Who Labors for Chocolate?

Hello there, and happy Labor Day in the USA!

picnic
My picnic this Labor Day weekend included exquisite bean-to-bar chocolate by Dick Taylor, made from direct trade cacao from Belize!

A note on my Chocolate Freedom Project this Labor Day, which brings awareness of and alternatives to child labor on Ivory Coast cacao farms where Big Chocolate buys cocoa beans. Solutions that we can implement as customers include choosing fair trade and direct trade chocolate, which is better for foodie, farmer, family, and field.

Solutions that I recommend to my country clients and cacao farmer clients as a chocolate consultant include making chocolate in-country from sustainably grown cacao, instead of exporting all the cacao.

As this article entitled

Africa produces 75% of cocoa but gets 2% of $100b chocolate market revenue

reminds us: “The formula for the wealth of nations is clear: rich nations add value to exports, poor nations export raw materials.”

The revolution has begun! : )

Have a happy, thoughtful, and delicious Labor Day!

Cocoa
Photo: Ghana Business News article referenced above

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

summer 2016

Valerie Beck

Founder/CEO Chocolate Uplift and Valerie’s Original Chocolate Tours

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com/chocolate-tours

social media: @chocolateuplift

Original Beans: Sweet Sustainability

by Valerie Beck, chocolate expert

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Look what arrived at the Chocolate Uplift office: elegant and delicious craft chocolate bars by Original Beans, an Amsterdam company.

A wonderful question to ask ourselves from time to time, beyond “what should I do with my life,” is “what does life ask of me.” Find a way to contribute, a problem to solve, or a hurt to heal, and you can find a fulfilling life.

Along this path of living meaningfully, we can also find pure and exquisitely delicious Original Beans chocolate, founded by entrepreneur and conservationist Philipp Kauffmann, whose bean-to-bar chocolate business plants or preserves a cacao tree for every chocolate bar purchased.

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Cacao tree, with pods and flowers. Each pod holds approximately 40 cocoa beans on average. This particular tree is in the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC; I visited the Garden most recently over Thanksgiving 2015 to see how this beauty was doing! Cacao trees generally grow in rainforests, within 20 degrees of the Earth’s equator. This one is in a greenhouse, for the public to view and admire.

Chocolate done right is not candy. It is food, glorious food, made from the cocoa bean (cacao), which is the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Chocolate is agricultural.

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Cocoa beans, around the size of almonds. These are from Venezuela.

The cocoa bean is basically a multivitamin. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, cacao is a superfood that needs no artificial ingredients, preservatives, fillers, or unpronounceables to turn it into chocolate. Add a touch of sugar to the meticulous process of fermenting, roasting, and grinding the cacao, and you have craft chocolate. Real chocolate. From there you can add milk to make milk chocolate, or add inclusions such as nuts or sea salt. Real chocolate starts with and stays close to the cocoa bean.

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Outrageously exquisite Piura Porcelana 75% chocolate bar by Original Beans, super smooth, with surprising but gentle notes of lime. Just 2 ingredients: cacao (from Peru in this case) and sugar. This means the chocolate is vegan, and gluten free. It’s also organic of course. And did I mention delicious! If you’re not a dark chocolate lover, this non-bitter bar will change your mind.

Original Beans highlights the link between craft chocolate and sustainability with its brilliant “one bar, one tree” initiative. Buy a bar, and a tree is planted or maintained, for future chocolate lovers. Eat it forward.

Indeed, all of the craft chocolate makers I meet or represent believe in the social responsibility aspects of making chocolate, such as using cacao from direct trade or fair trade sources instead of from the child slave labor sources that Big Chocolate relies on.

One way Original Beans extends its sustainability platform explicitly into social justice is through its delicious Femmes de Virunga chocolate bar, which provides female cacao growers in the Congo with seedlings, education, and a local radio program, supporting Congolese women’s participation in the local and global economy. That’s “Uplift Through Chocolate,” and that’s the kind of theme I touch on in my Chocolate Wellness talks and tastings.

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Social justice in edible form, this luscious Femmes de Virunga dark milk chocolate bar by Original Beans is ultra creamy, organic, and made with nothing other than cacao, milk, and sugar. Nothing artificial, nothing made in a lab, nothing unpronounceable. Purchase of this bar helps women cocoa farmers and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And did I mention it’s delicious!

Search #teamvirunga and #onebaronetree on social media for more details, and check out my #chocolatefreedomproject for ways to participate in the ethical chocolate movement. (Jump into all of it through my Instagram.)

Flavor is king, you say? Don’t worry, you’ll love the rich, pure, creamy flavors of Original Beans chocolate bars. There’s an elegance to the flavor profiles that is completely enchanting.

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White chocolate splendor: Edel Weiss 40% by Original Beans, with no vanilla, lecithin, or other additives. Just cocoa butter (from cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic for this bar), sugar, and milk. All organic. If you don’t like white chocolate, this one will change your mind. Pure tastes better. Delicious!

Real chocolate tastes better, and is better for you, for the growers, and for the environment.

What does life ask of you? Part of the answer: eat real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

CEO / Founder Chocolate Uplift

chocolate brokering and consulting services, and sweet speaking

www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

chocolateuplift@gmail.com

@chocolateuplift on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook

Uplift Through Chocolate!

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Original Beans, and cocoa beans: a virtuous circle of deliciousness and sustainability.

The Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

The Choc of the New: Cao Single Origin Bars

Single origin, bean to bar, pure
Loved opening this shipment of single origin, bean to bar, pure deliciousness from Cao Chocolates

Sampling new artisan chocolate bars is always a joy, and I’m excited to tell you about the new bean-to-bar single origin chocolate bars by longtime favorite Cao Chocolates of Miami, owned by chocolatier, chocolate maker, and dear friend Ricardo Cao Trillos.

As a chocolate consultant, I’m honored to help Ricardo with his new chocolate bar project, because the chocolate is delicious, organic, and fair trade.

With Ricardo Cao Trillos at his magic Miami chocolate shop
With Ricardo Cao Trillos at his magic Miami chocolate shop
Truffles by Cao Chocolates
Cao Chocolates makes terrific truffles onsite…
grilled chocolate croissant
…grilled chocolate croissants that are worth a flight to Miami…
Delicious Domincan
… and now single origin chocolate bars too, like this delicious Domincan that I brought home from my most recent Miami adventure.

The bars are pure, with only 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar. That makes me happy! As with other food, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, why would you eat it? Part of what makes the new bars from Cao Chocolates unique in the bean-to-bar world is their texture, which has more of a stone-ground quality. This ties the bars to the ancient heritage of stone grinding cacao, and adds an intriguing sensation.

Venezuelan cocoa beans in the kitchen at Cao
Fair trade Venezuelan cocoa beans in the kitchen at Cao

Of course, flavor is king, and Cao’s bars deliver robust flavor. By using only 2 ingredients, and premium, organic, fair trade, sustainable cacao from South America and the Caribbean, instead of bulk cocoa beans from West Africa (which suffer from a host of supply chain abominations, from pesticides and crop disease to child slave labor), the chocolate maker can draw out various flavors of the cacao.

Differences in type of cocoa bean, terroir, fermentation, and grinding result in differences in flavor in the finished chocolate bar. Just as a wine maker can create different wines by using different grapes, barrels, time frames, or procedures, artisan chocolate makers apply their art to cocoa beans, working with nature to create unique and exciting flavors not known on commercial chocolate shelves.

Each of the new Cao bars has a different and enticing flavor profile. My favorite is the Peru Criollo 78%. It’s surprisingly mild for a bar with such high cocoa content, and gives you the brightness of the Criollo cocoa bean, plus a gentle fruitiness.

Chocolate for breakfast? Of course!
Chocolate for breakfast? Of course!
Cao Peru bar
Cao Peru bar

Try them for yourself and be among the first; the bars aren’t yet in stores outside of Miami, but distribution is in the works, and in the meantime there’s the Internet plus my stash – contact me at chocolateuplift@gmail.com or shop online – and keep eating real chocolate!

Your friend in chocolate,

Valerie

Valerie Beck

Chocolate Expert, Speaker, Consultant

http://www.valeriebeckchocolateuplift.com

P.S.: Miami!
P.S.: Miami!

Chocolate Shortage?

Chocolate Shortage?

By Valerie Beck, chocolate expert, chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham's Fine Chocolates
Hand-dipped and fresh off the line at Graham’s Fine Chocolates

What two words scare us quicker than the words “chocolate shortage!” Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, and some of us couldn’t imagine going a week or even a day without it.

You may have seen news reports of a coming chocolate shortage. So is there a chocolate crisis around the corner? Yes and no.

Here are the short answers:

~ Yes, because the global chocolate industry is being forced to change for reasons ranging from soil erosion to evolving customer preferences.

~ No, because while West African cocoa growing nations are facing huge challenges, South American and other cocoa growing nations are stepping in and growing more and doing it with fair labor practices.

And, we can make sure we’re supporting sustainable chocolate, by choosing chocolate that lists the country of cocoa bean origin for example.

Longer answers:

Factors leading toward crisis include:

  • 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in West Africa, and West Africa is facing a cocoa crisis.
  • This cocoa crisis exists due to years of unsustainable farming practices, climate change which means temperatures in West Africa are getting drier – cocoa trees like humidity – and the desert is taking over land that used to be fertile, and unfair labor practices including in some cases even child slave labor.
  • And don’t forget Ebola: the bulk of the world’s cocoa beans are currently grown in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and some workers travel there for the harvest from nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia where the Ebola outbreak is happening. A concern is that if workers get sick, there’s no one to harvest the cocoa beans.
  • Plus, chocolate has been largely recession-proof in the US, and people in more countries like India and China are getting a taste for chocolate, so demand is strong and increasing.
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm in Ecuador

On the other hand, there’s evidence that supply might be stronger than some people think. Factors indicating abundance and opportunity include:

  • Even as West Africa’s cocoa bean infrastructure changes and needs to change, other cocoa growing nations are ramping up production.
  • For example, cocoa beans are native to South America and Latin America, and countries like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador are implementing cocoa bean initiatives to encourage farmers to grow more, and in some cases are encouraging foreign investment to produce more.
  • If you want to open a chocolate facility in Ecuador, where ideal cocoa bean growing conditions mean you can harvest cocoa beans year-round, there are financial incentives available.
  • Farmers in nations such as Peru have been given incentives to stop growing coca for cocaine, and start growing cocoa beans for chocolate (coca and cocoa or cacao have similar names, but are unrelated crops), and the plan is working.
  • In addition, it’s known that the big commercial chocolate makers are sitting on stockpiles of years and years worth of cocoa beans. If people believe there’s a shortage, companies can raise prices.
  • More and more consumers are looking at alternatives to commercial chocolate with its preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead, a growing number of chocolate lovers are choosing the new wave of bean-to-bar chocolate, where the only ingredients are cocoa beans and sugar, and the chocolate is made artisanally, in small batches. Bean-to-bar chocolate gives you more health benefits, has a pure taste which the chocolate maker can develop such as by changing roasting or grinding times and methods, and uses cocoa beans not from farms in West Africa which are facing crisis, but from fair trade or direct trade cocoa farms which means benefits to farm families and communities.

Fyi I’ll write a blog post on bean-to-bar chocolate soon; for now please see my blog post on 3 Chocolatey NYC Neighborhoods which includes info on Mast Brothers Chocolate, and see the photo below with a link to twenty-four blackbirds chocolate. Also, you can check out other bean-to-bar brands I love such as Askinosie, Dick Taylor, and Cao Chocolates whom we’ll visit on our January 23-25 Miami trip! All of these brands sell on their websites; enjoy.

Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar
Delicious, ethical, bean-to-bar chocolate by twenty-four-blackbirds of California, with just 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar

So are we going to run out of chocolate tomorrow and do you need squirrel away a chocolate stash in the attic to stave off chocolate doom? No.

Is the global chocolate industry in a time of change? Yes.

Is it a good idea to read labels and vote with your dollars, to make sure you’re getting the chocolate you want, that reflects sustainability and the labor and health standards you believe in? Yes!

For media appearances or more: chocolateuplift@gmail.com

Top 3 Things I Love About Ecuador

Top 3 Things I Love About Ecuador

By Valerie Beck

Chocolate expert and founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift chocolate services, encompassing tours, travel, tv, speaking, consulting, importing. http://www.chocolateuplift.com, http://www.chicagochocolatetours.com 

Glorious gilded San Francisco church, in Quito
Glorious gilded San Francisco church, in Quito

After visiting enchanting Ecuador for a week in September 2014 as part of my ongoing consulting project with the Trade Commission of Ecuador to promote their quality fairtrade cocoa beans and chocolate, I’m convinced that this country is the best-kept secret in the Western Hemisphere.

Here’s why: the delicious and ethical chocolate and cacao, the incredibly fresh and flavorful cuisine, and the stunning landscapes. I could go beyond that to the beautiful textiles, the fascinating history, and of course the warm and wonderful people. But then this post would be more of a book. Indeed, that’s an idea! Well, more posts on more items are coming soon.

For now, here are the top 3 things I love about enchanting Ecuador!

1. Chocolate

With a freshly opened cocoa pod on a Pacari family farm
Here’s yours truly Valerie Beck with a freshly opened cocoa pod on a Pacari family farm

Ecuador is known for its chocolate, or more specifically its delicious fairtrade cocoa beans from which chocolate is made. Ecuador is the 6th largest grower of cocoa beans in the world, though they’re a small country around the size of Nevada.

I visited two cocoa farms during my trip: the incredibly innovative Camino Verde farm in the coastal province of Balao, and a delightful small family farm in the Amazon basin that is one of 2,500 such farms growing for Ecuador’s Pacari Chocolate brand.

Both farms were revelatory. Being able to go to the source, receive a beautiful cacao pod from a beautiful cocoa tree, open the pod and taste the sweet, floral, flavorful pulp surrounding the beans, and even eat the raw beans themselves, was a meaningful experience because it showed me firsthand the first steps of the chocolate process and the magic of how chocolate begins as fruit.

Part of the beauty of Ecuadorian cacao is that it is grown in a socially responsible way, mainly on small family farms. Contrast Ecuador’s fairtrade, ethical, and sustainable farming and labor practices, with the human rights abuses prevalent in West African cacao, including child slave labor, as well as the general lack of traceability of West African beans. We want to know where our food, chocolate, clothing, everything comes from, and we want the practices to be ethical. Seventy percent of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans grown in West Africa, mainly the Ivory Coast and Ghana. This means when someone picks up popular commercial chocolate brands in the drugstore, they’re buying unethical chocolate, the fruits of abomination.

Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm
Cocoa tree nursery on the Camino Verde farm

A way to make sure you’re buying slavery free chocolate is to buy South American chocolate, or chocolate from other regions of the world outside of West Africa. Look at the chocolate bar’s label to find the origin of the cocoa beans, just like you would see the origin of the grapes on a wine bottle label, or the origin of coffee beans on a bag of coffee. Look for words like fair trade or direct trade, or simply look for place names like Ecuador.

I’ll share more about Ecuadorian cacao, and about steps we can take to end slavery on cocoa farms, in other posts. You can also click here for CNN’s reports on chocolate’s child slaves.

Here’s to delicious and ethical Ecuadorian chocolate and cocoa beans!

Vegetarian ceviche at Barlovento restaurant, at our Harvard Club of Ecuador luncheon
Vegetarian ceviche at Barlovento restaurant, at our Harvard Club of Ecuador luncheon

2. Cuisine

Cacao is nature’s perfect food, and the rest of the food in Ecuador was also glorious. Another reason I love Ecuador: the cuisine is fresh and light, with amazing flavors and ingredients not found elsewhere, due to Ecuador’s incredible biodiversity and variety of climates. Plus, the food is not laced with GMOs and artificial ingredients, so instead of eating industrial food which can bring disease and obesity, you’re eating real food which brings health and fitness.

As a vegan-ish vegetarian, I found a huge range of flavorful and satisfying options created from fruits, vegetables, and herbs, such as the refreshing vegetarian ceviche I had at Quito restaurant Barlovento. The Harvard Club of Ecuador was kind enough to hold a luncheon for me while I was in Quito; it turns out the Club President and I were at Harvard Law School at the same time. The restaurant is owned by the mother of a student at Kendall College in Chicago where I’m an Adjunct Professor, and the owner is also a friend of the Club President. Small world-ism in action! The Honduran Ambassador to Ecuador was also at the luncheon; it was a treat to sit next to Madam Ambassador and talk cacao!

Meanwhile, seafood lovers visiting Ecuador will also find amazing options due to Ecuador’s location on the Pacific Ocean, and meat eaters will have no shortage of creatively prepared dishes.

Pitahaya fruit with black seeds, and taxa fruit with an oblong shape
One of my favorite Ecuador breakfasts: pitaya fruit with black seeds, and taxo fruit with an oblong shape

Did I mention the fruit! I tried many varieties I’d never seen or tasted before, such as pitaya which was similar in appearance to dragon fruit and tasted sweet, and taxo which was extremely tart and citrusy. I had to be shown how to open and eat these amazing fruits, and the lesson was worthwhile!

Chocolate comes from fruit, and since I already raved about Ecuador’s amazing cacao at the beginning of this post, I’ll move on, though I could go on and on about other incredible cuisine experiences in Ecuador. Watch for a separate food-focused post!

Cotopaxi mountain along the flight from Quito to Guayaquil
Cotopaxi mountain along the flight from Quito to Guayaquil

3. Landscape

Earth is beautiful. What makes the part of Earth that is Ecuador so visually spectacular and so rich in plants and animals, is that this small country has three distinct climates – along the tropical Pacific coast in the west of the country, in the Andes Mountains running down the center of the country, and in the Amazon basin to the east – or four if you count the Galapagos Islands which are also part of Ecuador.

Sunrise view from my room at Casa Gangotena, on my first morning in Quito
Sunrise view from my room at Casa Gangotena, on my first morning in Quito

I visited the three climates on the mainland, starting with the fresh mountain climate of capital city Quito, 9,400 feet up in the Andes Mountains, some of whose peaks reach 15,000 and 20,000 feet. Around twice as high as Denver, or as high as about nine Sears Towers stacked on top of each other, Quito has a majestic setting, cool clean dry air, and temperatures up to the 70s during the day, and down to the 40s at night.

I am grateful to enjoy radiant health, yet had altitude headaches and dizziness the first two days, including during the wonderful meetings I had with cacao growers, chocolate company owners, and government leaders during day 1. (I think the people I met with took my lightheaded giddiness for enthusiasm, and in any case I was enthusiastic!) I didn’t take any altitude medicine, but chocolate helped (chocolate helps everything!), and after 48 hours I was fine though constantly thirsty. Happily, my fabulous hotels Casa Gangotena and Hotel Patio Andaluz provided all the water I could drink, and all was well.

with vicente
With Vicente Norero of Camino Verde at the Aromas del Ecuador chocolate and cacao meetings

Next, I flew from Quito to Guayaquil, which is the largest city in Ecuador and the main port city. The flight over the spine of the Andes was just 50 minutes, and once in Guyaquil I was in a beautiful, summery, hot and humid Miami-like climate, only with mountains on the horizon. From Guyaquil, our Trade Commission group drove 2 hours through small towns and verdant plains, until we reached the Camino Verde cocoa farm, described above. Tropical glory!

The third climate on the Ecuadorian mainland is the Amazon climate. Back in Quito, we drove down the mountains – the roads were new, wide, and provided dramatic views – to an elevation of around 2,500 feet. The air was soft and moist, the trees and foliage were lush, and the Pacari cocoa farm we visited was fantastic, as described above.

pacari pod
About to sample fresh cocoa beans and sweet pulp on a Pacari cacao farm in the Amazon basin

Because Ecuador is on the equator (hence the country’s name), climate changes not by season but by altitude. Visiting the equator itself, just outside of Quito, was a blast. There are actually two equator monuments or museums: one marks the actual equator, and the other marks where Europeans thought it was.

Here’s what happened: the pre Incan people knew exactly where the equator was. They knew astronomy and nature, and the sun figured in their worship and daily life. Then a French expedition came, studied the situation for 8 years, and said no, the equator was 240 meters away (or around 787 feet). Then, in the 1990s, GPS confirmed that the equator is right where the ancient people said it was.

Standing on the equator - the real one
Standing on the equator – the real one

Today, the Mitad del Mundo large monument and theme and shopping park around the “French” equator honors the work of the Europeans, celebrates history, and promotes development. Several hundred feet away on the actual equator, the Museo Intinan marks the real spot with charming and interesting demonstrations such as how water – and ocean storms – circulate clockwise on one side of the equator and counter clockwise on the other, while honoring the ancient people with reconstructions of their style of home and life.

By the way, getting to and around Ecuador was extremely easy. No visa is required for US citizens. I flew 3 hours from Chicago to Miami, changed planes, and flew 4 hours from Miami to Quito. Quito is on central time, so it was the same time there as in Chicago. And Ecuador does not have its own currency but uses US currency, which goes quite far there. A taxi ride across Quito for example was $2. So, arriving at and enjoying the gorgeous landscapes, sights, and flavors of Ecuador was safe and simple.

Independence Plaza (Plaza Grande) in Quito
Independence Plaza (Plaza Grande) in Quito

I’m looking forward to traveling again for more enchanting Ecuador – contact me if you’d like to join a group trip!

~ Valerie

chocolateuplift@gmail.com