If cacao were still a currency, we would probably be exchanging bars of chocolate. Messy as that would be, I’d want a vault full of single-origin, handcrafted bars minted by a passionate maverick who understands the bean. Say someone like Chef Daniel Bucher or Chef Micahel Hogan and their Pridi Cacaofevier. I’d put a premium on Pridi Cacaofevier’s handmadeTawick, Cashew Krup, Maprowntym, Peanut Nutter, Black MagicandSanicicka… the inspirations are evident in the names, but these are, as the tag line goes, ‘unlike anything you ever had’. Their ‘bar talk’ promises a sensory overload even with the soberly named ones likeSignature NoirandCrunch Time. Or even their latest ‘Starry Night’ holiday collection.
The cacao industry has changed and morphed like no other; the limited supply and its wide usage, not just limited to the chocolate industry, has created a push and pull effect unique to the bean. The largest end-user is the chocolate industry but processed cocoa appears in many food and beverage products as well as in soaps, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. According to Statista.com, global cocoa production reached 4.8 million tons in the 2020/2021 crop year. The wide application, the limited supply and subsequent shortage have led to manufacturers altering recipes. So next time you complain that your chocolate bars taste different, you now know why.
The erratic supply has had cacaofeviers increasingly looking for solutions that are sustainable and ethical. The global chocolate trade is also a minefield of human rights violations, including child labour. Says Daniel, “You almost can’t get around these issues. Fairtrade/ Rainforest Alliance supply is still limited, and ‘commodity’ cocoa has sustainability or Human rights issues.” However, the reality is that even those sourcing ethical cacao cannot completely switch over, both cost and availability play crucial roles in that decision. Besides, to use the Fairtrade label, the minimum total Fairtrade content has to be just 20 per cent. It is a great beginning, but the road to ethical, commercial chocolate is still very long and hard.
Unless your passion drives you to find a local solution. Like Daniel and Micahel. Recalls Daniel, “When questions of sustainability and ethical productions came up, I didn’t know how to respond. Eliminating chocolate from the menu was not an option. This sent me on a quest down the rabbit hole. I started talking with Michael about doing something. There had to be a way to go local! With asking around, I received a call about people doing something in Thailand with cocoa beans - they have been over 20 years now.”
The journey down the rabbit hole and the realisation that the climate in western Africa is pretty much the same as Thailand with “almost the same elevation” led from chocolate experiments in the living room to eventually establishing a manufactory with a guaranteed source of cacao beans grown locally in Thailand (Lampang and Chantaburi).
The fermentation of the beans, post-harvesting was also nailed in the process. “Our mission statement, our goal is to know every ingredient and person behind the chocolate we make and sell. So, sustainability is really important to Pridi Cacaofevier. Michael and I know where the ingredients come from, know the people behind them. We understand the supply chain, respect the ingredients and pay our people a fair price. Buying these cacao beans is expensive, but something really special is happening in Thailand right now. The farmers we work with locally make good money from the cocoa that we buy off them. We have built relationships with farmers that have worked with us from the beginning – ideal for them and us; we can guarantee our bean-to-bar experience.”
Not all Thai chocolate makers, though, can guarantee a hundred per cent sustainable/ethical bean-to-bar. But Daniel is hopeful, “So much to build, to do, to grow hand-in-hand – a golden opportunity for sustainable cocoa in Thailand. I can honestly say we’re probably one of the most sustainable chocolates in the world. What is very typical for Thailand right now is that it is more sustainable also because it isn’t a single crop business. Other than a few leading monoculture growers, most grow cocoa beans in beautiful agroforestry environments – a mixed crop. This is an ideal scenario for sustainable farming and ideal for me because it makes for exciting flavours. As long as I can pay the best prices, I can also tell them how to grow it. We are in a Super Bowl like ‘super special’ moment right now in Thailand. We can do something that nobody else can.”
The biggest devil in the details is consistency in flavour, bar after bar. Achieving that is not easy. Explains Daniel, “Every bar of chocolate must have the same profile, the same melting curve, the same flavour development curve and same sort of acidity. Every time a cacao bin comes in from a supplier, we test it and chart it to maintain consistency. We do it like one, two or three times because you taste different at different times of the day or on different days. We then build the chocolate based on the chart. The process we’ve developed works well.”
This is profiling taken to a whole another level! But then, when two chefs head a chocolate manufactory, flavour and consistency will never take a backseat. (Discover the Pridi range here)