Our Origin Chocolate Sourcing Ethos
How we source our Single Origin Chocolate
The world of fine chocolate is a wonderful one full of glorious cocoa bean types such as Criollo, Trinitario, Arriba Nacional, Fino de Aroma & Sur del Lago, all grown in "The Cocoa Belt" of equatorial countries up to 20 degrees either side of the equator, each creating chocolate with very different, complex flavour notes which are also influenced by how it is grown, harvested & processed... similar to wine & quite fascinating.
We only source fine single origin chocolate made with fine cocoa beans as listed above, pure cocoa butter (& no vegetable fats, which usually includes palm oil, which have no place in fine chocolate) and cane sugar. Currently, we work with chocolate made with fine beans grown in Colombia, Ecuador, Madagascar, Venezuela, Tanzania & Uganda.
The type of chocolate we work with is known as 'Fine' chocolate and fine cocoa bean varietals account for approximately 15% of world cocoa production. The bulk of cocoa is produced mostly in West Africa (which accounts for c70% of world cocoa production) of lower quality 'bulk' cocoa beans. Most of the chocolate products eaten worldwide, and here in the UK, are made with West African beans which sadly also come with many issues around traceability, complex supply chains, slavery and sustainability.
To date, we don't make chocolate from beans, we are chocolatiers working with couverture chocolate to make all our creations. To use a baking analogy, we are the bakers, rather than the millers.
However, we are quite different to most chocolatiers in that we have built direct relationships with companies who craft local fine cocoa beans into couverture chocolate in their countries of origin. Why is this different? By producing chocolate at origin, they are adding significantly more value to their local economies as they are literally raising the value of their trade by exporting added value finished products vs low value commodity dried cocoa beans, even fairtrade dried beans. It raises the value of their exports and our partner chocolate companies are employing higher skilled labour, creating a local supply chain, using other local ingredients, such as cane sugar, and generating higher tax revenues.
We believe that this different trade model is more sustainable and fairer as it breaks the cycle of developing countries exporting commodity items for us to add the value in the west (there are several huge cocoa processors in Belgium who supply chocolatiers of all sizes which contributes to our fixation with 'Belgian chocolate').
Importantly, we have built direct relationships with our partners with the shortest supply chain possible and can verify that they are producing chocolate in a fair, sustainable way by visiting them - well, until Covid came along. They are also all really proud that we love working with their chocolate!
So our signature milk and dark chocolates are unique to us - we developed the 'recipes' with our chocolate partners, so you won't find our 47% Colombia milk chocolate or 72% Ecuador dark chocolate anywhere else! These chocolates are delivered direct to us, with no middlemen. We love working directly with our partners as it means that not only do we have confidence in the quality of the beans to make delicious chocolate for you, we also have complete traceability of the chocolate from pod to product - in fact, our Ecuador dark chocolate is made from cocoa beans sourced from just one estate - and we know that our signature chocolate from Ecuador, Colombia & Madagascar is definitely slave-free. Ths is not something that chocolate made with West African cocoa beans can claim, however much they might try to infer otherwise.
We describe our sustainable chocolate sourced from our partners as either 'Direct Trade' or Raisetrade and you will see these icons on our packaging. If you click on the Raisetrade link you can read more about the difference it makes vs the traditional trade model.
We do currently also work with just a few chocolate grades which are still produced in Europe. These grades (Uganda 80% & Blonde chocolate) are made with 100% sustainably sourced cocoa beans as verified by the Cacao Trace sustainability programme. Sadly, most of the issues of child labour, exploitation and corruption are in Africa, where Cacao Trace is working in partnership with farmers to help improve the productivity of cocoa farmers, support communities & improve the opportunities for children to go to school.
Improving the sustainablility of growing bulk cocoa for the millions of cocoa farmers and their families in West Africa is a long term project for everyone in the cocoa industry given the number of complex issues that need to be addressed. Whilst it has got better in some respects in the 20 years that we have been in the industry, there is still much work to do done there and as a small business, we are doing our small bit to help support the important work of this sustainability programme.
Our chocolate comes from...Ecuador - Hacienda Zoilita, Los Rios
We are proud to have been working with Martinetti Cocoa since 2021 when we took delivery of the first 10 tonnes of our signature 72% dark chocolate couverture. We have had more deliveries since and it always super exciting to see the container arrive at our Dorset HQ and to unload it, it having been loaded by Jonathan & his team at Martinetti, 6 weeks before - you can't get a supply chain shorter than that! We are thrilled that this signature dark chocolate, which we use for many of our creations, is also starting to win awards - most recently, our 72% Ecuador Dark chocolate Bar won 1 Star Gold in the 2023 Great Taste Awards and our 72% dark hot chocolate flakes won Silver in both the 2022 World Drinking Chocolate Competition (no less) run by the International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate Awards.
We also work with their 100% cocoa mass to make our 100% sugar-free hot chocolate flakes (winner of 1 Star Gold Great Taste Award 2021) for serving in our cafes and also in tins to enjoy a hot chocolate at home and they also supply us with roasted cocoa nibs which we use in bars, slabs & one chocolate to add a wonderfully intense cocoa crunch.
Martinetti Cocoa is a small family-owned chocolate company based in the Los Rios province, a centre of cocoa farming in Ecuador. Established 50 years ago, historically they only exported cocoa beans but now, led by Jonathan Martinetti, grandson of the original founder, they are making added value couverture chocolate at their small factory in Quevedo and we are their first international customer!
Jonathan and his team buy increasingly rare heritage Arriba Nacional cocoa beans at a premium price directly from local partner cocoa farms, with whom they have built long term relationships over many years, and ferment and dry the beans at their factory to ensure quality control.
Our Martinetti chocolate also has full traceability down to the single farm it is grown in - Hacienda Zoilita in the north of the province. Hacienda Zoilita is a 200 hectare farm of which 160 hectares are planted with cocoa trees and the remaining with a natural forest of teak and papaya, which also create shade for the arriba nacional cocoa trees. It is a slave-free professionally run, family farm with the adults of three families working on the farm whilst children go to school. A benefit for the farm workers is affiliation to Ecuador's healthcare system (which is not free to access unlike the NHS), which also pays towards a state pension. This farm has also had Rainforest Alliance certification and is in the process of renewing that. They supply Martinetti exclusively with their pure heritage arriba nacional cocoa beans, the national bean of Ecuador, which has a gorgeous rich mellow cocoa flavour with hints of purple fruit like raisin, coffee and citrus tones. All Martinetti chocolate is also soya-free. We are delighted to be working directly with Martinetti chocolate - fully traceable, trusted, sustainable, ethical and delicious!
We have worked with several types of chocolate crafted at origin in Colombia by a local company Luker Chocolate for many years and, as of late 2022, they are making our signature 47% milk chocolate for us too! We are super excited about this partnership and that now both our signature milk and signature dark chocolate origins (& also our oat m!lk & white) are made exclusively for us by companies crafting at origin. By buying Chococo chocolate, you are giving more power to cocoa growing communities as Luker, along with Martinetti & Chocolaterie Robert, are not only crafting fab chocolate for us to work with but are better able to support local cocoa farmers, ensure the long term sustainability of cocoa growing in their countries and it is slave-free. Can you tell that we get a bit excited by that!
Our signature 47% milk chocolate, winner of a 1 Star Gold Great Taste Award 2023, is made from fine Fino de Aroma cocoa beans grown in the Huila, Santander & Tumaco regions of Colombia and contains a lot more cocoa than most other (even premium) milk chocolates.
For perspective, most of the 'industrial', as we would call it, British chocolate brands contain less than 30% cocoa (scarily, some of them are a lot less - you can see how much cocoa is in a chocolate bar by reading the % of cocoa solids in the ingredients list), many of the main European brands contain around 30% and then more premium ones are around 35-37% cocoa. So our chocolate containing 47% is way more! As our milk chocolate contains 23% milk, there is only 30% added sugar - significantly less than most milk chocolates. It is also soya-free which is something that many other milk chocolate brands are not.
A quick aside: There is an important rule of thumb with chocolate - the more cocoa is in a chocolate, the less sugar....the amount of sugar is very easy to work out with dark chocolate as there isn't any milk to confuse things (that said, watch out for some cheap industrial dark chocolate containing small amounts of milk powder), but can be a bit trickier with milk chocolate as the % of milk can vary.
However, again there is a rough industry average which is that the milk % is usually around 20%. Yup, not a huge amount to be honest given how much focus is placed on the milk by some brands. Oh, and milk is always added as a powder, not liquid milk!
So, you can work out v quickly that a lot of milk chocolates out there contain A LOT of sugar...over 50%! Some of these very sweet products also contain palm oil - why? because cocoa butter is expensive so some of it is replaced with palm oil, a cheap fat which has no place in chocolate. Any product containing palm oil will also contain a lot of sugar as sugar is also cheap. Please please please try to avoid eating chocolate that contains palm oil & a high % of sugar - let's celebrate the cocoa and eat chocolate that actually tastes of chocolate!
Ok rant over, back to our milk chocolate - it is crafted into chocolate at the Luker factory in Bogota and is shipped directly to their warehouse in Hull for us to call off as we need it - no middlemen involved, just calls and emails direct to Yeimmy & other members of the team in Bogota. The Luker team have been over to meet us all in Dorset and we are hoping to visit Colombia soon - Covid rather put paid to earlier plans on that front.
Founded in 1906, Luker is a family-owned chocolate manufacturer making exceptional chocolates crafted at origin with a deep commitment to both quality and sustainability. It has a local sustainability programme called the Chocolate Dream to transform the country's cocoa growing regions. There are 38 thousand cocoa-producing families in Colombia that were, in the past, victims of the country’s armed conflict and are subject to poverty and exploitation by the cocaine trade. Luker is focused on contributing to change in these regions in order to improve the quality of life of the farmers and their communities and to help them return to growing theobroma cacao (cocoa) and coffee rather than coca (from which you extract cocaine).
Whilst Luker do not have a slave free certification in place, they want to reassure consumers that the Colombian cocoa value chain is slave free per se as there is no modern slavery in Colombia. Further, they are committed to promoting human rights enforcement in rural communities as well as promoting access to education and inclusion as part of their Chocolate Dream sustainability programme.
Our 43% Oat M!lk chocolate is also produced by Luker in Colombia and we are delighted to be using this chocolate to create plant-based, vegan-friendly products for non-dairy customers who want a creamier, sweeter tasting chocolate than dark chocolate. We love this chocolate as it has clean creamy flavour notes with a hint of caramel and when we were testing it blind, most people couldn't tell that it wasnt a classic milk chocolate! Even better, it is made with gluten-free oat powder and so is gluten-free, dairy-free, soya-free and nut-free...happy days.
Our House white chocolate is also from Luker and is both aromatic & more flavoursome, (with hints of mild cocoa, flowers & dried fruits), than most other white chocolates as, unusually, it is made with undeodorised natural cocoa butter. Please be aware that this particular chocolate does contain soya lecithin.
By the way, to simply explain why white chocolate is white, it's because it only incorporates cocoa butter which is c50% of every cocoa bean. When roasted cocoa beans are crushed, they form a paste & when that paste is pressed, the fat, or cocoa butter, is extracted. This is white when it sets & has the melting properties of chocolate whilst what is left, cocoa powder, has the colour & flavour of chocolate - you need the two to get the full chocolate experience! Hence we don't make a huge amount of white chocolate products.
Madagascar - Sambirano
Madagascar has built a reputation for growing fine cocoa beans that produce delicious chocolate and we are proud to work with Chocolaterie Robert, a Madagascan family-owned chocolate company established in 1940 making all their Raisetrade chocolate from tree to bar on the island. Bursting with red berry fruit notes, gentle acidity and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel, we work with their grand cru de sambirano 70% dark chocolate for ganaches (the centres of many of our chocolates that are a blend of cream and dark chocolate), bars, award-winning gelato (2 Star Gold Great Taste Award 2020) and hot chocolate flakes, available in tins to make your drink at home & as one of the hot chocolate options in our cafes in our Chocolate Houses (also a 2 Star Gold Great Taste 2021 winner!).
We also love their fabulous low sugar/no sugar range of 65% milk chocolate (which we call Madagascar 'Mega Milk' & winner of a 2 Star Gold Great Taste Award in 2018), 85% 'Mega Dark' & 100% 'Totally Dark' for both ongoing items like bars and also seasonal gifts. Please be aware that supply of Robert chocolate can be a bit intermittant, so these lower sugar options are not always available. All Chocolaterie Robert chocolate is also soya-free.
Co-founder Claire visited Madagascar in May 2016 and visited both the Chocolaterie Robert factory in Antananarivo & also their cocoa plantations in the Sambirano valley in the North West of the island, so we have a direct relationship with the team there.
The way fine cocoa is grown in Madagascar (& other countries growing fine quality beans) is quite different to West Africa. It is not a subsistence crop grown by large numbers of farmers with tiny plots of land. In Sambirano, there are fewer, bigger cocoa farms and Claire met cocoa farmers & plantation workers (one unique local benefit they get is a paddy field each to grow their own rice), watched the local children going to school rather than working on the farms, and has confidence in the slave-free ethics and sustainability of Chocolaterie Robert. Another benefit of working with Robert is that the supply chain is extremely short - the deliveries are sent from the Robert team in Madagascar by sea to a specialist importers in Sussex who pop the chocolate in one of their vans to deliver it to us! We were also one of the first UK chocolatiers to work with their 65% Mega Milk chocolate. The Robert team also make special blocks of the 70% just for us to flake into our hot chocolate.
Click here to read Claire's blogs to find out more about her trip to Madagascar and how cocoa is produced from tree to Chococo.
Venezuela - Sur del Lago
As of 2023, we have now stopped working with chocolate made with Venezuela cocoa beans - the tubs of 45% drops and 45% hot chocolate flakes were the final items available to buy online and in our chocolate houses from the last batch we ordered in 2022. It is the end of an era as we have always been huge fans of Venezuelan chocolate and it was the first (and only) origin we worked with when we started Chococo back in 2002. Back then, we worked with couverture made by El Rey in Venezuela but they found it increasingly difficult to export it. However, we then sourced Cocoa Horizons verified 100% sustainable cocoa beans from Venezuela which was made into chocolate for us to our own bespoke recipe in Belgium. However, we havent been able to work directly with a local producer in Venezuela given all the political problems there and so have built a direct partnership with Luker Chocolate in Colombia who now produce our frankly more delicious 47% milk chocolate for us and we have 100% confidence in both its long term sourcing and its sustainability for you to enjoy.
Another interesting cocoa fact for you - 'theobroma cacao' is the scientific name for the cocoa tree species. It was named by the Swedish botanist Carl Linneas in 1753. Theobroma means 'food of the gods' in greek, and cacao is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water). We think he came up with a splendid name and would quite agree with him!
We serve this as one of our menu of single origin hot chocolate options in our cafes and as chocolate drops in tubs for snaffling. This is an intense yet soft, fruity chocolate with 75% cocoa solids and a clean smooth finish. It is also soya-free. Tanzania is a very small cocoa producing country compared to West African countries and this chocolate is made with trinitario beans from cocoa farmers in the Kyela district in the south of Tanzania. This chocolate is also contributing to the Cocoa Horizons sustainability programme in West Africa.
An intense & robust 80% dark chocolate with a rich cocoa taste & slight earthy notes from Bundibugyo region of West Uganda, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Made with fully traceable cocoa beans via the Cacao Trace Sustainability Programme, it is also winner of both a 2 Star Gold Great Taste Award & Bronze International Chocolate Award in 2022. We serve Uganda 80% in our cafes as one of our hot chocolate origins and offer flakes of this chocolate for making a hot chocolate at home. It is also very popular as chocolate drops for both eating & cooking with. This chocolate is also soya-free.
We have just started working with a new caramel white chocolate which we are calling our Blonde chocolate. This chocolate is described as a 'salted butter caramel white chocolate' as it, unusually, contains salted butter. This gives the chocolate a fudgy, buttery caramel flavour profile with a hint of vanilla. It also has a touch of 'acidity' or a bright top note which we think gives it quite an interesting moreish flavour profile for such a sweet chocolate. It is produced in Belgium with 100% sustainably sourced and traceable cocoa butter as part of the Cacao Trace sustainability Programme. A bounty bonus of this chocolate is that it is made with sunflower lecithin, so is also soya-free...yippee!
Grenada - for reference for long standing customers
Better known as the Isle of Spice, as nutmeg is one of its major exports, there is also an expanding cocoa industry on this Caribbean island, driven primarily by the efforts of Mott Green, the founder of The Grenada Chocolate Company. Mott sadly died in 2013, but his team of local people led by Edmund are building on his legacy & make their chocolate from locally grown organic trinitario cocoa beans in a tiny solar powered factory in the north of the island & then sail it across the Atlantic each spring by a Brigantine sailing ship! We would describe their chocolate as being Raisetrade & definitely "beyond fairtrade" - they are hugely ethical (they describe themselves as "a cocoa-growing and chocolate-making cooperative producing single origin chocolate from tree to bar").
We used to work with Mott's chocolate to make various chocolates but after his death, were only able to secure bars for sale in our shops and online. More recently, we have been able to stock it again as Chantal Coady & James Booth, the original founders of Rococo, now the Chocolate Detective, who have supported the Grenada Chocolate Company for many years have been able to get some shipments in to the UK. Supply is very intermittant though, so more often than not, we are out of stock as we wait for another batch to come in from the team in Grenada.