The Irresistible Pleasures of Cacao and Chocolate 💗

Don’t deny it. You love chocolate. We all do. It's a sweet, sticky substance with the mystical power to melt away any misery. Once you’ve experienced the joy of this brown delectable, good luck giving it up.

Do you remember what Forrest Gump once said? 'Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you are gonna get'. The experiences and ups and downs of life's journey are like the choices you find inside a box of assorted chocolates. While you get to some choices in life, sometimes you must deal with surprises – like when you suddenly find your chocolate has a cherry liqueur centre. Chocolates and life have so much in common, wouldn't you agree? You never know if you’ve made the right decision until you've taken it.

The joys of chocolate have a ripple effect that touches countless lives. Sharing chocolate means offering friendship, mending broken relationships, and comforting broken hearts. Producing chocolate creates jobs and builds economies. Eating chocolate means experiencing happiness (and sometime tighter-fitting jeans, bumpy zits, and increasing insurance premiums).

Touching countless lives.

Recently my young student friends made a visit to a local chocolate factory. While we cheerfully gobbled up the samples offered, we also took the opportunity to learn about the chocolate industry. I’m here to tell you about some interesting takeaways. (By the way, this article is not sponsored by any chocolate company, and the information shared here is not proprietary to the factory we visited.)

So, what do we now know?

  • There are two different names that you may think refers to the same thing.
    • Cocoa (pronounced kok-koh) is a product (powder) derived from cacao beans after the beans are roasted, husked, and grounded. 
    • Cacao (pronounced ka-kao) refers to a tropical plant or the beans of this plant.

  • Cacao plants are trees that flower and produce pods.
Yup, that's where your valentines gift is from.

  • Cacao comes from a fruit referred to as a pod. The flesh or pulp of cacao looks similar to the mangosteen fruit.

  • The pulp of the fruit I tasted was sweet. My friends liked the fruit much better than the chocolates they sampled. 😉
Cacao - magic beans.

  • The chocolates we eat are actually derived from cacao seeds, which are also referred to as beans. 

High quality cacao pods and beans.

  • Each medium-sized pod has around thirty beans.

  • The cacao plant is native to South America, originating in the Amazon rainforest. (1)
Cacao fruit, white pulp.

  • Chocolate was originally consumed as a drink thousands of years ago. It was a bitter but nutritious drink for kings and royalty.

  • Eleven processes are needed to transform a cacao bean into a Valentine's Day gift.
Harvesting à Fermenting à Drying à Roasting à Cracking & Winnowing à Mixing the Ingredients à Grinding à Conching à Tempering à Moulding à Packaging (2)

Chocolate making in progress.

  • People’s chocolate tastes are subjective, and that's why there are various types of chocolate to suit different individuals – dark, milk, and white chocolate. The cacao solids contribute to the colour. Which is your favourite chocolate? I prefer milk chocolates with lots of crunchy nuts.

  • Chocolate with a high cacao content is more bitter, has more mineral content, and is more expensive. That’s why premium chocolate is dark chocolate. But premium quality with 70 percent cocoa isn’t for everyone. My three friends taught me this! One of them cannot stand the sight and taste chocolate anymore, thanks to this visit. I need to correct this right away.

  • White chocolate is not chocolate; it does not contain any cocoa solids. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids. This controversial impostor tastes very good though. Children love it. Enjoy it, but don't get fooled.
Chocolate assortment - milk and white.

  • Heard of cocoa butter – that ingredient that is used in body creams to make your skin velvety smooth? Cacao butter and cocoa butter are two terms used interchangeably and both refer to theobroma oil. This butter is vegetable fat pressed out of cacao beans. So, there you go – chocolate is vegetarian!

  • Cacao plants are grown in countries with a tropical climate. The continents with the highest production and varying quality today are Africa (Ivory Coast, Ghana), South America (Brazil), and Asia (Indonesia). It is said that most premium-quality cocoa is from Ivory Coast.

  • There are three main varieties of Cocoa plant:
    • Forastero – This is the most widely grown (80 percent). It's easy to grow, and the chocolate using this variety is cheaper than the next two.
    • Criollo – This is a rare variety and is considered a delicacy.
    • Trinitario – Thanks to science, this is a hybrid of Forastero and Criollo. This variety offers a higher quality compared to Forastero.

  • The world's highest chocolate consumer is Europe, followed by North America. In Asia, Japan leads the way.

There has been plenty of media coverage about the hardships faced by cacao farmworkers. Did you know that children are employed as cacao fruit pickers in many countries? Many cacao farmworkers are also overworked and receive minimal wages, yet the end product is sold for lucrative gains worldwide. Many farmworkers have never seen or even tasted the chocolates. (4)

Cacao farming has indeed provided an income to many small farmers. Ninety percent of cacao is grown by individual farmers on their family’s land, there is an estimated 6 million small farms worldwide. However, many of these farmers face extreme poverty, while the big chocolate companies who buy from them reap huge gains. Sadly, there are many complex contributing factors to this poverty – inconsistent cacao prices, small plots of farmland, large families among the farmers, and climate change are a few of the common reasons. Fortunately, today, there are institutional arrangements available to help these producers and farmers (cocoa, coffee) achieve better trading conditions. One of these institutions is Fair Trade. Members of this movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social standards of farmers. Supporting Fair Trade has helped benefit farmers in developing countries. (3)  

For our part, we can play a role by being an ethical chocolate consumer. Refrain from purchasing any chocolate brands that  undercut and exploit farmers.  

Certified ethical chocolate consumers.

The factory we visited believes in improving the lives of farmers and sustains ethical practices by sourcing quality cacao directly from farmers in this region. They are also firm believers that everyone should be treated fairly. I supported them by buying plenty of chocolates during my visit and purchased their signature chocolate latte drink.

Now go on! Grab yourself a mocha or a hot chocolate, and raise your cup with me. Here is a cacao toast to a life of all things positive. Life is an assortment of experiences.

Cacao toast to a life of all things positive.

A thank-you heart to the little faces behind the chocolates. The journey to this article has made me an ethical chocolate consumer, and I hope you are now more aware too.  To my three friends Sui, Britney, and Honey – I hope you regain the excitement you once had for chocolates. It's just something you don't want to miss out on!

Life is a box of chocolates! Count the pieces, welcome the differences, Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi. The present is a pleasure!

The best of two worlds.

Beyond Borders and New Boundaries. Welcome, 2020!

I wish everyone all the happiness, good health and positive wishes as we enter the new decade. Happy New Year! Welcome, 2020! 

The words cannot express everything that the last decade had been. Just as many, I too, am overwhelmed by the emotions and events - both good and bad and the in-betweens. Everything happens for a reason and thank you!

Here is the compilation from my 2019-beyond-borders coffee project. The aim was to get images of a daily caffeine fix, from you at different locations in the world. You'd notice a few tea and mocha pictures included, no hard rules! This year's compilation is one from you!  Did you spot your favourite cuppa? 

ReachingDelphi 2020!

Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi. Keep travelling to where ever you want to be - physically, spiritually and emotionally. Welcome the new boundaries, who knows one of those could be an opportunity you'd been waiting for. See you again soon. 

Love them all!