Claudio Corallo’s life can only be called extraordinary.
Born in Italy, Claudio moved to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) when he was 23 and took a job as an agricultural researcher for the government. After a few years he bought a coffee plantation in the centre of the country, a 1,000km boat trip away from the capital. Teaching himself through trial, error and a great deal of experimentation, Claudio built up his plantation until he was exporting 800 tons a year of the finest quality coffee and employing almost 1,000 people. When the political situation in Congo became increasingly unstable, Claudio decided not to return to Europe. Instead, he moved to Sao Tome and bought a run down cocoa plantation on the neighbouring island of Principe.
The two islands have a cocoa rich history. Until a few centuries ago, cocoa wasn’t grown outside of Latin America. In the early 19th century, the Portuguese shipped the first trees from Brazil to Sao Tome and Principe. The cocoa trees thrived in the volcanic soil and within 100 years the islands were one of the largest cocoa producers in the world. But as producers started to shift production away from the slave-driven plantations of Sao Tome and Principe towards the Gold Coast, the island’s plantations were abandoned and fell into decline.
When Claudio Corallo moved there in 1997 the neglect was a blessing and a curse. Building a wooden cabin on the beach for himself and his family, he began to clear the Principe plantation. But while the slow work took years, the cocoa trees in Claudio’s plantation are almost unique to Prinicpe. The forastero trees are the direct descendents of the original tree brought over from Brazil. While elsewhere in Africa these had slowly been replaced by genetic hybrids, Prinicpe had been overlooked.
As any chocolate expert will tell you forastero are the most common of cocoa – forastero beans are produced in bulk and not generally used by high quality chocolate makers. Claudio believes however that by applying the same care to his cocoa trees a vigneron does to his vines he has produced beans with a truly exceptional flavour profile.
Through trial and error, Claudio carefully controls every step of his beans’ journey from tree to bar. A key part of this is his unique fermentation process; perfected after years of experimentation, exactly how long the beans are fermented for is a closely guarded secret. Once fermented, the beans are taken by boat to Corallo’s beachfront factory in neighbouring Sao Tome. Here the beans are selected, cleaned then roasted, again using the method perfected by Corallo and his team.
Once the the beans have been roasted at the precise temperature for the right amount of time, reaching the ‘magic moment’, the next step is to winnow them. Winnowing, the process by which the cocoa nib is separated from the shell, is normally done by machine, but Corallo and his team shell the beans by hand. At times, Corallo employs as many as 60 people to shell the beans, on what on Sao Tome is fair wage. Though laborious, he believes that doing this manually yields more perfect nibs and therefore results in better chocolate. And now the chocolate making can begin.
The incredible thought, care and work that goes into Claudio Corallo’s chocolate seems at odds with the plain and simple packaging. But this is just another facet of Corallo’s ethic – packaging shouldn’t be wasteful or distracting, because what’s important is inside.
From cocoa tree to chocolate bar, Claudio Corallo’s philosophy is simple, that the only way to create a great product is to do this in harmony with the environment, nature and the people living there.