Coca to Cocoa – Colombian Chocolate

Colombia is known across the world for its fantastic coffee, but it is less well known that Colombia also produces some of the world’s finest chocolate – 95% of Colombia’s cacao exports are considered “Fine Flavour” by the International Cocoa Organisation!

The regions of Arhuaca, Santander, Tumaco, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta are regularly producing prize-winning cacao, so I think it’s high time that the country got the recognition it deserves.

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Until relatively recently, Colombia’s cacao production has been predominantly meeting their own demand for drinking chocolate. They became completely self-sufficient in cacao in the 1980s. Most of the cacao is grown is grown in the Choco department on the Pacific coast which is largely Afro-Colombian.

Although production has increased by tens of thousands of tonnes in recent years, they still don’t export a massive amount in comparison to other cacao growing countries. This is largely due to internal conflict which has affected the country for decades, fuelled by the cocaine industry.

The Colombian government has provided incentives and subsidies to farmers who are voluntarily giving up farming coca in favour of cacao. High demand and high international prices for cacao are making it a worthwhile move for the farmers.

This programme was part of a 2016 peace treaty, ending half a century of war between the government and the revolutionary armed forces which controlled the cocaine business. More than 80,000 farmers signed the treaty, which was created by the former President. His successor, however, has shown less enthusiasm for the terms of the agreement, leaving many farmers feeling forgotten.

Farming the illegal coca allowed the farmers to afford to put their children through school. Although despite the clear financial incentives, many are leaving due to fear of violence from drug trafficking groups.

Many Colombian farmers are in need of a sustainable alternative to coca, and there are a growing number of groups in the country involved in teaching local people how to cultivate cacao.

There are a small number of companies making fine chocolate at origin, such as ‘Cacao Hunters’ and ‘Tibitó’. They are not readily available to buy in the UK, with my main sources being out of stock of both brands at this time. But there are many other brands around the world making fine chocolate with Colombian cacao.

Colombian chocolate is known for it’s spiced cherry notes, and deep cacao flavour. In the interests of research (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it) I have tasted a few of these bars. If you are interested in reading the tasting notes, you can click on the links below to take you to the individual post:

Willie’s Cacao – San Agustin 88%

Michael Cluizel – Plantation El Jardin 69%

I would say they make for a perfect winter chocolate. If you want to get your hands on any of the bars I tasted, you can purchase them online at either Cocoa Runners or the Chocolate Trading Company.

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