How Cocoa Becomes Chocolate?

Berry St Nowra, NSW20 Nov 2021

Slow Food Berry2JB is organising this workshop where the owners of KokoMana will explain chocolate making and how they created an ethical, ecological and sustainable cocoa farm. The event will be held at the Community Gateway Hall on Saturday 20th November, starting at 3 pm with a delightful chocolate drink, and finishing at 6 pm with KokoMana’s signature chocolate truffle tart & a glass of red wine. More information at trybooking.com

About Chocolate and KokoMana Chocolate Factory & Farm

How much thought do you put into buying a bar of chocolate? And, if you do think about your purchasing decision, what are your criteria for selecting a particular brand or style of chocolate? In Australia and the Pacific islands, there are now alternatives to the industrial, globally traded commercial bar, that nurture the environment and biodiversity – and leave more benefit in the communities that produce the cocoa.

Commercial chocolate bars around the world are mostly a confection of fats and sugar, flavoured with a relatively small amount of cocoa. Chocolate bars purchased in Australia are typically made from cocoa that was grown in West Africa, using Forastero cocoa varieties (originating in the lower Amazon basin) that are selected mainly for their high yield. These varieties have a ‘robust’ flavour that is usually masked in the final product with vanilla (real or artificial), and other strong flavours. The farmers in Africa will most likely have been paid the minimum ‘commodity’ price for their cocoa of around US$2,500 per ton (a price that has been at this level or lower, for more than thirty years). The cocoa will then have been shipped to Europe for processing and finally all the way around the world to Australia – leaving an enormous carbon footprint!

The cocoa industry in the Pacific is very small by comparison, but is organized in quite a different way, and offers consumers a very different product. Firstly, we are using mostly ‘heirloom’ varieties that are the descendants of Trinitario hybrids, brought to the Pacific islands in the 1870s. These hybrids were made in the Caribbean by crossing Forastero varieties (from Brazil) with Criollo varieties from Central America – providing some of the yield advantages of the Forastero parent combined with the milder, more fruity flavour of the Criollo. While Forastero types have taken over the commercial world of cocoa, accounting for some 90% of world trade, Trinitarios have survived in the Pacific – perhaps because Pacific islanders are motivated by things other than simple profit, and partly because the milder flavour of Trinitario hybrids is appreciated in local products.

In Samoa, for example, koko Samoa is an earthy, roasted-cocoa beverage that has become the national drink. In Samoa, cocoa is grown in low-intensity, traditional agroforestry systems, along with numerous other trees and crops. These systems are not highly productive in terms of cocoa beans for sale, but offer a rich diversity of food and other useful products and, with a minimum of fertilizer and other agrichemicals, are much gentler on the fragile Pacific environment.

In Savusavu, Fiji, Richard Markham is following a similar approach at KokoMana Cocoa Farm and Chocolate Factory. He and partner Anne set up the farm and factory in 2018 when Richard retired from a career in agricultural research. In ‘normal times’, KokoMana gives ‘tree-to-bar’ tours, including chocolate-tasting, to international tourists visiting Savusavu. The company also reaches out to nearby communities and local cocoa growers, buying their cocoa at a ‘fair-trade price and promoting better land management, including reforestation and soil conservation, for a healthier, more climate-resilient environment.

“We deliver a consistent message of ecological responsibility and ethical business practices – all the way from healthy cocoa trees, growing in a biodiverse forest, to simply delicious chocolate bars, made right in the heart of that forest, from locally grown cocoa nibs and Fiji cane sugar” explains Richard.

KokoMana only sells its chocolate locally, but a small number of ‘bean to bar’ chocolate manufacturers in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands are now making these unique ‘single origin’ flavours available more widely to discerning consumers. For example, Jasper & Myrtle makes small-batch chocolate in Canberra, using ethically sourced cocoa from Papua New Guinea and other Pacific growers.

Photo by Falco, Pixabay