Water and Chocolate

By Spencer Hyman  ·  29th May 2020  ·  Environment

This weekend was meant to be about CocoaSwimmers.  CocoaRunners had planned to swim “Castle to Castle” with the wonderful Mike, Becca and Chocolarder team in Cornwall to raise money for the RNLI.  This sadly isn’t happening (next year!).

Instead we are going to explore the links between chocolate and water.  There is a longer version of this on our blog coming soon which will have charts, links etc.  And this week we are also launching a few “Father’s Day” presents (21st June) — see below

For most of recorded (and indeed pre-recorded) history we’ve drunk chocolate by mixing it with water.  This is ironic as chocolate doesn’t mix well with water.  It’s even more poignant  given the amount of water that is required to grow and make a mass produced chocolate bar — approximately 2,000 liters per 100g (or about 25 full baths).  Fortunately by savouring craft chocolate and by encouraging farmers to preserve the rain forest, there is a way to save water and eat better.


The history of “Drinking Chocolate” can be traced back 4-5,000 years, so about the same time as people started to drink wine.  There is pottery evidence that the Olmec’s in Mexico were drinking chocolate around 1900 BC.  More recently some recent archaelogical finds in modern day Ecuador that suggest the Mayo-Chinchipe were drinking chocolate even earlier — at around 3,500 BC.

Columbus brought some cocoa beans back with him after his third voyage to the “New World”.  After a shaky start, once Europeans worked out how to combine cocoa with spices and sugar, chocolate became a popular drink within aristocratic and wealthy merchants circles.  Indeed Tosier Chocolate, soon to be featured in one of our upcoming monthly boxes, take their name from Thomas Tosier – King George I’s personal chocolate maker.

However chocolate and water really don’t mix that well.  If water creeps into the chocolate making process it effectively ruins the process (it activates various enzymes in chocolate which turn it into a paste that cannot be further processed).  In addition “finished” chocolate doesn’t dissolve very well into water (or milk); it rapidly congeals with the cocoa butter separating out.

In 18th and 19th century Holland the propensity of drinking chocolate to congeal created major problems.  Holland’s cold winters meant that the cocoa butter separated out even faster, and given the predilection of Dutchmen for fine beards  this meant that they messed up their facial hair with the glutinous cocoa butter.

In the 1820’s the father and son team of Van Houten came up with a partial solution — the Cocoa Press.  This invention “pressed out” much of the cocoa butter, leaving less of it to congeal in their fellow Dutchmen’s beards.  They also realised that by “dutching” the remaining chocolate cake (i.e. washing it in an alkali solution) they could reduce some astringency and bitterness.

The next innovation was in Bristol, England. Joseph Fry took this excess cocoa butter and discovered that by combining it with ground cocoa beans he could create a stable chocolate block.  Armed with this innovation, in 1847 he launched the world’s first Chocolate Bar, setting off a revolution in which we now eat, rather than drink, chocolate.


As we’ve eaten more and more chocolate, a series of unplanned, uncontrolled and undesirable chocolate and water related issues have emerged.

To grow the cocoa and run the machines needed to make a 100g mass produced chocolate bar requires between 1,500 – 2,000 liters of water (by contrast a bath contains 60-80 liters). Indeed chocolate needs more water than almost any other crop — and by some measures even more than cattle (see the blog detailed charts on this)

If the cocoa is grown in a sustainable rain forest, much of this water can be recycled or saved.  However mass produced cocoa is often grown by destroying the rainforest.  For example, the Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana have seen their rainforest canopy shrink from over 35% to under 4% since 1990 (source: Mighty Earth).  Much of this deforestation is caused by cocoa farmers encroaching on the rainforest, destroying it and planting fast growing “cloned” cocoa trees which are designed to grow fast rather than provide depth and complexity of flavour.

For the environment it’s a double whammy.  These cloned cocoa varietals need more water than almost any other crop and their cultivation all too often involves destroying the rainforest.

By contrast heirloom cocoa and craft chocolate are all about preserving the rainforest and not wasting water.  For example Original Beans pledge to plant a tree every time they sell a bar.  Bertil Akesson plants pepper plants next to his cocoa trees to provide shade and minimise the need for extra irrigation.  Manabi Province in Ecuador has created sophisticated irrigation systems in its rainforest and cocoa farms to recycle the water (check out Conexion).

So as Fathers’ Day is rapidly approaching, if you want to help minimise future water difficulties and preserve the rainforest please consider gifting some craft chocolate.  We’ve paired some of these craft chocolates with other drinks – wine, beer, whisky and coffee – to give the fathers some other liquid refreshments too.  And do also consider gifting him a Virtual Tasting Kit (See below for reviews and here)

And for those CocoaSwimmers amongst you, we are very envious.  Next year we will do the Castle to Castle Swim!