists acknowledge that cacao beans were one of the most prominent forms of currency in the Aztec World. However, Mayans commonly used cacao in transactions as well. Cacao became a prominent form of currency in the Mayan southern lowlands during the Postclassic period (900-1521 CE) (Baron 211). The flavorful physical properties of cacao certainly increased their value as a commodity. By drying and roasting cacao beans, one can preserve them for months before they are ground up into chocolate. The beans themselves were valued based on their freshness and plumpness. Color was also an important indicator for cacao beans. The ashy colored beans were valued higher than the red colored beans because the ashy colored signified full fermentation. Shriveled, red colored beans were the lowest valued beans. 16th century naturalist Francisco Hernandez also points out that there are four categories of cacao beans: “cuauhcacahuatl (tree cacao), mecacahuatl (string/rope cacao), xochicahuatl (flower cacao), and tlalcahuatl (earth cacao/humble cacao). (Baron 212). The smallest beans (the last few on the list) were most commonly consumed as a beverage and the rest were typically used as currency. Through 7th century murals at Calakmul, archaeologists discovered that cacao beans were commonly exchanged in marketplaces both small and large. The mural depicts individuals from different social classes buying, selling, and exchanging certain goods (maize, tobacco, jewelry, cloth, etc.) One particular image depicts a woman exchanging a bowl of chocolate for a man’s tamale dough. This archaeological excavation reveal the integral role that cacao played in the marketplace as both currency and a tradable good.

Codex Mendoza: Aztec taxes in form of cacao beans

In addition to Mayan society, the Aztec Empire had their own form of currency that relied heavily on cacao. From 1430-1531, Aztecs traded cacao beans and offered them as tribute (tax) to Tenochtitlan (Weatherford 19). Aztecs and Mayan rulers received taxes in the forms of cacao sacs. These sacs included the numerical glyph “pik” which represents 8,000 cacao beans (a typical unit of measurement for cacao tributes) (Baron 214). This unit of measurement comes from the Aztec Xiquipilli. A cacao bean’s high market value is also attributed to its common use as a tribute. This example again shows how cacao beans differentiate the wealthy from the poor. In addition to tributes, cacao beans were most frequently involved in a barter system (Weatherford 19). Traders typically used cacao to even out transactions. While cacao beans could be exchanged directly for a particular good (1 cacao bean = 5 green peppers), they were also added on at the end of trades to even out the transaction. For example, if an “Aztec wanted to exchange an iguana for a load of firewood … and if the good did not have precisely the same value, the traders used cacao to even it out” (Weatherford 19). However, cacao beans provide some of the first examples of counterfeiting practices. Individuals would take the shells of cacao beans and fill them with mud to deceive their exchange partners. Despite this disadvantage of an edible currency, Cacao is unique because it is a commodity that one can consume as well as exchange. The cacao beans can be turned into a frothy beverage or traded for an avocado. Paper money and coins do not have this advantage. This differentiation truly makes cacao beans a unique form of currency.

Example of a typical cacao transaction

In order to truly understand cacao’s value in the marketplace, it is necessary to analyze some typical transactions involving cacao beans in the Aztec Empire. Professor Martin’s lecture from February 6th perfectly outlines some of the most common exchanges. According to the Nahuatl document from 1545: a male turkey is worth 200 cacao beans, a small rabbit is worth 30, one turkey egg is worth 3 cacao beans, an avocado is worth 3 cacao beans, one large tomato is worth one cacao bean, a larval salamander (an Aztec delicacy) is worth 4 cacao beans, and fish wrapped in maize is worth 3 cacao beans (Martin 73). These are all examples of typical marketplace transactions that utilized cacao as currency. Even other non-Mesoamerican societies at the time used cacao beans in transactions. For instance. The Nicarao of Nicaragua in the 16th century exchanged 100 cacao beans for a slave and 8 to 10 cacao beans for a prostitute (Coe 58-59). While traders more frequently used cacao in exchange for other foods, textiles, or accessories; it is important to acknowledge that human services were an integral component of the 1500s marketplace. Cacao was a common commodity in the purchase of those services.

Cacao beans played an integral role in both the Aztec and Mayan societies. It was not only considered an elite beverage; it was a prominent form of currency in the Mesoamerican marketplace. With cacao beans, one could purchase a turkey egg, pay their taxes, or buy a slave. People rarely think of food as a form of currency in the modern era. However, in Mesoamerica, food, such as cacao, carried a much greater societal importance.

Works Cited

Baron, Joanne P. “Making money in Mesoamerica: Currency production and procurement in the Classic Maya financial system”. Economic Anthropology: Society for Economic Anthropology. May 10, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. & Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson Ltd; 4thed. 2013.

Weatherford, Jack. The History of Money. Crown Business; Reprint edition. March 10, 1998.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods'”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.Lecture. February 13th, 2019

Image Citations

Charles River Editors. The Last Emperor of the Aztecs: The Life and Legacy of Montezuma. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. August 23, 2013.

Mursell, Ian. “Beanz Meanz Money”. Maya at Mexicolore. 1994.

Cornell University: Albert R. Mann Library. “When Money Grew on Trees”. Chocolate: Food of the Gods. 2007.

The Introduction of Chocolate to China: A Complex Interplay of Trade, Exchange and Ideas

From a Western-centric voice and orientalist perspective[i], Lawrence Allen describes the challenges and complexities of the chocolate market in China beginning in the 1980’s.[ii]  The infrastructure was not developed for the logistics of storing chocolate, it was expensive and viewed as a foreign luxury product, and there was growing viable local competition.[ii]  As the 2015 graph shows, the consumption of chocolate in China is still relatively minute at only 200 grams per capita.

statistic_id263779_per-capita-consumption-of-chocolate-confectionery-worldwide-2015-by-key-market
Source: Mintel. “Per Capita Consumption of Chocolate Confectionery Worldwide in 2015, by Key Markets (in Kilograms).” Statista – The Statistics Portal, Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/263779/per-capita-consumption-of-chocolate-in-selected-countries-in-2007/, Accessed 9 Mar 2018

But the story of chocolate in China began much earlier, with some of the same East versus West duality themes, and its unsuccessful introduction dates back to the Kangxi Emperor who ruled from 1661 to 1722 during the Qing dynasty.  Quickly glossed over in the history of chocolate – Coe and Coe, for example, simply state that chocolate never took on in the Far East (173)[iii] – the actual story is much more nuanced.  At times mysterious, the tale of chocolate’s entry into China reveals the complexities and politics of trade and knowledge exchange during the last imperial dynasty.

An instance captured on a tapestry, part of a series known as “The Story of the Emperor of China” commissioned by the Duc du Maine, son of Louis XIV, sheds light on the intricacies of the moments when chocolate was first introduced.  La Collation shows the Kangxi Emperor “proudly holding a chalice full of chocolate”[iv], perhaps identified by what appears to be a chocolate pot on a side table at the edge of the tapestry.  The Emperor sits across the table from his wife who is being served tea[iv], a juxtaposition that shows the already established tea drinking culture in China, which, in addition to the possibly difficult or overly exotic flavor of chocolate, may be a reason that it was never adopted – chocolate simply could not compete with or supplant an already beloved stimulant drink.[v]  The tapestry is a fanciful depiction as the Emperor did not like the chocolate drink according to Qing records[iv], but, on the other hand, it also illustrates how chocolate became the “cultural bond” and “material link” for the exchange of religious, cultural and scientific ideas.[vi]

00666401
After cartoons by Guy-Louis Vernansal (French, 1648 – 1729), and Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (French, 1636 – 1699), and Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay (French, 1653 – 1715), et al
Tapestry: La Collation, from L’Histoire de l’empereur de la Chine Series, about 1697–1705, Wool and silk
309.9 × 422.9 cm (122 × 166 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Jesuit missions to China between the 16th and 17th centuries were important pre-modern exchanges of knowledge and culture between China and the Western world.[vii]  The Kangxi Emperor, as he was interested in a diversity of medicinal knowledge, provided patronage for the Jesuit missionaries who had personal access to the imperial court, thus allowing for the transmission of medicinal knowledge between China and Europe.[viii]  The story goes that the group of Jesuit missionaries who arrived in 1639 at the Kangxi court claimed to have cured malaria, which greatly interested the Emperor in Western medicine; some of the missionaries also proclaimed their love of drinking chocolate.[ix]  The Emperor was interested in trying some, so they prepared a chocolate drink in the European style, adding additional ingredients such as cinnamon, chilis and sugar which could be found in China, as well as other foreign ingredients, into boiling water in a silver or copper pot, then mixing it with a wooden tool.[ix]  The Jesuits tried to convince him that in America, chocolate is consumed like tea and it works well as an anti-diarrheal, but it was not to the Emperor’s liking as in Chinese conceptions of medicine, chocolate would be classified as “hot” or excessive “yang” energy, which can cause diarrhea![ix]

Chocolate continued to appear in China but many of the details and how it was used by Chinese people are not well understood.  In 1719, Pope Clement XI sent many gifts to the Kangxi Emperor and the imperial court that he knew would be well received, including “two hundred pounds of chocolate” (69)![x]  It is unclear what happened to the chocolate since the Emperor did not care for it, but my own speculation is that maybe other elite officials, some of whom had been baptized and converted to Christianity, developed a taste for the drink.  Here chocolate was embroiled in a long-lasting controversy over whether Chinese ancestor rites and Confucian rituals were contrary to Christian morals that eventually caused the expulsion of the Catholic missions from China. [x]  Meant to sway the Emperor to accept papal decree that Chinese rites could not be accommodated, the gifts eventually had no effect on the Emperor’s disfavor.[x]

The Franciscan missionaries who came after the Jesuits, did often partake of chocolate and treated it as a pharmaceutical; Bertram Gordon mentions many documentations of requests for chocolate from Franciscans missions in southern China or thanks for chocolate sent from 1678 to 1730.[xi]  In one example, Fr. Buenaventura Ibañez wrote on March 5, 1678 from Macao to his Minister Provincial that “he had requested a cargo of cacao to be sent from New Spain with all the accoutrement necessary to make chocolate as a present for the ‘king of Canton’” (595).[xi]  The consistent chocolate deliveries during this time delineate the extended trade routes from the Spanish colonies in Latin America to Europe, where chocolate was becoming more accessible and not only for the most elite,[v] to the ports of southern China.  The Franciscans would distribute the chocolate amongst themselves, and there is little information or research currently about whether it was given to local Chinese (besides the court)[xi] and their reactions to this new drink, though one can imagine that some Chinese who were brought into the Catholic Church and perhaps worked with the Franciscans may have tried it.

An important development from the introduction of chocolate, and a strong indication that there was awareness of chocolate throughout China, is the ceramic ware made for export to New Spain[xi] and to Europe where there was an “obsession” with Chinese porcelain.[v]  Some of the earliest mentions of chocolate pots from China are from export ware inventories in the late 1600’s, including one belonging to Captain Nicholas Dumaresq “who had been active in the Spanish trade network” (597).[xi]  The most exquisite of these wares would have been made at Jingdezhen, which to this day is still famous for and produces lustrous, fine porcelain.  The kilns at Jingdezhen were newly revived in the 1690’s and, coming full circle, a chocolate cup dating to the Kangxi period, around 1710, was found at an excavation.[xi]

D2015-JBC-0707-0001Yonge Beaker, view 1
A reconstruction of a beaker made at Jingdezhen which was most likely used for drinking chocolate in the early 18th century. Yonge Beakers. Jingdezhen, China, ca. 1720, hard-paste porcelain with underglaze blue. Drayton Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation. https://draytonhall.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/03_beakers.jpg, Accessed 9 March 2018

Thus, even though drinking or eating chocolate never became an integral part of Chinese culture like in Europe, it still played an important role in the exchange of ideas, burgeoning global trade routes, and the development of industries that connected China to Europe and the Americas in pre-modern times.

[i] Martin, Carla.  “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.”  Harvard University, 7 March 2018, Cambridge, MA.  Lecture.

[ii] Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers.  AMACOM, 2010.

[iii] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe.  The True History of Chocolate.  3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

[iv] Puente-Ballesteros, Beatriz.  “Tasting Chocolate at the Kangxi Court: Medicine, Politics, and Global Trade Flows in the 17th Century” talk summary.  Harvard University, https://asiaevents.harvard.edu/event/beatriz-puente-ballesteros-tasting-chocolate-kangxi-court-medicine-politics.  Accessed 9 March 2018.

[v] Martin, Carla.  “Chocolate Expansion.”  Harvard University, 7 February 2018, Cambridge, MA.  Lecture.

[vi] Grejda, Jennifer.  “Interwoven Histories: Chocolate and Jesuits in The Collation Tapestry from the Court of Louis XIV” abstract.  University of Maryland, http://arthistory.umd.edu/sites/arthistory.umd.edu/files/Abstract_George_Washington_University_Jennifer_Grejda.pdf.  Accessed 9 March 2018.

[vii] “Jesuit China missions.”  New World Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Jesuit_China_missions&oldid=981333.  Last revised 8 May 2014.  Accessed 9 Mar 2018.

[viii] Puente-Ballesteros, Beatriz.  “Jesuit Medicine in the Kangxi Court (1662-1722): Imperial Networks and Patronage.”  East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine, no. 34, special issue, 2011, pp. 86-162.

[ix] 黄昉苨(Huang Fangni).  “巧克力入宫 (The Entry of Chocolate).” 课外阅读 (Teenagers), no. 20, 2016, pp. 34-35.

[x] Johns, Christopher M. S.  China and the Church: Chinoiserie in Global Context.  University of California Press, 2016.

[xi] Gordon, Bertram M.  “Chinese Chocolate: Ambergris, Emperors, and Export Ware.”  Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage.  Eds. Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.  595-601.  Print.

Sweetness and Bitterness: A Common Path

For those who are interested in the ethnic and historical origins of foods, chocolate and sugar may be two of the most exciting elements of the traditional English diet (see fig. 1). Linked by their indigenous sourcing and early production during the British colonial period, the bitter taste of chocolate and the ground sweetness of sugar grew in demand and influenced the commercialization of one another. Both, used as food condiments or spices, in medical remedies or as a source of energy and calories share a history of conquest, adventure, social evolution and slavery. Thus, when it comes to England and perhaps other European nations, it is fair to believe that today’s spike in sugar consumption –as suggested by Harvard University professor Carla Martin in her “Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food” class is owed in great part to the expansion and ever-growing demands of the chocolate industry.

Fig. 1. Early 20th century advertisement of a sweet chocolate bar by Fry’s.
Fig. 1. Early 20th century advertisement of a sweet chocolate bar by Fry’s.

Long before Colombus arrived to the Americas, sugar was known in Europe thanks to the Crusades and the conquests of the British empire (SKIL – History of Sugar). The European expansion beyond the Caribbean plateau brought the discovery of the cacao tree and chocolate, highly praised by the natives, according to chapters One and Two from The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. This discovery increased the European interest in the region causing the assimilation of local elements that helped export indigenous recipes, traditions and beliefs to the wealthiest European social groups and consequently, to the British. This is commonly known as “hybridization” and it resulted in the adoption and rapid commercialization of chocolate throughout Europe (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2. 18th century illustration of a chocolate house in London.

Chocolate quickly became a sensation among the British bourgeoisie. The enigmatic cocoa powder traditionally obtained by a long process of selecting cacao beans, drying, toasting and hand-grinding them with an hand made “molinillo” (Presilla 26) was an edible bounty for the wealthy. Early colonizers learned from the Mesoamerican aborigines that chocolate was “food of the gods” and such was the official name they gave to it as described in The True History of Chocolate (D. Coe and D. Coe 18). The belief that it had magical and medical properties head its way into England where soon the chocolate drink and the cocoa powder were used in medical recipes, as sources of energy and as mood enhancers.

Around the same period of time, sugar had also medical and multiple other uses in Britain. Sugar was an “everything” type of remedy or food condiment. The influence of sugar in the Anglo-Saxon world was such that as professor Martin denoted in class, it moved beyond the Hollywood era so we can recall popular movies like Mary Poppins carry the reminiscent of it in song lyrics that talk about sugar and sweetness, as for instance Disney’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” shown below.

“A Spoonful of Sugar” from the Mary Poppins film.

In 1847, the English company J.S. Fry & Sons produced a chocolate bar from the mixture of sugar and chocolate powder with cocoa butter, which according to the authors of the research paper Welcome to ChE: Chocolate Engineering “had a grainy texture and lacked the smooth flavor of today’s chocolates” (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2). This, in turn, prompted Henry Nestle and Daniel Peters to experiment further by adding milk to the mixture, creating the first milk chocolate bar as early as 1876 (Patton, Ford and Crunkleton 2).

Henceforth, sugar and chocolate crossed a common path: that of the “bitter-sweetness.” This bitter-sweetness is a descriptive metaphor derived from their combination: chocolate is naturally bitter and sugar is the embodiment of sweet. From the history of their discovery, production and consumption the bittersweet blend evokes a distant grief infused with human slavery which was viewed by its wealthy consumers like the “necessary evil” –as professor Martin puts it, to achieve the finest tasting, sweetest chocolate cup or chocolate bar.

Knowing the historical and socio economical factors that made possible a “rendezvous” of chocolate and sugar, it is possible to find correlation between the sugar consumption and the production of chocolate. Professor Martin illustrates this in class with visualizations of the rise in sugar consumption from the colonial times before chocolate was brought to Europe up to the present times. Those graphs shown by professor Martin reveal a dramatic curve of growth. It is then evident that the discovery and commercialization of chocolate influenced the consumption and demand of sugar. The image below illustrates the period of time in which the sugar consumption rose in England, which coincides with the time in which chocolate began to commercialize during the 1800’s, as well as the corresponding price depreciation per pound (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Spike in sugar consumption after the creation of the first chocolate bar in England during the 19th century.

In conclusion, the social contexts of contemporary Britain, the Anglo-Saxon culture and all of Europe keep sugar and chocolate forever bound in tasty combinations. Often is our own “sweet tooth” that helps move chocolates off the shelves because some of us suffer a disease called “chocolate craving.” Yet, one thing is certain: today’s chocolates are generally sweeter than those of yesterday… either because they have thrice the amount of sugar, or because they no longer come from the bitter tears of slavery.


Works Cited

Chocolate House in London (18th Century). Digital image. “The World of Chocolate.” Worldstandards.eu. 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. “The Tree of the Food of the Gods.” The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, Inc., 1996, New York, Print. Feb. 2017.

Fry’s Five Boys Milk Chocolate. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Jarrold & Sons, Ltd., 2 Dec. 2005. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

“How Sugar is Made – the History.” SKIL – History of Sugar, 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017, http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. 22 Feb. 2017. Harvard University Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Lecture. Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. 1 Mar. 2017. Harvard University Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Lecture. Mar. 2017.

Patton, Christi L., Ford, Laura P., and Daniel W. Crunkleton. Welcome to ChE: Chocolate Engineering. Strong Point Center in Process Systems Engineering, Trondheim, Norway. 2005. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. http://folk.ntnu.no/skoge/prost/proceedings/aiche-2005/non-topical/Non%20topical/papers/162e.pdf

Presilla, Maricel E. “Natural and Cultural History of Chocolate.” The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009, Berkeley, Print. Feb. 2017.

Real Sugar Prices and Sugar Consumption Per Capita in England, 1600-1850. Digital image.
“Sugar: How Much Is Too Much?” Normal Eating Blog. 18 Jun. 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Walt Disney Records, DisneyMusicVEVO. “A Spoonful Of Sugar.” Mary Poppins. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and The Relationship Model: Millennials Changing The Ethically Sourced Market

We’ve heard a lot about our generation, the famed “millennials.” Often stereotyped as lazy, selfish and entitled, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much for the world besides trying to build the next great “Angry Birds” app. However, there is an important part of our generation that is not talked about as much, that we are the “do well while also doing good” generation. Our generation wants to see contributions as investments in causes that we care about instead of solely a donation or charity. In finance, there is something called sustainable and responsible investment and “ESG,” which stands for environmental friendliness, social responsibility and corporate governance. This form of investing is known as impact investing, a strategy for investing in companies that do something good for humanity, yet also do well for portfolios.

Impact investing in the US has grown 76% from 2012 to 2014, in only two years (USSIF). Why is this? Because millennials are entering the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced goods and ethically responsible companies. Although millennials currently may only account for a small percentage of investing, as we age and come into money that we want to invest for our future, we will be a significant driver of impact investing growth. This investment perspective is important for understanding millennial consumption habits, especially in regards to the future consumption of goods and products that have a history of bad ethics and poor social responsibility, such as characterized in the production of chocolate and coffee.

Our generation is extremely influential in its current and potential buying power, and it has a handle on the limitless potential of social media to address issues and be a voice for causes like no other generation before it. As our generation increasingly enters the marketplace, there will be increasing scrutiny of where we invest our money and what good it is doing in the world. There will be increasing scrutiny on transparency, on getting to the bottom of the supply chain, where much, much more of every dollar we spend gets back to the producer, the farmer. I mention these economic and finance terms as a way to frame the importance of understanding what is happening in the marketplace to inform chocolate companies of the coming conscious consumer and how we will see certifications such as Fair Trade and Direct Trade face increased scrutiny, and companies like Taza Chocolate as pioneers in the marketplace grow in popularity.

In its latest annual study, Nielsen revealed that almost two thirds (66%) of consumers are willing to pay extra for products that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact (Nielsen). This percentage represents a large jump from 55% last year and 50% the year before. Interestingly, willingness to pay more is consistent across income groups. The study also revealed that almost three-quarters of millennials (ages 20-34) claimed they would pay more for sustainable products, up from about half last year. One of the most fascinating parts of this study was that female millennials, in particular, were willing to pay more at 75% (Nielsen). These trends towards more conscious consumption are something chocolate companies should be paying attention to. While at the moment we are most familiar with Taza Chocolate as a pioneer in the Direct Trade chocolate market, I believe we will be seeing more companies and brands come into the Direct Trade ethically sourced market to capitalize on the millennials that will be looking for such differentiated products in the marketplace. As we discovered in class, women buy the bulk of chocolate products, and if millennial women are the most inclined to pay more for an ethically sourced product, it is good news for the ethical chocolate market and for companies like Taza, who have to charge a premium to maintain their Direct Trade business. According to Steve Polski, senior director of responsible supply chains and sustainability at a top consumer company observes, “Businesses today are looking at sustainability differently than they were even a few years ago.” Polski continues, “It’s an exciting time to be working on supply chain sustainability and I think we’re approaching an inflection point among consumers as well” (Mcavoy).

Nielsen-Paying-Premium-Sustainable-Products-Oct2015

Chart showing the incredible rise in millennials being willing to pay a premium for sustainable products – this is good news for ethically sourced chocolate and coffee companies that must charge a premium to stay committed to their ethical sourcing and be willing to cover the high price of maintaining an ethically sourced company with a high quality, pricey product. 

I have had my own first-hand experience with the issue of supply chain sustainability and the new millennial market that I will discuss further. First, however, I will begin by highlighting the difference between Fair Trade and Direct Trade using Taza Chocolate as an example, and then discuss my own experience creating an ethically sourced coffee company without certifications of any type, a trade model I call the “Relationship Model,” or the one-to-one model. There is much to be explored on the topics of ethically sourced chocolate and coffee and many difficulties of supply-chain management. Yet, as noted earlier, the economic trends and research data tells us that the consumer of the future will increasingly demand ethical products, particularly those transparent as to source, and be willing to pay more for these products – the chocolate market needs to think about how to adapt to these trends and answer millennial questions on sourcing.

We have discussed and explored in depth the various issues with the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certifications in the chocolate world. Fair Trade USA promises “the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” (Fair Trade USA). While this goal is promising, taking a closer look at Fair Trade USA’s standards reveals that this certification is not enough to directly impact cacao farmers (Martin). There is no guarantee that money from the purchase goes directly to the farmers’ pockets. Instead, farmers must shoulder high fees, pay premiums, and other charges that come with the Fair Trade certification (Martin). This furthers the sad reality that very little, if any, money actually goes the farmers at the origins of the supply chain. Fair Trade USA promises a fair minimum price for cocoa, but in reality it “barely differs from the current world market price” (Leissle). Ultimately, the research tells us that that Fair Trade USA’s promises and commitments are misleading, and “lack of evidence of impact” makes its certification less appealing to informed consumers seeking ethically sourced products, particularly among millennials (Martin).

By contrast, Direct Trade moves beyond Fair Trade USA’s standards to create a clearer connection between cacao farmers and chocolate makers, or coffee farmers and coffee makers. Direct Trade hopes to go further than Fair Trade USA and be the solution that “make[s] for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute). Direct Trade tries to realize this benefit by eliminating the “middleman,” allowing chocolate makers and coffee makers to speak and interact directly with the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain to negotiate prices for the beans. Such direct negotiation, eliminating the cost and burden due to the middleman, should make it possible to compensate farmers at a “premium price they should earn for the high quality cacao they produce” (Taza Chocolate). In addition, Direct Trade eliminates the fees that come with Fair Trade USA certifications. The direct interaction between the farmers and chocolate and coffee makers means the farmers and farms are not obligated to be a part of cooperatives and can thus earn even more (Martin). These structural details of the Direct Trade process make it a better solution than Fair Trade USA for consumers seeking truly ethically sourced products and who want to see more of their money getting back to the farmer and making a difference. Importantly, those who seek ethically sourced products are growing in numbers and are mostly made up of millennials, whose purchasing power is only increasing. Now is when the Direct Trade market can do well while also doing good in the world. As millennials, we care about where the products we eat come from and that the money we spend is going to a good cause, thus enabling companies to charge a premium to make sure that their products are up to our new millennial standards and be assured that these premium prices will not hinder the profits of their business.

Taza Chocolate marketing labels showing their “Direct Trade” icon and their marketing slogan, “seriously good and fair for all.” We should question what these labels mean and recognize the vague notion of “Direct Trade” and the lack of standards it implies. 

While the Direct Trade model eliminates most of the issues buyers have with the Fair Trade USA certification system, certain problems of inconsistency arise due to the lack of set standards for Direct Trade. Buyers who directly source from farmers can have different standards when it comes to what a so-called “premium price” actually represents, what “quality cacao” means, and what the expectations are for farms with “fair working conditions” (Martin). Taza Chocolate maintains that they have “direct relationships with cacao producers,” and pay a set “premium price” to cacao producers and continues to “purchase high quality beans” but does not offer too much into detail of where exactly the money from the premium pricing goes (Taza Chocolate).

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 12.06.14 AM

Screengrab of Taza Transparency Report meant to highlight that the transparency reports do not detail the amount of money received by individual farmers or the “premium” paid – it seems as if these “Transparency” reports are no more than a marketing scheme to appear transparent. The details of the economics of the cooperatives and the income of the farmers is left out. 

Taza’s particular company-developed souring transparency also brings forth concerns about inconsistencies in Direct Trade’s more general, less specific standards amongst other producers claiming to source their products via Direct Trade.

As a millennial, I know how difficult it is to be a conscious consumer. Until a few years ago I was unaware of the struggles farmers faced in their supply-chains and how little income farmers were able to make by selling to conventional markets or to big companies. It was only when a started a coffee company myself was I able to truly understand how difficult it is to create a great company with a great product, how difficult it is for the farmer to reap the benefits while also being able to make a profit to sustain a business. But the success of the business is a real case study in changing consumer habits and of the new supply chains consumer changes are causing. In 2011, I visited the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa. There, I met Paskali Gwandu, our guide in the crater for a week and a wonderful horticulturist. He introduced my family to the most wonderful coffee we had ever tasted, grown and roasted right on his farm in his village down the road from the campsite. Over the course of the week my family drank his coffee and explored the crater. At the end of the week we exchanged email addresses so we could send some photos we had taken and keep in touch about his horticulture studies. In a couple of emails, my family asked about his family and his great coffee, which led to him sending us his coffee beans, rare Tanzanian Peaberry, for a small money transfer of $50, as a thanks for him sharing his knowledge with us. To our surprise, the coffee arrived in just over a week, wrapped in beautiful Tanzanian stamps and with a gift of a blanket interwoven with exotic cowrie shells and with my own name, “Catherine” on it – a thank you from Paskali’s wife and family.

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My brother (on left) with Paskali Gwandu, the talented horticulturalist and coffee farmer. Evidence of direct relationship. 

We continued this email exchange and money transferring to receive his amazing coffee every few weeks. After a while, friends and extended family began asking about Paskali and the coffee and started buying it through us. For my senior multimedia project, I decided to build a website for Paskali as a way for it to be easier for both customers and Paskali to order coffee, naming it “Gwandu Coffee.” Since that point, I have been trying to help Paskali and his family by marketing Gwanducoffee.com and learning about the complex coffee business in Africa. The small amount of coffee we have sold has changed Paskali’s life, allowing him to earn tuition to send his children to school and invest in new coffee plants, things that Paskali never thought were possible before.

Screengrabs from GwanduCoffee.com, the website I made in my multimedia class. Fully functional credit card processing and order transfer to Paskali’s email at the village computer which he checks daily. 

I discovered that by selling this coffee direct from Tanzania to the consumer via the internet, Paskali could get $4 per pound, compared to max $.50 per pound he would get at the markets. I have seen first hand what transparency can do for both the consumer and the farmer. Paskali’s coffee is of highest quality, and he takes deep care of his coffee because he knows he is sending it directly to the consumer’s doorstep and getting paid a premium to care for the consumer and the coffee.

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From GwanduCoffee.com, our simple infographic showing the supply-chain from farm to consumer. 

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A screengrab of my research slide detailing the current issues with the coffee market in Tanzania and how GwanduCoffee.com is a solution to those problems. Detailing the significant price change to the farmer. 

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A screengrab from GwanduCoffee.com showing again the supply chain as direct from farm to consumer, truly “Direct” trade, no middlemen (buyers, sourcers, packaging, etc. – such as Taza must use)

Here, my model goes one step further, in what I like to call the one-to-one or Relationship Model of trade. In this model, you, the consumer, know the exact farmer and farms where your coffee is grown and roasted and can directly witness the impact you make. You know that this coffee is from Paskali Gwandu, not from just from farms in a region or a cooperative. A common question that comes up from people is, “Is this coffee Direct Trade or Fair Trade” and this is where I have to tell them no, it’s much more than that. It’s a relationship trade with Paskali, his family, his village, the coffee and the consumer. It was clear that people knew about fair trade but were unaware of what it did or what it did not do for farmers.

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Straight from GwanduCoffee.com website under the “The Company” tab. Gwandu gvies all the credit to Paskali Gwandu and makes sure to give background to him and the company. Pictured below the information is a photo of Paskali Gwandu himself. 

These new ways of trade and sourcing chocolate and coffee beans leaves more questions to be asked pricing, quality control, marketing, and the disruption of old supply chains, and whether consumers may be exploited from labels and buzzwords, but that is a larger conversation. The important conclusion is that millennials coming into the marketplace and demanding more ethically sourced products, and willing to pay more for them, bodes well for the positive future of farmers and chocolate and coffee businesses.

Even further than the Relationship Model I propose, is a relationship much like World Vision, a charitable organization in which a specific child or family is sponsored over time by a contributing family. Perhaps in this extended relationship model, a farmer could be supported by multiple families or people over a longer period of time, to make a real difference and receive high quality coffee or chocolate. This may be wishful thinking for the future of coffee, but we must continue to think of new ways to innovate the supply-chain and how to increase transparency.

relationship-trade-icon

It is advised to avoid all certifications on packaging to not stray consumers with false advertising, but this is an example of a possible relationship model trade icon, if the market demands such labeling. 

Of course, not every person has access to a coffee or chocolate farmer and can create a company, but consumers can take control of their knowledge and quickly identify which companies are doing good for humanity. Something as small as a chocolate bar or a cup of coffee in the morning can change the life of a farmer half way across the world. As a millennial, I believe the market place will start to make this form of conscious consuming more available to us, as companies will want to capitalize off our changing concerns about where our food is from and where our money is going to support. Companies like Taza Chocolate and Gwandu Coffee are not only paving a new path for companies of the future, but also serving as a contrast to present company ethics and serving as a way for consumers to question current supply-chain practices. Our generation can and will create real positive change in the chocolate and coffee industry. I feel honored to be a part of this change and look forward to the future of an industry so marred with a dark past and even a dark present.

 

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. “What’s Fairer than Fair Trade? Try Direct Trade with Cocoa Farmers.”YES! Magazine. YES! Magazine, 04 October 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

Mcavoy, Kaitlyn. “Ethical Sourcing: Do Consumers and Companies Really Care?” Spend Matters. N.p., 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://spendmatters.com/2016/02/15/ethical-sourcing-do-consumers-and-companies-really-care/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Nielsen. “GLOBAL CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR HEART IS WHEN IT COMES TO GOODS AND SERVICES FROM COMPANIES COMMITTED TO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 17 June 2014. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2014/global-consumers-are-willing-to-put-their-money-where-their-heart-is.html&gt;.

Nielsen. “Sustainable Selections: How Socially Responsible Companies Are Turning a Profit.” Nielsen. Nielsen Press Room, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/sustainable-selections-how-socially-responsible-companies-are-turning-a-profit.html&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done .” NPR: The Salt. NPR, 14 February 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.

REPORT ON US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2014. 02 May 2016

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.

 

Images:

Nielsen chart: http://www.marketingcharts.com/traditional/will-consumers-pay-more-for-products-from-socially-responsible-companies-60166/

All Gwandu Coffee Images are from author and from Gwanducoffee.com website.

“Relationship” icon: http://blog.seattlecoffeeworks.com/in-the-news/introducing-relationship-trade/

Taza Direct Trade and Taza Chocolate: Via Taza Chocolate website

 

Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

enclomendia picpyrud meowmadisonlong_1385062049

(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.

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(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Chocolate as Currency

 

Throughout Mesoamerica cacao was held in high esteem and revered for its many uses. Not only was cacao used as food and drink but also it was used as a form of currency in Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Although consuming cacao was generally only found within the elite class, the use of cacao as money was a widely found practice. Found within cacao pods are cacao seeds covered in mucilaginous pulp. Once dried of the pulp, these seeds, called cacao beans, were processed and made into chocolate or used as money. Cacao as currency was a tradition that continued into the Colonial era.

 

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Image: Pictured here are dried cacao beans that have come from inside the cacao pods. Dried cacao beans like these were used as currency in Mesoamerica.

 

During the Aztec and Mayan Eras, cacao beans were used as currency or ready cash used in daily trades to pay for small items (Coe 60). This currency system was based on cacao bean count, not on the weight of the beans. In an early account of the Aztec civilization during the Spanish conquest, Hernan Cortes writes to Emperor Charles V describing this peculiar use of cacao:

 

“This fruit they sell ground, and esteem so highly, that it is used instead of money all over the country, and with it everything can be bought in the market place and elsewhere” (Million 150).

 

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Image: Here is an image of a traditional market where cacao beans are being used as currency. In these markets goods would be traded for cacao beans.

 

The Spanish appreciated the use of cacao as currency and during the Colonial era transactions continued to be conducted with cacao beans (Coe 98). An example of commodity prices taken from a document dated back to 1545 were as follows: a turkey hen was worth 100 cacao beans, a hare was worth 100 cacao beans, a small rabbit was worth 30 cacao beans, a large tomato was worth a single cacao bean, an avocado was worth 3 cacao beans (Coe 98). Cacao beans were also used to pay wages to laborers. Most of these laborers were porters – these were the people relied upon to transport goods and supplies from place to place.

 

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Image: Pictured above is an image taken from the Codex Mendoza of porters carrying goods. The daily wage of a porter was 100 beans, equivalent to the cost of a good turkey hen (Coe 98).

 

Accounts of cacao beans being used as currency were found even in the 19th century. The States of Central America written by the American Traveler Ephraim Squier in 1858 goes to say, “[cacao is] still used as a medium of exchange in the markets of all the principal towns of Central America, where the absence of a coin of less value than three cents makes it useful in effecting small purchases.” (Coe 181). Cacao still remained a vital part of commerce. Hundreds of years past and yet the cacao beans continued to be used as currency within an economy. Cacao being used as currency is an example of the early use of cacao and how it provided value to the people of present day Central America.

 

Works/References Cited

Cacao Beans. Digital image. Flickr. Flickr, n.d. Web. https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4135/4859216391_d693dc8755_b.jpg.

Cacao Beans in use at Market. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Web.  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Murales_Rivera_-_Markt_in_Tlatelolco_2.jpg.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Codex Mendoza. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, n.d. Web. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transportes_mexicas.jpg.

Millon, René Francis. When Money Grew on Trees: A Study of Cacao in Ancient Mesoamerica. Thesis. 1955. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

The Uniqueness of Cacao Bean Currency

It is relatively well known that Chocolate and its derivative, cacao beans, were of crucial importance to the Mesoamerican civilizations. Not as well-known though is the role cacao beans played as a form of currency in the Aztec Empire. Cacao was a rarer commodity in Aztec than it had been in the Mayan Empire as its tree did not readily cultivate in the region.

Map of where Cacao is grown in Central and South America

Map of the Aztec (red), Maya (green), and Inca (yellow) Empires

As shown in the above maps, the main areas in which cacao was grown fails to overlap with the Aztec Empire. Accordingly, the cacao bean was rare enough to be used as a currency. However, cacao beans played a different role than a typical currency. Due to several key differences between cacao beans and a more standard currency, the usage of cacao beans encouraged different actions in the market than otherwise would have been expected.

Cacao beans are unique as a currency in their short lifespan. Most currencies used over a long period of time have the ability for a single unit of it to stay in circulation for a decent length of time. However, cacao beans fail to have this quality. Instead cacao beans are both fragile when compared to silver, gold, or paper currency, and also fragile as a currency in that they had a tendency to be consumed rather than saved. Following from this, cacao beans encouraged different behavior than other currencies.1  Specifically, this encouraged the drive for more turn around on transactions. In essence, as cacao beans would be consumed rather than hoarded for later use.1  Coupling this, with cacao beans being the least expensive currency used, as compared to cloth or bullion. For example, an entire turkey was worth about 100 cacao beans.3

The relative prices of each item is shown by the number of cacao beans adjacent.
The relative prices of each item is shown by the number of cacao beans adjacent.

The above image reveals the relative costs of various items in cacao beans. The rabbit is worth about ten beans while the egg about three. This meant that for cacao beans to be acceptable for remitting payment it must have been demanding a greater push for profit and growth in trade.2 This varies from normal currency where, when possible, it is considered proper to save money for a future time of need. Thus, the uniqueness of cacao beans as a currency encouraged a different style market place, especially when focusing on the less expensive options.

Another stark difference between cacao beans as a currency as compared to others at the time was the utter lack of access to them within the Aztec Empire itself. This led to strategies being developed by the Aztecs to garner cacao beans. Two main strategies were used. Firstly, Aztecs demanded that conquered territories pay tribute in the form of cacao beans.4 This allowed for a supply of beans to be added to the coffers already held by the Aztecan elite. Secondly, the Aztecs created a class of “travelling merchants”, pochteca, whose main job was to travel the long distances necessary to trade for cacao beans and then bring their load back to the empire on foot.5 The first strategy encouraged a greater amount of wealth to be distributed solely to the ruler and top class; however, the second further created a more active cacao trade. As a pochteca would only have cacao beans from their lifestyle, it would be entirely necessary to trade for everything they needed in life. Thus, by forcing trades that otherwise would not be necessary, cacao beans as a currency yielded a more active and profit driven market place.

Image of two pochteca in their travels
Image of two pochteca in their travels

Cacao beans were extremely important to the Mesoamerican peoples. For the Aztecs, it was a rare commodity that was hard to come by. Still, or even because of this, it became an integral part of their currency and market. Due to its unique characteristics as a currency of being more fragile and not internally found, the cacao bean encouraged a more active and profit focused market.

Image Sources (in order of appearance):
1. http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Where/tropics.cfm?ItemNumber=3300
2. https://www.classzone.com/net_explorations/U4/U4_article1.cfm
3. http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-experts/when-did-the-aztecs-stop-using-cacao-beans-for-money
4. http://www.chocolatemonthclub.com/chocolate-history.htm

References Cited:
1. http://www.nbbmuseum.be/2013/03/kakao.htm
2. http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-experts/when-did-the-aztecs-stop-using-cacao-beans-for-money
3. http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/chocolate/moneygrewontrees.php
4. 
http://www.chocolatemonthclub.com/chocolate-history.htm
5. Coe Michael & Coe Sophia, The True History of Chocolate, pgs. 72-75, 3rd Edition.