by Cat Wheeler

Next time you unwrap that bar of dark, rich, decadent chocolate, give a thought to where it came from. Some of world’s purest and most flavourful chocolate is processed right here on Bali from beans grown on the island. Big Tree Farms, Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, POD Chocolate and Primo Raw Chocolate all produce divine, ethical, sustainable chocolate with fair return to the farmers. But that’s unusual in the world of chocolate.

The international chocolate confectionery market is worth about US$80 billion a year. Depending on the percentage of cocoa in each bar of chocolate the farmer will get 4 – 6% of the value, the retailer 17% and the manufacturer a whopping 70%. With about 3.5 million tonnes of cocoa produced each year and the demand estimated to increase by 30% in the next five years, the rich will continue to get richer and – guess what? The farmers stay poor.

will testing raw cocoa

The huge demand for inexpensive chocolate products in the developed world has created a competitive market between cocoa farmers which forces down labour costs. In West Africa, which produces about 80% of the world’s cocoa beans, children are routinely trafficked and sold into slavery to meet the huge quotas of international chocolate producers. United States State Department figures estimate that 10,000 children in the Ivory Coast are victims of slavery or human trafficking. According to the International Labour Rights Forum, 60% of children working on cocoa farms are younger than 14.

testing cocoa beans

High quotas mean that inexperienced workers, including children, are doing the harvesting. Recently 30% of the cocoa beans from Ivory Coast were rejected by the international market, because the untrained labour force using inappropriate tools caused much of the crop to be spoiled. These same tools often cause serious injuries to the children who use them. See ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’, a 2010 documentary on the exploitation and slave trading of West African children to serve the cocoa industry.   Yes, even the exclusive chocolate producers in Europe use cocoa beans from this source.

Primo’s Giuseppe (Pepe) Verdacchi worked with farmers on six small plantations in Negara and Tabanan for years to help them increase the quality and quantity of their cocoa beans. “My philosophy is ‘farmers first’,” says Pepe. “The relationship is based on respect and dignity. It’s very important to pay them well and reward the extra effort needed for good cultivation. One of the farmers has managed to send his son to university where he’s studying organic agriculture; hopefully the new generation will see the benefit of continuing to farm.”

plantation ladies selecting

Making high quality, cold-pressed is a complex process. Inside the cocoa pod are 20 to 30 beans coated in a soft white flesh which is fermented off. The fermentation process creates heat, which sterilises the beans so they won’t germinate and concentrates the energy in the seed to enhance the flavour. After that the beans are sun-dried and roasted at a very low temperature to develop the full spectrum of flavour.

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Then the beans are crushed by hand with a stone, broken into nibs and the skin removed. The nibs are the main component of the cocoa mass which is the basis of the chocolate, and contain almost 50% fat. They’re placed in a grinding machine designed and made by Pepe which crushes the nibs with heavy granite rollers. Between 75 and 80 hours of slow, non-stop grinding raises the temperature and the nibs release the fat. The result is a paste called cocoa liquor or mass which looks and smells like chocolate but is very bitter. Cocoa mass is the foundation of real chocolate making. Commercial processes basically melt the mass, add other ingredients and then temper it. Cocoa powder is made by separating out the fat and drying the beans.

Like wine grapes and coffee, cocoa has a terroir; the location, soil, elevation, rainfall and many other factors will influence the flavour. “Artisanal chocolate will have variations in flavour from batch to batch over the seasons,” Pepe told me. “Cocoa from Negara is spicier than that from Tabanan. The wide spectrum of aroma and flavour can be killed by overheating, but large brands must do this to ensure consistency in the product which inevitably loses some subtlety.”

Will  and Giuseppe testing raw cocoa

Eaten in moderation, chocolate is good for us. It’s considered a major source of dietary copper, which is important for health. Cocoa and chocolate are also rich in minerals, such as magnesium and iron. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a few pieces of chocolate every month may make your life both sweeter and longer. A survey of healthy 65-year-old men revealed that those who ate sweets containing chocolate reportedly lived longer. Mortality was lowest among those consuming chocolate 1-3 times a month but higher among those who indulged in the habit 3 or more times a week.

So the next time you get a craving for chocolate, why not choose Bali’s own fabulous, ethical, earth-friendly chocolate? Sometimes doing the right thing can be downright delicious.

cocoa from Bean to Bar

Photos provided by Primo Bali