Gabe here – Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder. I’d like to share a bit about my life-changing trip to Bougainville earlier this year.
I first learned about Bougainville through our good friend and now collaborator, Sera Price.
Sera (WCF hot chocolate addict) happened to mention she had been volunteering / working between Wellington and Bougainville for the past four years. Her passion for this fascinating region and its extraordinary people was dangerously contagious.
To be honest I didn’t really know much about this region outside watching the brilliant feature film ‘Mr. Pip’ (staring Hugh Laurie) which is centred around the ten year conflict between PNG and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army which ended in 1998.
After one of Sera’s work trips to Bougainville she managed to bring one kilo of the finest cocoa beans back for us to make into chocolate. It was incredible, I had never tasted chocolate like this.
I had to see this for myself. A few weeks later I travelled to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville with Sera to meet cocoa legend James Rutana – affectionately known locally simply as ‘Mr. Cocoa’.
After walking through his impressive plantation we took a short break in his cocoa training shed. Over a refreshing cup of tea we discussed all things cocoa. I learned so much from James that day and he also learned about the new chocolate revolution which has been brewing around the world over the past 10 years.
I told him about the many artisan chocolate factories around the world who, like us, are searching for new and rare cocoa to make into high-end chocolate, and who will pay a premium for top quality beans. Up until my visit Bougainville was only dealing with multinationals whose focus is on volume, with no regard to quality or diversity. It was interesting to learn that not only was cocoa their primary export, but it was typically loaded into sacks labeled Papua New Guinea, and often made into cheap confectionery by multinational organisations who have no regard for social or environmental issues. No names, you know who I’m talking about!
James confided in me that he was on the verge of giving up his farm, which before the civil war had employed some 350 local people. Industrial chocolate makers weren’t interested in quality or diversity. What’s the point of focusing on quality if it’s only going to end up as confectionery?
By the time we’d finished our tea we had hatched an ambitious plan to sail his beans together into Wellington harbour and make them into world class chocolate, showcasing Bougainville as a world-class cocoa producing region!
Bougainville is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Everyone I met there was a passionate ambassador.
Entrepreneurship, vision and a drive to build a sustainable alternative to mining was a common theme at the heart of everyone I met… Mad respect!
Here’s a few more pics of the trip: