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The Geography of Chocolate

By Cocoa Runners  ·  4th August 2021  ·  Geography

Now grown, processed and sold all over the globe, much of the chocolate we eat has made an intrepid journey before ending up in our mouths.

For many of us, chocolate is so accessible that it is easy to forget where it comes from. 

However, as you delve further into the world of craft chocolate, you’ll learn that thinking more carefully about the bars we consume is the key to making chocolate not just better for you, but for the people who grow and make it. That’s why we at Cocoa Runners have made it easy to explore the origins of our chocolate, and why they are so important:

Cocoa grows in the region 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

How did chocolate become global? 

Chocolate is made using the seeds of cocoa pods, which are the fruit of cocoa trees, known officially as Theobroma cacao. Theobroma cacao can grow in a variety of locations up to about 20 degrees north and south of the equator, but it is native to the Northern jungles of South America, having first appeared there over ten million years ago. 

But today, the world’s largest exporter of cocoa is Ivory Coast, closely followed by Ghana. Europe is where the majority of the world’s chocolate is consumed. How did this come to be? 

The story of how chocolate spread across the world is a complex one, and unfortunately much of it is rooted in colonialism and slavery.  The impact of both is still evident in many of the socio-economic issues which plague the cocoa industry to this day.

How does growing location affect taste? 

Craft chocolate is one of the few products with a flavour profile broader than wine. Several factors affect the flavour profile of a bar, and one of the most crucial is where the tree has been grown. 

You will often hear us mention the ‘terroir’ of a chocolate bar. Terroir roughly translates from French as ‘sense of place’, and is a term adopted from the wine world, used to denote the effects that the local environment has on chocolate. Everything from the climate to the minerals in the soil dictates flavour, and all good craft makers source their beans accordingly.  

Country profiles 

As you now know, different parts of the world are known for growing beans with distinct flavour characteristics. Each country also has its own unique history, traditions and habits when it comes to chocolate, and growers and makers face different challenges according to location. 

Below you will find links to all our country profiles, to help you better understand the beans behind every bar we sell. 

South America

Where it all started. Still the second largest cocoa-growing region, Theobroma cacao is cultivated in most tropical countries in South America. 

Ecuador: Attack of the Clones –  Read about a recent archaeological discovery, why Ecuador’s signature Arriba Nacional cocoa beans are currently under threat, and what you can do about it.

Colombia: Cocoa, Cadmium and Coca – Why do Colombians like to add cheese to their hot chocolates? And more pressingly, how are Colombia’s other famous natural resources impacting their cocoa industry?

Peru: Swapping Coca Leaves for Cocoa Trees –  Find out why Peruvian cocoa has long puzzled chocolate experts, and how cocoa beans are being used to fight cocaine production.

Africa

The world’s leading cocoa-growing continent. 70% of the world’s beans come from West Africa, with Nigeria and Cameroon following Ivory Coast and Ghana as the leading growers. 

Cameroon: Introducing Reine Astrid – Young farmer’s turning away from cocoa towards alternative crops is causing deforestation in Cameroon – how can craft chocolate change this?

Asia 

Though cocoa has long been grown in Asia, SouthEast Asian countries have recently increased production, Indonesia and Malaysia especially. 

Vietnam – It isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of cocoa-growing, so how has Vietnam become reputable for world-class craft chocolate? 

Europe

Although Theobroma cacao cannot actually grow in Europe, most of the world’s chocolate is consumed in this continent. 

France: An Introduction – what does French craft chocolate have in common with the rest of this country’s cuisine? 

Meet our makers

Craft chocolate is all about transparency: craft makers will always tell you where they’ve sourced their beans, and in turn, we think it’s important that we tell you all about our makers! Read our maker profiles here. 

We have created a map of all of the makers whose chocolate we sell here at Cocoa Runners. Check it next time you travel, as you may well be able to visit one of their factories or workshops and witness the chocolate-making process for yourself!

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