Since 2010 Anna and Robbie have been crafting bars from the simplest of ingredients: just single origin cocoa beans and cane sugar. We’ve been following Ritual since before Cocoa Runners even began, so we are truly delighted to be able to share its bars with you. And we were lucky enough to speak to Anna and Robbie and find out a bit more about them and how they maker their chocolate..
[Anna]: I spent many of my childhood years on our family farm in Essex. Being around a family business at a young age really inspired me to start business that I could put my values into and that really had meaning for me. I moved to Boulder, Colorado for High School with my mother who is American and ventured back across the pond to Queen Marys College, London studying English Literature and Drama.
After University I traveled to South East Asia for 6 months, with an interest in other cultures passions, food, and way of life. Coming back to Colorado in 2006, I fell in love with the Colorado Mountains and outdoors. I set my sights on teaching yoga and doing triathlons. During this time my interest in fine food, coffee and wine was developing. When Robbie and I met in 2008 we quickly became excited by the idea of starting a business together that would really fuse our love for the outdoors, travel, different cultures with our love of food.
Initially when the idea of chocolate came up we knew very little about it. Of course, we loved eating it, but we quickly discovered that most chocolate on the market was pretty low quality. Through a lot of research, we slowly began to see the potential for making ultra-high quality chocolate, but we had still not tasted any at the time. From there, we just kept taking small steps towards perfecting our craft and creating our business. And since the first batches we made in our apartment, we kept taking small steps and now we’ve gotten to where we are today with our own factory in the mountains and a brand and quality that is pretty well known within the chocolate community.
[Robbie]: I’m originally from Park City, Utah, which is where our factory is now located. As for education, I was originally a Geology major, but switched to majoring in English Literature with a minor in Geology. So my education didn’t really prepare me for chocolate, but in some ways it did because chocolate is equal parts science and poetry. It definitely helps to approach flavor scientifically, but at the same time we create and problem solve using creativity.
During and after college I pursued competitive cycling with hopes of making a career out of it. Although, right out of school I got a job as a writer and editor for a cycling magazine called VeloNews. In 2009, I wrote an article about coffee, and as part of the article I arranged a “cupping” and graded around 20 coffees. Anna and I were both inspired by the way terroir and roast levels affected flavor. We were already thinking about starting our own business, and this experience influenced us to want to work with a food that relies on terroir for its flavor. We always loved dark chocolate, but didn’t really see it as a fine food at the time because we were only paying $2-$3 for the chocolate we were eating. But through a few small events, we discovered that chocolate had a lot of potential and was something we could really be interested in. In 2009, we thought it was quite strange that we could buy fine cheese, coffee, olive oil and wine, but we couldn’t find any fine chocolate in Boulder, Colorado at the time.
From the spring of 2009 onward, our focus shifted almost entirely from our previous lives to that of chocolate. By Jan 2010 we made our first couple batches at home. In March of 2010 we spent a month in Costa Rica trying to learn about how farming practices influence final cacao quality. Then in September of 2010 we founded the business and only sold directly to friends, at events and markets. Finally, on January 1, 2011 we began working out of Steve DeVries’ factory in Denver and the rest is history. We moved out of DeVries’ factory on February 1, 2015 and opened our new factory in Park City, UT in mid-March of 2015.
2. What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
A lot of what motivates us is the concept of “quality of life”. We make chocolate to improve the quality of life for everyone involved—all the way from the growers to the customers. We’re happy to pay high cacao prices if that means our growers can improve their quality of life. We want to make sure we’re not adding to the destruction of our planet along the way as well. The quality of all life is important to us, not just human life.
As for chocolate making itself, we set our standards painfully high because we want to make sure our chocolate is as good as it can possibly be. The better the quality of the chocolate, the better experience our customers will have, and that fits in with our goal to improve quality of life. On a personal level, a lot of our decisions over the last couple years have been based around improving the quality of our own lives. We moved from Denver to Park City so that we could live in the mountains and have immediate access to the outdoors. Denver is a great city, but we prefer to go on a mountain bike ride after work rather than going to a bar/pub (and not that we don’t go out, we just like to do it after we’ve had some time outdoors).
3. When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
Ritual Chocolate was founded by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies. It was just the two of us from 2010 to 2013. Since our first hire in 2013, we’ve grown to about 15 employees total (including ourselves).
4. Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
Lots of new bars. We’ve held off on launching new origins and other bars for a long time because we were waiting to launch our new packaging first (2 years in the making). Now that we have the design and branding that will represent us for many years to come, we’re ready to launch all sorts of things. We’d like to release 5-6 bars this year, fingers crossed.
As we continue to evolve, we’d like to improve the sourcing side of our business and spend more time at the farm level. As more makers enter the market it’s going to get harder and harder to source the quantities that we need, so we’re going to have to get creative about how we do that. As for new markets, we’re really excited about beginning to sell in England as that is where Anna is from and where most of her family lives. Robbie also has some family there so it’s nice to have our bars available to them.
5.How did you source your beans?
Every origin we work with is its own story.
In the beginning, there were fewer importers and we didn’t know about the ones that existed, which is why we went to Costa Rica in the first place. Our first origin, our Costa Rica bar, was from one of the farms we visited and the beans were brought into the US by Steve DeVries. The Peru cacao is a good story, especially since it pertains to the bars we sent to you. In March 2010, we tried a test batch made from the newly discovered Marañón cacao. This is the pure Nacional origin that is 40% white to 60% purple beans on average. At the time, that test batch was the best chocolate we had ever tried, by a landslide. From that day onward, it was one of our goals to make chocolate with those beans.
So we wrote to Pearson family, the family that discovered that cacao and increased the production in that area, and we requested beans. For years, they only sold chocolate made from those beans, which Felchlin in Switzerland made. We continued to beg, and we gave them samples of our chocolate to prove that we were worthy of such an incredible source. Finally, after about 3 years of waiting, they finally got back to us to let us know that they wanted to sell cacao to us. We were their first bean-to-bar customer (except for Felchlin of course). And it’s kind of a funny coincidence, because we now have the same U. Ammann conches that Felchlin uses, so for the inquisitive chocolate connoisseurs, you can see how different our style of chocolate making is compared to Felchlin, even with the same conches and same cacao.
6. Similarly would love to hear more about innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. you’re pursuing.
Since we first began making chocolate, we’ve always been big proponents for deconstructing the whole chocolate making process into its most basic steps so as to have unlimited control over each of those steps.
What we mean by this is that instead of using an all-in-one processor, like a CocoaTown or a Universal Conche that can process nibs and sugar into finished chocolate, we prefer to break the process down into have a pre-refiner, a mixer/grinder, a roll mill refiner and finally a longitudinal conche—so four individual steps with specific machines instead of just one to do all four of those steps. In doing it this way, we’re able to better control the texture and flavor of our chocolate.
In 2011, we were one of the only companies in the country refining chocolate on a 3 roll mill (at the time I think Amano was the only other one, and I think Rogue got his roll mill shortly after). So at the time, our chocolate was incredibly smooth compared to other bean-to-bar chocolates. And I think, because the difference was so apparent, several other companies got roll mills too, so now our chocolate isn’t quite as unique as it used to be, but it’s still quite smooth relative to most of the chocolate out there.
In addition to our roll mill, our other important piece of equipment is our longitudinal conche from Switzerland. Our set was built in 1915 in Langenthal, Switzerland by U. Ammann. The base of each pot is made of granite and all the rollers are steel. This type of conche conches the chocolate in a very slow and delicate way that expels unwanted flavors over a period of days rather than several hours like some of the modern machines. We’ve found that this slower approach to conching, while less efficient, allows more of the subtle flavors to shine through rather than being lost. A lot of the really modern machines are designed to process the ultra-high tannin cacao from Ghana and Ivory Coast (as that is where most cacao is grown). So these machines do a good job of making bad cacao taste good, but they do a bad job of making good cacao taste as good as it can.
7. What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
We love wine, whisky, and fine cheeses. But we also love simple foods like black beans and rice and oatmeal. I’d say the majority of our daily calories come from avocado, eggs, bread, granola, sugar-free almond milk, chocolate, nuts, wine, beer and whisky.
We eat a lot of chocolate every day and we get a lot of sugar from eating foods high in sugar for cycling and running, so we typically crave salty foods at the end of the day. After a long day tasting chocolate, a two hour afternoon mountain bike ride with maple syrup (or anything else sweet) in my bottles, I’m usually ready for plate of salty, Mexican enchiladas for dinner. We almost never eat dessert.
Recently we’ve seen a number of great bars using beans from Tanzania. In the last couple of months alone, both Omnom and Damson have released two new bars made with beans from the African nation. Both makers are using beans sourced from Kokoa Kamili.
Based in the Kilombero Valley of Tanzania, Kokoa Kamili are dedicated to helping local farmers and craft chocolate makers worldwide get the best from Tanzanian beans. It buys wet beans directly from farmers and then dries and ferments them at its own specially built facility in the valley. Once fermented it supplies these to makers who will coax the full flavour from the beans and transform them into chocolate that showcases the quality of Tanzanian cacao.
We spoke to Simran, co-founder of Kokoa Kamili, to find out more about the company.
Both Brian and myself had been working in international development. I was initially working in Lesotho in southern Africa. Brian started out as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania before he went to get his MBA, worked in management consulting and then found himself back in Tanzania. After my time in Lesotho I joined an NGO in Tanzania where I was working on researching the history of cocoa in the country and writing the Ministry of Agriculture’s Cocoa Development Strategy. Coincidentally Brian was leaving the same NGO where he had been managing a large team working with milling businesses throughout Tanzania helping them improve their processes and encouraging them to fortify their flour.
Over the course of my work, I saw what I perceived to be an opportunity, we have really interesting genetics in Tanzania, a great terroir, but we were seeing really poor fermentation and drying. Farmers had no incentive to improve their operations – – the work of fermenting and drying can be a laborious and long process. Existing buyers were large commodity companies with little interest in high-quality cocoa. Concurrently the craft chocolate scene was growing rapidly, with chocolate makers looking for new, exciting origins able to produce consistent, high quality cocoa.
I discussed this perceived market gap with Brian (who had previously explored doing something similar in coffee) and he agreed that it was something worth looking at. Brian ran the numbers to see if it could make sense and we began exploring the cocoa growing areas of Tanzania to pinpoint the best place for us to set up shop.
Cocoa was first introduced to Tanzania in the 1880s while Tanganyika (as it was then known) was under German rule. It was initially grown as a plantation crop in the north of the country although few records remain. There have likely been several reintroductions of the crop to Tanzania over the past hundred years, with the main growing area (Kyela – in the south of the country) being established in the 1960s. We estimate that between 8,000-10,000MT of cocoa are produced in Tanzania annually. There are four main buyers in the country, all large trading companies. Kokoa Kamili operates in the Kilombero Valley – a geographically distinct area compared to Kyela, with a much lower production.
Given our background in international development, we’ve both spent a fair bit of time in rural villages, especially given Brian’s Peace Corps experience. We would start with the village leaders, explain what we were thinking about, ask if they thought it would be feasible, would it be something the village would be interest in supporting, would it be beneficial to the village, etc. etc. When we began our research it was a lot of long conversations under mango trees getting an understanding of what would and wouldn’t work for the farmers and explaining our business model of buying ‘wet’ cocoa rather than dry.
We now work with ~2,500 farmers – up from around 1,000 at the end of our first year (although 80% of our volume comes from just 23% of our farmers). Our growth in sourcing is simple. We make it more attractive to farmers to sell to us, we pay more, we collect from farmers, provide agricultural training services, we offer transparent pricing and only buy directly (as opposed to using middlemen/agents).
At our peak we have about 30 staff. All of our processing equipment we built in the village that we work in using locally available materials. However, the monitoring equipment (e.g. thermometers, moisture meters) we source internationally.
Our very first sale was an air freight shipment to Chocolate Naive in Lithuania – I’d met them at the London Salon du Chocolat in 2013 and we’ve been good friends since. We were excited to host them as our first visitors last year! Our first large buyer was Mast. Honestly, we met them by cold-calling them and showing up at their factory in Brooklyn. They were nice enough to take the time to meet with us and were interested in learning about what we were doing and have been a great partner to work with ever since.
Our typical method of fermenting is a three tier, six day ferment. However, we’re constantly running experiments to tweak with our protocols to ensure we can get the very best out of our beans. We just put together our first five tier array and are going to be running a whole host of experiments on them in the coming season!
If you’re a member of our monthly tasting club, then you might just have had a bar from Washington D.C’s first craft chocolate maker, Undone Chocolate. We caught up with co-founder Adam Kavalier to find out a bit more about Undone and how he first got in to craft chocolate.
My background is in science, I was working on my PhD in plant biochemistry and fell in love with cacao in the laboratory. Cacao is full of potent phytochemicals and it intrigued me as a source of medicinal compounds. I began playing with chocolate at home and fell in love with the regions and flavors. I continued to work in science and made chocolate at home for several years; after some great feedback from family and friends I decided to pursue a career in craft chocolate and started Undone Chocolate, Washington DC’s first craft chocolate maker.
We set out to make a simple, pure, healthy and delicious chocolate. We use just two organic ingredients for our base chocolate and don’t add any cocoa butter or lecithin in alignment with our mission. Like other craft chocolate makers we are trying to transform peoples understanding of chocolate from that of a candy to that of a food. Craft chocolate is generally a healthy food when eaten in moderation. It is our goal to balance flavor with health and produce a minimally processed chocolate full of integrity.
We started making chocolate in DC in September of 2014 and launched our products in December of that year. We have now grown to a company of 4 employees.
We just launched two drinking chocolates and a cacao shell tea for the winter so we’re starting to approach new markets with those products. We’re going to continue to grow our inclusion line, as well as work with new origins in Central and South American.
We work closely with other chocolate makers to source the best beans we can find. By using directly sourced cacao we are able to get the highest quality beans with great consistency. We pay at least 3 x the premium of fair trade for our cacao and it is worth every penny. With two ingredient chocolate we are only as good as our beans are so it is a necessary expense. We take a lot of pride in supporting our producers and helping to tell their story.
We have been working closely with an engineer who has been modifying spice grinders to use in chocolate making. He has developed heating (conching) mechanisms and other innovative attachments to help us make delicious chocolate with simple stone grinders.
Favorite food, chocolate of course! Also love California wines, and Argentinian Malbecs. Top three favorite makers: Dick Taylor, Fruition, Soma. But there are another 20 or so that I love as well.
On Sunday, Spencer returned to Sunday Brunch to taste some very special bars. Bars from Chocolat Madagascar, The Greneda Chocolate Co, Forever Cacao and Seaforth.
These makers have all gone the extra mile to craft chocolate that is good for both people and planet without compromising on taste. Not satisfied with simply relying on certification, they build direct relationships with their farmers and suppliers.
Together farmer and maker work towards a common goal: better beans and therefore better chocolate. Makers collaborate with and educate farmers who are motivated to produce higher quality beans.
We’re delighted to bring you a collection of the four bars featured on Sunday Brunch, for a very limited time only. This collection celebrates the incredible work being done by craft chocolate makers around the world.
The bars in this box were all made using cacao bought via direct trade at above Fairtrade prices. Inside are three dark chocolate bars and one milk chocolate bar from Seaforth, Forever Cacao, The Grenada Chocolate Company and Chocolat Madagascar.
This month we bring you a collection that brings together some of the finest bars from European and American makers.
Anyone who follows craft chocolate closely will know that the US chocolate revolution has charged forward rapidly in the last few years, leaving us Europe (and the rest of the world) running to keep up. To put this in perspective: the last few years the UK chocolate movement has grown from less than 5 to close to 20 ‘bean to bar’ makers. In the States, they have gone from about 20 craft chocolate makers to a couple of years ago to several hundred today. In this month’s box we bring you bars from US makers at both ends of the revolution: the already well-established (and respected) Ritual, and exciting new-comer Undone.
Our first bar this month is a very special creation from Utah-based Ritual. When Anna and Robbie first tasted these Maranon beans they knew they had to make a bar from them. Grown in the Maranon river valley in Peru, these beans are an exceptionally pure strain of the Pure Nacional cacao. Only recently rediscovered, there is an ever-growing waiting list of craft makers wishing to use the beans. It took Ritual three years to convince the Pearson family (who own the beans) to sell them some of this rare heirloom cacao. (And it took us almost as long to convince Anna and Robbie to start selling internationally!)
The bar is pale in colour, thanks to the high percentage of white beans. The delicate bar dances between fruity and floral. Sharp cherries with a hint of citrus sweeten into a spicy, aromatic finish. The chocolate has a gently buttery texture, giving a smooth melt without becoming cloying.
Staying in the States, we now travel to Washington DC and welcome our second new maker, Undone. Adam Kavalier, who founded Undone with his wife in 2014, was originally a phytochemist. While researching flavonoids he slowly found himself being drawn to a particular source of flavonoids: chocolate. This particular bar is made using rare Bolivian beans that grow wild in the rainforest.
Indulgent notes of sweet cocoa lead to earthy coffee. We detected a hint of fruit mixed in to the smooth chocolate. The astringency builds towards a slightly drying sherbet finish. A complex bar, on each tasting different flavour revealed themselves.
Next we come to the Netherlands and our second very different Peruvian bar. Chocolate makers Enver Loke and Rodney Nikkels have sourced beans from the Peruvian Amazon. The bar is named for the indigenous peoples, the Awajun, who live in the rainforest and harvest the cacao and are also represented on the front of the bar.
We found this to be a far more intense experience than Ritual’s Peruvian bar. The rich flavour is immediately apparent from the bar’s chocolatey aroma, laced with a hint of bitterness. As with Chocolate Maker’s other bars, the texture is seriously smooth and buttery. There is a green, slightly earthy dimension that reminds a little of unripe banana and fresh coconut.
Finally we have two brand new bars that bring together the snowy peaks of Iceland and the sun-drenched valleys of Tanzania. The eternally stylish Omnom has crafted its latest chocolate using Simran Bindra’s (of Kokoa Kamili) beans from the Kilombero Valley. Look out for Omnom’s new custom mould which completes its perfectly designed chocolate.
At 65%, this is very much a dark milk chocolate. The high cocoa content gives the bar a richness, while the addition of milk creates a thick and indulgent texture. As you take a bite, the chocolate melts softly, almost like a piece of fudge, and filling your mouth with flavour.
Omnom describes its bars as tasting like ‘a brownie’. We agree that there is something deeply chocolatey about the bar. A distinctive note of muscovado adds another layer of decadent flavour.
Omnom’s darkest chocolate to date, the well-tempered bar is smooth with a quick melt. The bar is rich and fruity with layers of damsons, apricots and ripe plums. A darker, roasted note hints of creamy hazelnuts and adds intensity.
We are delighted and honoured to introduce you to Damson Chocolate, a new maker crafting bars in the heart of Islington, London.
Damson founder Dom Ramsey has an illustrious career in chocolate. Ten years ago he started his “chocablog” and since then he’s been a key force in promoting the small batch, craft chocolate movement – and, full disclosure, was a Cocoa Runners founding team member.
In addition to judging, writing and advising chocolate makers, Dom has now climbed another mountain: he’s started to craft his own chocolate. In his workshop Dom crafts delicious bars that are infused with passion and enthusiasm. From classic darks to unusual milks and from innovative inclusions to rabbit shaped bars, Damson has something for everyone.
Damson is going from strength to strength it has three Academy of Chocolate Awards (2015) already, including the ‘One To Watch’ award. And we are truly delighted to be selling Dom’s bars – including his latest Brazilian Notes Coffee Bar which we are also selling at this weekend’s Coffee Show at the Old Truman Brewery (if you are at the show, do come and say hi – we are on Stand B 18)
This month’s box is the result of long and careful planning. We have two new makers to introduce you to. We’ve been working with for many months and we are delighted to finally give you a taste of these bars.
First and foremost we are ecstatic to bring you a bar from Islington’s own craft chocolate maker Damson. As a lifelong chocolate lover, prolific chocoblogger and Cocoa Runners founding team member, there only was one chocolate topped mountain left for Dom Ramsey – to start making his own bars. And boy was Damson (his brand) worth the wait. Dom’s factory is a just a stone’s throw from our office, up in Angel. If you are ever passing by, make sure you pop to say hello and stock up on his bars. Here you can also see (and buy from) one of Cocoa Runners’ Craft Chocolate Galleries.
The rich milk gives the chocolate a creamy texture and unusual taste. The beans have a slightly green but floral note that gives the bar a herbal undertone with a hint of vanilla. The the bar’s sweetness is balanced by the sea salt that give an edge and brings out the grassy flavours in the beans.
Damson has used Brazilian beans from the Fazenda Camboa farm in Bahia. Owned and run by two brothers, it is the largest organic cacao farm in Bahia, Brazil.
The smooth dark has a deeply fruity profile, bursting with prunes, raisins and dark fruits. Strong roasted flavours develop, moving towards a creamy but slightly savoury finish. We found this to be an intriguing and many-layered dark chocolate.
Now going to the other side of the world we’ve the epitome of a smokey bar, our first made with cacao from the Solomon Isles and crafted in New Zealand by Solomons Gold. We first met with Clive over a year ago when he let us taste some early prototypes – and for the last year we’ve been waiting to share the fruits of his team’s work.
This the first bar we’ve brought over from a Kiwi maker (watch this space for more). Not only this, but it’s also the first bar in our Library using beans from the Solomon Isles.
This is a seriously smokey-tasting dark chocolate bar. The initial aroma of wood smoke gives way to wooded hints of tobacco, rough leather and saddle soap. The strong flavours give the bar an almost savoury profile. The bar is not bitter or harsh, but the strong flavours give the chocolate an intensity comparable to a much higher percentage dark bar.
A really unique bar, its distinctive taste is divisive but still a must try for any adventurous craft chocolate aficionado.
We’ve also been waiting to bring you this “better than Fairtrade” organic bar from Chocolat Madagascar. Over 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa, but little is made there. Neil Kelsall and Chocolate Madagascar for the last decade or more have been seeking to redress this by growing the cacao and crafting their bars locally.
This smooth dark chocolate is simply wrapped but bursting with subtle flavours. The bar has a slightly peppery aroma, however once tasted, the flavour develops into hints of forest fruits and raisins. Alongside this, we detected a mild spice and flavour notes of balsamic vinegar.
Compare it to their classic dark chocolate and taste the difference that different agricultural practices can have.
Finally we’re delighted to bring you the latest bar from Sabrina and Andres of Ara, their Agua Fina bar, sourced with beans from Puerto Cabello in their home country of Venezuela. Ara means Macaw in French, and the couple are dedicated to protecting this rare bird with the help of their chocolate!
The chocolate has an almost floral aroma, and the initial flavour notes we put as somewhere between lemon curd and salted caramel – a truly indulgent treat. Despite this initial hit of sweetness, the bar has a slightly smoky and astringent finish, with hints of coffee.
Patrice Chapon has lived a fascinating life. The Frenchman spent his early days in hot pursuit of a career in architecture, dreaming of constructing buildings not bars. Alas this was not to be, and he found himself at a loss as to what career to pursue.
Luckily for us, Chapon turned his attention to food, training as a chef. He attained a level of international renown that eventually led to his appointment as ice cream and sorbet maker to the Royal Court at Buckingham Palace.
As with many of our makers, his initial forays into chocolate were conducted in the dead of night, in the cellar of his family home. Chapon dedicated every spare moment he had to crafting fine chocolates, which he then sold to local Parisian confectioners.
While Chapon initially earned a reputation for crafting fine truffles and bon bons, he was not satisfied.
In 2010, Chapon set himself a new challenge. He wanted to craft his own chocolate directly from the bean. To him this meant more that just the best quality quality chocolate and a guarantee of the product’s sustainability (although both of these were important considerations).
More than anything, Chapon felt that for his creations to truly represent his own creativity and personality they had to be entirely his own.
These bars are exceptionally tricky to track down outside of his native France, so we are delighted to be able to welcome Chapon to Cocoa Runners today. Members of our Craft Chocolate Tasting Club have already enjoyed his 75% Ecuador bar, and today we’re introducing our edit of some of the finest bars of Chapon’s range.
The decadent flavours remind us more of a Dominican or Venezuelan bar. Wooded notes have been replaced by treacle and muscovado sugar. We also detected spiced molasses and a touch of liquorice on the finish.
This dark chocolate is made using rare cocoa beans from the Maranon valley of Peru. Patrice Chapon has crafted some spectacular and unexpected notes from these beans. This thin bar has a silky texture and a smooth melt that reveals striking flavours.
A lightly smoked aroma discernible throughout. As the bar develops, we discovered spicier hints and some dried fruits. These notes mixed with the smoke, creating an almost floral aroma.
The high cocoa butter means that the flavour is initially released slowly. As you let a small piece melt, notes of raisins and dried fruits are revealed. We detected a wooded notes mixed into the thickly textured bar.
Tuesday night was our monthly tasting evening at the Winemakers Club in Farringdon. This month we were lucky enough to be joined by Pablo Spaull of Forever Cacao. Pablo and Cocoa Runners co-founder Spencer went head to head, each presenting some of their favourite bars (including Pablo’s own). Pablo also told us a little about how he first go into chocolate and how he sources his Peruvian beans. Continuing with our series on Fairtrade Fortnight, we wanted to share this incredible story with you!
Pablo’s journey began thanks to his friend and fellow Welshman Dilwyn Jenkins. Dilwyn was a lifelong champion of Peru’s indigenous peoples. While studying anthropology at Cambridge he and fellow students BBC/Royal Geographical Society and made a documentary about the peoples he had met during his travels in Peru. It was the first time the Ashaninka community had been filmed. In 1985 Dilwyn also wrote the first Rough Guide to Peru, the first comprehensive English travel guide to the country.
The Ashaninka people are an indigenous people who live in the rainforests of Peru (with a few groups over the border in Brazil). The last century has seen them face a number of threats with their lands being systematically reduced and their environment destroyed. Owing to internal conflicts in Peru and interest in natural resources from big business (including loggers, rubber tappers and oil companies) the Ashanika people have found themselves displaced, enslaved and even killed. In the early 2000s they were given legal rights to some of their ancestral lands which is now a protected National Park. But these people who the Spanish conquistadors remarked upon for their ‘bravery and independence’ still face a huge number of threats. These threats include (both directly or indirectly) those posed by oil companies, drug traffickers, illegal lumberers, illegal roads, misinformed conservation groups, missionary groups, and diseases brought by outsiders.
Dilwyn dedicated decades to supporting the Ashaninka people and helping them to combat the numerous threats they faced. He founded Ecotribal, to help the local people generate a sustainable income through coffee and other goods. One of these product was cacao. When Dilwyn first visited, the Ashaninka had just started to produce cacao as a cash crop. Some of these trees had been introduced from neighbouring regions but cacao also grow wild in the forest. This wild cacao is called the abuelos (grandfathers). No pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used by the growers and they all follow organic farming practices.
Working with Tinkareni and Coveja villages, Ecotribal has helped the Ashaninka people with the fermentation and post-harvest processing of the beans. They have provided training and equipment to local people to improve the how the beans are treated and therefore their overall quality. The Ashaninka have now formed their own Cacao Growers Association, taking charge of the growing, drying and fermenting themselves.
The Ashaninka producer’s association then sells the organic heirloom beans at a good price to Ecotribal and a cooperative downriver who test and sort the beans and continue the post-harvest process. The association separates a percentage of its income to pay for community health and emergency needs. Generating income from these sustainable sources sustains the people from the local villages such as the Cutivireni and protects their forest. Without this they would be forced to sell their trees to logging companies in order to survive.
It’s from this cooperative and Ecotribal itself that Pablo directly sources the beans for his Forever Cacao chocolate bars. Pablo not only pays a higher price for the beans but he knows that this money is going directly to the harvest and their families. He has a direct relationship with the people harvesting and processing them, visiting them and sending them chocolate made from their beans!
For Pablo, making chocolate was never just about creating delicious-tasting bars (although this was still fundamental). It’s also about supporting the Ashaninka people, the biodiversity of the Ene River region and safeguarding Ashaninka heirloom cacao. Thanks Dilwyn’s lifetime of work with the Peruvian people (which is now continued by Ecotribal and their partners Size of Wales & Cool Earth a huge amount habitat has been protected. They have seen forty-four indigenous communities galvanised into shielding 2.5 million acres of pristine rainforest safeguarding ancient Cacao and other crops they rely on.
Pablo is currently speaking to other Ashaninka groups and hoping to help more villages to generate income through the sustainable production of cacao.
Photographs by Alicia Fox, courtesy of Forever Cacao.
This International Women’s Day it seems only right to talk about the many women involved in crafting the delicious artisan bars that we love so much.
This past year, we’ve welcomed a number of female makers. From Amedei’s Cecilia Tessieri and Cynthia at Soma, to Lisi Montoya of Shattell, Luisa at Luisa Abram and Brits Chantal Coady at Rococo and Ama of Lucocoa, all of these women are crafting incredible bars. And even while they may not been the principle chocolate maker women play a pivotal role for a number of different makers. Dahlia at Fruition, Frederike at Chocolate Tree and Barbara at Pacari, Joanna at Pump Street are just a few.
It’s not just about the makers, but the people growing the cocoa beans. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women have historically had little economic status or independence of any kind. Through its Femmes de Virunga bar program, Original Beans is empowering women in the region.
The chocolate maker is providing women with training in how to cultivate and produce high quality cacao so that they can become producers themselves. Original Beans also runs literacy and leadership courses to further equip local women with the skills they need.
And even better, women in the region have the opportunity to put these skills to use. The women’s co-operative runs its own radio station and seedling nursery. As part of its ‘One Bar One Tree’ policy Original Beans also donates cacao trees to local women for them to sell or cultivate. Now, even the most isolated women farmers can benefit from the community and expertise of the women’s cooperative and enjoy a long term and fully sustainable livelihood with all the economic advantages that come with this.
Shawn Aksinosie is another maker involved in raising the profile of women around the world. Through is Chocolate University program in Tanzania he funds an Empower Girls club at local schools. The club aims to increase the retention and graduation rate of female students.
Askinosie has also pioneered a Sustainable Lunch Program. As part of this, Askinosie purchases local premium foods (Aromatic Premium Keyla rice in Tanzania, Tableya Cocoa Rounds in the Philippines) and sells them to people and speciality shops in the States. All of the profits are then used to fund school lunches for children in Tanzania and the Philippines. Since 2011 Aksinosie has provided more than 315 000 meals through the scheme. Malnutrition has decreased and academic performance and attendance in both the regions has increased!