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I just returned from the World Cocoa Foundation Partnership Meeting that took place last Wednesday and Thursday at the Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil. The link at the head of this post will take you to a recent article on the conference. The WCF is made up of large cocoa commodity trading firms, chocolate and confectionery manufacturers, cocoa producers, and exporters. Over 300 attendees participated in the conference.
It was a great opportunity to hear about the cocoa trade in neighboring countries such as Peru and Colombia, and the problems with Ecuadorian cocoa, namely the mixing of the CCN-51 variety with fine cocoa variety, which has hurt the quality and reputation of Ecuadorian cocoa on world cocoa markets. I had no idea this was such a controversy, the big problem being that CCN-51, while being a high yielding variety of cocoa, does not have the flavor and aroma characteristics of “Nacional” or Arriba cocoa as its known in Ecuador. Rather, it imparts a lot of astringency to the final product, denigrating the flavor profile of nacional cocoa. Since many growers often mix the two (in part because CCN-51 has much higher yields than nacional), it’s no longer a sure thing that you are buying pure nacional cocoa, even though it may be labeled as such. And thus far in Ecuador, there are no controls or means of ensuring that cocoa labeled nacional is purely nacional cocoa. Another large part of the problem is that much of the cocoa produced in Ecuador is gathered by small landholders who may have no more than 5 or 10 hectares. Many of these small farmers lack the know-how and knowledge to distinguish between different varieties, don’t know much about fermentation and drying, and lack knowledge of standards in order to get the best price for their cocoa.
I was the only actual producer of artisan chocolates at the conference. The rest were either cocoa growers, or in farther removed positions like commodity buyers, management level people in chocolate manufacturing companies, or people in charge of cocoa purchasing at companies like ADM. So it was an interesting mix of growers, corporate, and industry people. But I was surprised at the lack of high-end chocolatiers who are a large part of the “end-user” market for fine chocolate, and who should be making their voice heard when it comes to issues of quality, sustainability, and fair trade.
The day after the conference we made a visit to one of the biggest producers of actual chocolate and cocoa products in Ecuador. Most of their production line is Carle & Montanari, a high quality Italian maker to this day of chocolate production equipment. Most of it looks like it’s at least 50 or more years old, which makes no difference in the quality of their product. We hope to eventually work with them on a product.