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. And indeed, mass produced chocolate bars don’t communicate their tropical cocoa origins much (or at all).
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.
Every bite of chocolate you take, connects you to people and places around the world, so let us take a journey across the globe and see what we can learn!
Table of contents
Where does chocolate come from?
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.
How did chocolate become global?
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? How did chocolate spread around the world?
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.
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.
We try to explore countries’ diverse contributions to the craft chocolate world, to help you better understand the makers, growers and beans behind every bar we sell.
Where it all started. Still the second largest cocoa-growing region, Theobroma cacao is cultivated in most tropical countries in South America.
In Ecuador, cacao is considered an important part of the national character. The country’s signature cocoa varietal, ‘Arriba Nacional’, makes up a lot of the output. Read more about a recent archaeological discovery, why the national cocoa beans are under threat, and what you can do about it.
Colombia has a complicated history, and cocoa farming is playing an important part in helping rural communities recover from war and poverty. Read more about how the country’s diverse and bountiful natural resources are interwoven with it’s cocoa story.
Some of Peru‘s modern story is similar to Colombia’s: Read more about farmers making a positive change from coca to cocoa.
Brazil is a country with a turbulent relationship with cocoa, and has experienced booms and busts over the years. Read more about the key points in the country’s history, with examples of great Brazilian chocolate.
Further north than where it originated, cacao became and established and important crop for the peoples of Central America. Much of the early history of cocoa consumption is seen in the cultures of the Olmecs, Aztecs and Maya.
Belize sits in a region once dominated by the mighty Mayan civilization, and its jungle landscape is dotted with the ruins of their stunning temples. But Mayan enthusiasm for cacao still survives. Read more about the revitalisation of world class cacao in Belize.
In the modern day, Africa is, by far, 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.
Nigeria was once a major player in international cocoa, and although this has declined, the country has ambitions to make a splash once again. Read more about how craft chocolate might be Nigeria’s route to cocoa prosperity.
Also in West Africa, Cameroon has a troubled history, and its relationship with chocolate is tangled up with colonialism. Read more about some of the pioneering work being done to give Cameroon a route to sustainable development through chocolate.
Tanzania is now recognised as a premier source of cocoa for craft chocolate makers around the world. This is in no small part because of the work done by Kokoa Kamili. Read our interview with Kokoa Kamili’s founder, Simran Bindra to learn their story.
The island nation of Madagascar is home to high quality, fine flavoured cacao, but also has a great range of at-origin chocolate makers. Read more about how making chocolate local to cocoa origins in Madagascar is a better arrangement than Fair Trade.
Though cocoa has long been grown in Asia, South East Asian countries have recently increased production, Indonesia and Malaysia especially.
Vietnam isn’t historically, traditionally thought of as a cocoa growing nation, but recently, it has garnered a reputation for world class craft chocolate. Read more about the exciting scene of making and growing in Vietnam.
The political status of Taiwan may be contentious, but the quality of chocolate produced there is not. Read more about how the uniqueness of Taiwan is mirrored in the uniqueness of its cocoa story.
Despite a long history with chocolate, India has only relatively recently seen a boom in high quality cocoa production. And there are now many examples of superb Indian craft chocolate. Read more about the history of India and cocoa.
Europe and North America
Although Theobroma cacao cannot actually grow in Europe and North America, most of the world’s chocolate is consumed in these parts of the world. And a lot of the world’s greatest craft chocolate is made here as well.
France has a reputation for fine flavour, and indulgent chocolate recipes. But in today’s chocolate world, many French craft chocolate makers are combining classic culinary traditions with modern innovations to produce superb chocolate.
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 all of our maker profiles here.
Also, 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!
When it comes to travelling the world and visiting makers, farms, or anything else chocolatey, we like to call this ‘chocolatourism‘. Make sure to check out our guide to destinations and experiences.
Greet Our Growers
It’s inherently difficult to connect chocolate consumers with cocoa farmers. Many of the people growing cacao live in rural communities, with limited communication. However, because the craft chocolate model focuses on direct and equitable trade, we have much better transparency and traceability than the world of mass-produced chocolate.
We’re working on create profiles for as many growers as we can. Read our grower profiles here.