“Chocolate is happiness that you can eat.” Ursula Kohaupt
Chocolate is something I reach for whenever I need a ‘pick me up’ and prior to my trip to Grenada for their annual Grenada Chocolate Festival I didn’t really give much thought to where the cacao in my chocolate bar was sourced from and whether it was truly ‘Fairtrade’ whenever I picked up a bar in a shop to buy.
I have now come back from the palm-strewn and spice scented island of Grenada with a new found appreciation for high quality chocolate and will be more conscious during my chocolate cravings when choosing which chocolate to purchase and I’ll explain why.
What I have learned is that just seeing a Fairtrade label on a chocolate bar wrapper doesn’t guarantee that the chocolate you are consuming will 100% definitely contain any Fairtrade cocoa beans. This is unfortunately down to a bit of a loophole whereby chocolate manufacturers are allowed to mix a small amount of Fairtrade Cocoa beans with other non-Fairtrade cocoa beans and refer to their end product as ‘Fairtrade’. This is called mass balancing and is highly misleading to the end consumer but is somehow allowed.
Chocolate from non-Fairtrade sources is something that I am going to avoid and not support as there are reports that suggest that there are child slaves working on the cacao farms that produce cocoa beans that are used by big chocolate producers, sourced from places such as West Africa. The children that are employed here have been forced to work against their will, with little or no pay, and unfortunately as the demand for these cheaper non-Fairtrade beans rises, so does the demand for child labour on these farms.
In most cases where this happens, the chocolate has been produced in the ‘bean to bar’ process where the beans are sourced from various places, sometimes passing through various chains and losing the traceability of their origin and which farmers harvested them.
One way to make sure you buy a truly fair and ethical chocolate bar is by purchasing it from a direct trade model where there is either a direct relationship between the grower and the manufacturer, or where the ‘tree to bar’ process is in place. While these bars tend to be more expensive than the mass produced chocolate, they are more sustainable and you can enjoy your chocolate with the assurance that there has not been any unethical practices and that it is a sustainable supply chain end to end.
After all chocolate is a superfood and is good for you so in turn lets do good by eradicating the demand for unethically sourced non-fairtrade beans and curbing the dark side of chocolate production.
Tree to bar Chocolate production in Grenada
In Grenada at the time of writing there are currently 5 Tree to Bar Chocolate producing companies each using fine flavour cocoa beans, which is what 100% of the cacao grown on the island is categorised as because they are either from the Criollo or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties. Fine flavours include a variety of notes such as fruit, floral, herbal, woody, nutty and caramel.
The origins of Tree to Bar production began in 1999 in Grenada when Mott Green, together with Doug Browne and Edmond Brown, founded the first chocolate making company in a cocoa-producing country: The Grenada Chocolate Company, which is still in operation today.
He realised that cocoa farmers could increase their income by processing the same cocoa beans they were growing into chocolate or semi-processed cocoa products rather than directly selling their cacao to the Grenada Cocoa Association for a fixed price. This trend has also seen a tree to bar movement in other countries.
I was fortunate to visit two of the five estates whilst in Grenada, The Belmont Estate and Crayfish Bay Organics Estate, founded and run by Kim and Lylette Russel.
At both, we saw first hand how the cocoa pods are harvested, which is a pretty labour intensive process whereby each cocoa pod is removed by hand using a pole with a hooked blade at the end by the cocoa farmer.
Inside these colourful cocoa pods are cacao seeds covered in a white, sticky pulp or mucilage that is removed during the fermentation process. This fruity pulp can also be consumed on its own and to me it tasted somewhat like Lychee. There can be roughly between 30-50 beans in a typical pod.
Once on the ground, the pods are graded for quality and placed into piles. The pods are then opened with a machete or a wooden club by cracking the pod and the beans and pulp are scooped out and heaped in a pile on mats or banana leaves.
The most important part of the chocolate making process is fermentation and this is when the flavours develop. Fermentation also removes tannins and is essential to the development of a high quality cacao bean that will be transformed into fine chocolate. Fermentation times are typically between five to seven days. Here the white pulp will transform into a brownish colour and develop a rich aroma as the beans ferment.
The next stage after fermentation is drying in order to reduce the moisture content from about 60% to about 7.5%. Drying must be carried out carefully to ensure that off-flavours are not developed in the beans and the first few days of drying are critical to ensure no mould develops and penetrates the skin.
In Grenada the beans are dried on large wooden trays in the sun and in order to turn them, they are gently walked on, which is a traditional method introduced by the French hundreds of years ago.
The Cacao beans are also continually raked to ensure that they dry more evenly. As you can see the process is very labour intensive and in hot conditions with sweltering temperatures – not an easy task!
The drying process takes up to a week and after this the dried beans are carefully sorted based on their size and quality to prepare them for roasting.
Beans are roasted carefully in small batches, adjusting time and temperature in accordance with the size and other characteristics of the beans as this will allow the unique flavours within the beans to develop.
Kim from Crayfish Bay Estate actually built his own roaster using materials found in the garbage dump at a fraction of the price at what it costs to buy a brand new roaster, and this is something he is advocating and trying to encourage the locals from Grenada to bear in mind if they are considering going into chocolate production.
The cocoa mass is then transferred to a separate machine called a conch, where it is refined further in a process called conching. It’s during this process that sugar, milk powder (for milk chocolate) and other flavourings are added to the chocolate and the process can take anything from a few hours to a few days.
The chocolate is then tempered and during the tempering process the temperature is raised and lowered to form the perfect kind of crystals. Tempering can be done by hand, but to make the process more efficient, most chocolate makers use tempering machines that can heat large amounts of chocolate very accurately. I have tempered chocolate by hand before and it is quite therapeutic.
The final step is pouring the melted chocolate into plastic bar-shaped molds and many smaller artisan manufacturers still do this part by hand. As you can see chocolate making can be a very hands on process and a lot goes into the production of those bars that give us so much pleasure!
The advantages of the Tree to bar chocolate production is the fairness for the Cocoa farmers as well as the control of the quality of the cocoa beans, ensuring that the end product is of top quality. It is really no surprise to me that Grenadian chocolate is considered to be in the top 5% of the world and I came back with a stash of it!
I really enjoyed attending the Grenada Chocolate Festival, which was founded by Magdalena Fielden, and is a great way to celebrate and learn about all things Chocolate! If you are a foodie, definitely put the 2020 Grenada Chocolate Festival onto your travel radar. It usually takes place in May/June and you can find out more here:
Find out more about Grenada here:
You can also read more about my experience of the Grenada Chocolate Festival here:
So next time you are reaching for a chocolate bar, do consider where the origins of the beans are and whether it is ethically sourced, and lets do more to stop child slavery around the world through conscious consumption. Sometimes cheapest is not always the most ethical option and always read the label and avoid buying it from large (popular) corporates, who are to this day still sourcing beans from farms where child labour is being used. Every little helps!
Have you been to Grenada? Let me know in the comments xx