The Future of Chocolate and Flavour

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

By Rochelle

Rochelle here – Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder. I’d like to take you on a brief journey about how important cocoa has been to humans, and how we need to keep this relationship vibrant and healthy.

Cocoa has unexpected variety, all the way from the pod

Cocoa has unexpected variety, all the way from the pod

Chocolate’s original use was as an alcoholic drink made from cocoa bean pulp. It was key to ancient Mesoamerican religion and culture – they treated it like holy water. By the 14th century cocoa beans were the preferred form to eat, and and were used as a natural male enhancement pill in Mesoamerica!

Through the Aztecs and the Spanish Empire chocolate became tied into complex economies and military conquests. The Aztecs actually had a huge counterfeit chocolate problem, while the Spanish spread cocoa varietals across their vast empire.

The Industrial Revolution changed chocolate forever. By the late 18th century industrialisation was well underway and massive amounts of cocoa were being harvested. To meet demand, farmers turned towards higher yield beans – this resulted in many varieties and flavours being lost. Over time this also dropped the price of cocoa, which made the already horrible working conditions (slavery) even worse.

Chocolate powered the Allies in World War 2. Every soldier in the US military was issued a chocolate bar (the ‘D Bar ration’) as a part of their daily food. It was made with milk solids, vitamins and very little sugar. They used 25 million bars a week.

That’s just a tiny piece of chocolate’s history, and you can see it’s connected with people in many ways. Our relationship with cocoa is complex and always changing: imagine the world if it had just stayed as a bean pulp drink used by priests.

More broadly, where there is cocoa there is life. Cocoa plantations are rich ecosystems, forming part of the environment which supports rain forests and hence oxygen for the entire planet.

Our relationship with the rain forest ecosystems is complex...

Our relationship with the rain forest ecosystems is complex…

The question for the future is diversity. Chocolate can have an astounding variety of complex flavours – at least as many as wine or coffee – and the last thing we want is to be forced into monochromatic, monoculture tastes (how gray). Farmers currently are encouraged to grow hardy, mass-produced types of cocoa, and don’t get a sufficient premium for trying rarer, finer flavour beans. This also leads to decreased biodiversity, which has proven troublesome across many staple crops.

We – chocolate makers and consumers – need to change that. Fine flavoured chocolate varieties should be preserved, protected, and propagated, with economic incentives for cocoa farmers worldwide to push beyond the lowest common options. Businesses like the Wellington Chocolate Factory, and projects like the Voyage are key to this, but ultimately it comes right back to every one of us and our relationship with chocolate.

Can we all learn to slow down, taste, and value the complexity of fine cocoa? There’s a huge world of chocolate out there – weird, interesting, diverse, and linked to humans throughout history – and it’s time to become explorers and voyagers again.

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

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Bougainville – Fact finding mission, June 2014

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

By Gabe

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.

mr-PIP

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.

James

James Rutana, Bougainville’s ‘Mr Cocoa’

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.

James and me

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:

IMG_2503

Checking out Marlon’s prolific pods.

harvesting

Hard day harvesting

drying the beans

Marlon drying the beans

Robert from Sunkamup - our mate who will organise the sorting and transportation of our fine flavour beans.

Robert from Sunkamup Exports – our mate who will organise the sorting and transportation of our fine flavour cacao beans.

The moment we decided to sail the beans!

The moment we decided to sail the beans!

Yeeeeahhhh!

Yeeeeahhhh!

Sera about to explain how supermarket shopping works in Bougainville.

Sera about to explain how supermarket shopping works in Bougainville. The biggest Paw Paw I’ve ever seen – 12kg of happiness. This beautiful island is so un-touristy, one of those best kept secrets with white sand beaches and no tourists!

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

What are we trying to achieve through the Wellington Chocolate Voyage?

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage aims to:

  • Source local – Pacific grown cocoa!
  • Nurture unique cocoa varieties – encouraging farmers to grow highest quality crops and paying a premium price for their effort
  • Support Bougainville – recovering from a 10 year civil war, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in PNG is trying to develop its own economy and future
  • Support a local legend – James Rutana helped build Bougainville’s cocoa industry, only to see it get destroyed by war and neglect. He is committed to rebuilding and we want to help him
  • Support a local business doing the right thing – Wellington Chocolate Factory is a values driven company who make highest quality bean-to-bar chocolate
  • Do it by sailboat! – let’s promote windpower as a low-carbon alternative. Plus, sailboats are fun and romantic in all the right ways.

We are deeply passionate about this project: it brings together everything we love about making great food, building a great business, and connecting with people round the world. If you have any questions or feedback please leave a comment or send us a message via the contact page. Please support us on the Kickstarter launch date – 6th November 2014 – to turn this awesome idea into a reality.

WCV poster

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!                        

Listen Up!

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!

By Sera

The lovely Laurie from Access Radio and B-Side Stories interviewed Gabe and Rochelle on the Wellington Chocolate Voyage. Have a listen:

If your eyes would like some word candy, have a little read here at b-side stories

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is now live! Go to our Kickstarter page to become a backer, follow us on Facebook, and help spread the word!