“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” Charles Dickens
I’m not alone in being a chocoholic – the worldwide consumption is predicted to hit 8.5 million tonnes in 2020* – but how many of us actually know how the sweet treat is produced?
As part of Callebaut’s For The Love of Chocolate campaign, two chefs won the trip-of-a-lifetime to visit cocoa plantations in Ghana, learning about the origins of chocolate, along with Lisa Jenkins from The Caterer. And I was lucky enough to be invited along with them!
Stepping off the plane we were hit with the vibrancy and colourfulness of Ghana, but also the heat! Although not the climate we in the UK are used to, it certainly works for cocoa – in fact, 70% of the world’s total number of cocoa beans originate in West Africa, with Ghana second only to the Ivory Coast in terms of crop numbers.
We spent the week travelling around the cocoa growing regions, visiting large plantations and small farms, discovering how the trees’ small white flowers grow to pods containing an average of 40 seeds/beans. As the pods don’t ripen at the same time, the trees must be constantly monitored before harvesting with machetes and then fermenting for around six days, often by covering with banana leaves – the smell is powerful! The final work of the plantation is to dry the beans for ten days before they are sold to purchasing agents and the licensed buying company.
Once away from the plantation the beans are taken through various quality control inspections before shipment. At this point we were struck by just how rigorous a process this is – each single bag of beans will be checked at least three times, labelled and sealed to ensure quality and traceability. The government strives to only export high-quality cocoa so the checks are done by hand, with the final tests evaluating samples of 100 beans per bag. All being well, these will then be shipped off around the world to continue the bean-to-bar journey.
Aside from cocoa, Ghana has so much to offer and history to share – we visited Kakum National Park for a walk above the rainforest canopy, as well as Elmina Slave Castle where we heard the horrific stories of slaves being held before they were sent to Europe.
It was also touching to visit the schools that Barry Callebaut Ghana support by building sanitary systems – only around 5% of schools in Ghana have these facilities – accommodation for teachers, I.T suites and libraries.
Working for a leading integrated foodservice agency, we’re often enjoying the finished product so to be able to travel to Ghana and learn where it all began was truly a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To see some of my pictures and videos from the trip, check out @lflew and @Jellybeanagency on Twitter.
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