For the love of chocolate….go the extra step

While I feast on this midnight snack of home-made chocolate cake, cacao nibs, a square of mint chocolate and a piece of plain dark, I’m thinking about what you all will buy today, in terms of chocolate, for the ones you love.

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I know it’s difficult to think about the ethics of each purchasing decision when you’re out and faced with time and convenience and patience constraints. I ate chocolate cake out at a restaurant this past weekend for my birthday and confess I don’t know where the chocolate was sourced from. I was just hungry for dessert and I didn’t think to ask.

It’s hard to be constantly mindful. I get it.

And…on a day when many people are thinking about expressing their affections through the purchase of, perhaps, some chocolate, I think there’s a huge opportunity to make an impact and choose this day to CARE. Because he/she’s worth it. 

Above all, you have the power to choose what to consume. Use it!

Will you take the extra step today of looking up a store near you where you can get really delicious, ethically sourced chocolate, and go a step further than just picking up a fair trade bar and calling it good? As you may know, there are amazing bean to bar small batch producers that go beyond fair trade but do not have the certification, because it’s expensive, or for other reasons. And on the flip side, there are some corporations that are able to get certifications just by assuring a minimum percentage of their end product is sourced sustainably. It’s hard to know.

But I’ll tell you most of the bars I know and love are not certified fair trade, yet they embody the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) more than any single certification. So, I’ve done some of the work for you. I know it’s easy to just want to stop by your grocery store or pharmacy to pick up available ‘candy’ but does candy evoke love? I think not.

In Seattle, we can buy Theo everywhere (what a relief for the last minute v-day shoppers). As for the rest of the country, and elsewhere in the world, I know not what your options are, but I bet you can find somewhere you can splurge on real chocolate. If just for today.

There are fancy options for your special someone, and there are mini wrapped chocolate bars for office distribution. Ditch tainted candy and choose your impact:

My love is real, my intentions are long-term. I want to make sure the chocolate I buy will show my passion for high quality, ethics and unique flavors:

My love is ambivalent, I’m not quite ready to commit but I do care. Ethical sourcing is a must, I have some standards. I want to make sure the chocolate I buy today is economical, can be shared with many people and is easy to find:

My love is luke-warm. I am busy and don’t really care, but I do want to show up with something that isn’t tainted with slave labor or pesticides. I want to make sure the chocolate I buy today is cheap, available at my pharmacy and wrapped in red:

  • If  you must choose this, go for the large companies’ certified lines…like Hershey’s Bliss, Dove’s Promises, Cadbury’s fair trade bars.

You can also check out this extensive list from the Food Empowerment Project. They single out mostly vegan companies, and have essentially asked all the listed chocolate companies to disclose where their cocoa is sourced from. I don’t agree it’s as easy as picking a company that is not associated with slave labor, but there are so many companies on this list, it’s worth a look.

Happy day of love. Celebrate chocolate today. Real, well-made, responsibly sourced chocolate. It is not as hard as you think.

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A look at Hershey’s renewed (global) product commitment

In February, I blogged about Hershey’s commitment to work on certifying more of their bars and making real efforts to improve the lives of cocoa farmers in West Africa.

A few days ago, the candy conglomerate once again broadcast their continued commitment to addressing (what they now admit to knowing) important issues surrounding the sourcing of their cocoa. Now when I read the announcement that the company has pledged to source 100% certified cocoa for its global product lines by 2020, and help eliminate child labor in their cocoa purchasing countries in West Africa, I was both incredulous, and impressed.

Could this really be? Is it green-wash? If not, how is this possible to achieve in 8 years?

I dug around a bit. I re-read the announcements and noted the words “global product line” in there. I think this makes the pledge more feasible, if what is being addressed is responsible sourcing to improve their popularity abroad. This does not mean I fault the company for not doing more. It’s a step, a good step, an important step.

And it once again proves to me the power of the consumer and this handy item called a scorecard (used to score companies in the same industry to measure their transparency and ethics). Specifically the Australian “Just Act” campaign’s scorecard to very recently call Hershey out on doing the least out of all chocolate companies to address issues of child slavery and labor in a region that produces 70% of the world’s cocoa. Couple that with Whole Foods’ also recent move to remove a Hershey product from their shelf…et voila, you have a new commitment from them.

If you just read that and thought, huh? Whole Foods carried Hershey? I never saw Hershey candy bars in the stores…well, you’d be right. What Whole Foods did remove was Scharffen Berger (a well known artisan chocolate bar…that is not so well known for being owned by The Hershey Company). Check out the link above to learn more.

I don’t want to remain cynical, but I have to dig deeper when a huge announcement like this comes about. Some questions were raised for me.

The company is committing to certifying its global product lines by 2020. This includes the Dagoba line (already RA certified), and Bliss (that they announced in February would be certified this year), and that only leaves…Scharffen Berger.

I’ve tried Scharffen Berger bars. The dark chocolate cocoa nibs one is pretty darn good. My friend Lynne was brought over to the dark (chocolate) side after biting into a well crafted Scharffen Berger bar. These bars have rich, deep, flavor. The cacao from these bars was, I can with some certainty deduce, NOT sourced from the Ivory Coast (who I believe grow just Forastero varietals). I’m almost positive the ones I’ve tried are from Latin American soil. So to wrap up my very long point, I checked their beautiful site, and saw said country missing from their sourcing list.

My point in digging into this is that it appears that the country with the most issues surrounding cocoa sourcing is not where any of the Hershy global product line chocolates get the cocoa for their bars from….

Hmmm. This begs the question: Isn’t there then a high likelihood that their bars sourced from Ghana (the only West African country listed on the site) may already be slave free and therefore not as difficult to certify (for that category)? And is this going to mean concerted efforts to work directly with more farmers in the Ivory Coast to impact their practices? As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it’s not a black and white issue, and Hershey, as powerful as it is, cannot be expected to single-handedly solve the government disincentives that make the slave labor issue so prevalent. So, I really do hope and believe their investments in public-private partnerships will slowly, bring about life-altering change, and emulate Milton Hershey’s dream of promoting education, and social and environmental justice. I for one may dig into a SB bar in 2020 to mark this achievement of certification, sustainability and responsibility.

I believe change is underway, because of consumer pressure. So we must keep on. The global market raised their voice to move Hershey to raise their bar. And that tells me non-American consumer demand for more ethical chocolate seems to be higher. What about the majority of products, of which are sold in the U.S.? I know customers here care too, so here’s a suggestion…take a look at the company’s site and see if your favorite candy or product is on there. Now ask where those ingredients came from.

Highlights from the NW Chocolate Festival

This weekend marked the 4th annual NW Chocolate Festival. The theme was flavor. And because of its growing popularity, this year’s event was at the Washington State Convention Center, instead of at the Seattle Center. Once the crowd dissipated a bit, I appreciated the layout and was able to roam freely and not battle for a sample, of which there were plenty.

I could only attend on Sunday, and excitedly geeked out to a presentation by Madre Chocolate (who I first learned about at last year’s festival). Here’s what I learned:

  • Besides the more commonly known factors that contribute to cacao flavor (cacao variety, soil, fertilizer, and climate), the most important contributing factor to flavor is the fermentation step. There are 5 I’s of fermentation if you really want to get into the nitty gritty. I did not note them, but it was fascinating to hear about the microbiology nonetheless;)

Next up, I checked out the multiple artisanal vendors. My favorites included Dandelion chocolate, Madre, Taza, Fresco, Pacari and a vendor that had a salted caramel surprise that melted in my mouth like a ganache.

Moving through the workshops, I learned about the C-Spot, the site of Mark Christian, premier reviewer of all the good chocolate out there. Awesome resource! Mark was also on the panel that included chocolate superstars such as Steve DeVries, Chloe-Doutre Roussel (author of “The Chocolate Connoisseur”), Colin Gasko and Art Pederson. Discussions arose around customers’ roles in choosing more sustainably sourced and higher quality chocolate. There is no way the fine chocolate market can cater to the mass market demand that exists, but the opportunity exists to educate customers’ to learn how to develop their palates and seek out more refined bars.

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(Photo credit: http://www.nwchocolate.com)

The next two panels were my favorite of the day – Nathan Royston of Theo talked about the realities of sourcing chocolate with integrity and high quality in Tanzania. He regaled us with stories of his travel there, and showcased Tanzanian culture in a beautiful way, while revealing the difficulties surrounding doing business in a country where incentives don’t exist to improve the farming quality of the beans. I hope to report more on Theo’s holistic business practices in a future post.

Finally, I watched a documentary featuring the story of the Grenada Chocolate Company and its founder, Mott Green. It’s called Nothing Like Chocolate and I recommend everyone watch it. I intend to ask the filmmaker if I can host a screening.

For those who have never been to the NW Chocolate Festival, I highly recommend you go next year. This event is not just a chocolate lover’s dream, it’s an event featuring fine, ethical, amazing chocolate. There are important workshops that will teach you about the complex process of making chocolate, panelists discussing the latest trends in the industry, makers who are so passionate about what they do, they’ll inspire you to ask where your chocolate comes from, who it impacts, and more. And it’s fun! And you get samples of the actual fruit of the cacao pod, the cacao bean, and the chocolate. You can view cooking demos and learn how to make truffles. Your mind will be blown, and your palate will be rewarded.

Since a year is a while to wait, check out some of the above-mentioned bars at Chocolopolis in Seattle. The owner, Lauren, knows so much about chocolate and will happily recommend some bars.

The festival revived my passion for spreading the word about chocolate. Stay tuned for more stories about these amazing bean to bar and tree to bar chocolate makers!