Holiday Tour Day 9: Cocoa Diaries and MOKA Origins
The heart of dark chocolateness
This stop on the Cacao Muse Holiday Tour gets a little more serious. We talk to Kwame Kwarteng, the son of cacao farmers in Ghana who grew up helping his family farm cacao and went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and an MBA. He now dedicates his time to help untangle some of the thorniest issues in the chocolate sector, from the point of view of a Ghanaian, because, to put it bluntly, the people of Ghana need to be at the table where matters affecting their own nation are discussed.
The Boss Cat hasn’t come along this time because, well, no doubt because Africa has much bigger cats and he knows his place. This ain’t no Boss Cat territory.
You, dear reader, are of course welcome, and I hope you’ll join us in the comments, and share and restack this post so others can hop aboard as well. Above all, be sure to sign up to join one of our membership tiers. You can also take advantage of the special offer for 20% off FOREVER that ends with this Tour, on December 25th.
Before we get into the feature, I’d like to share photos that Kwame sent in. We’ve been talking about chocolate for eight days now and I still haven’t shown you a picture of what fresh cacao actually looks like! Thank you Kwame for these wonderful images.
These are the cacao beans, freshly extracted from the pod. You’ll notice how wet and slimy they are. That slime is the cacao pulp, and it is the most amazingly flavorful fruit you’ll ever try. Once you get past the slime factor of course.
This is the hollowed-out cacao pod, with the cacao placenta still attached to one of the halves. Yes, cacao has a placenta—this is what all of the beans are attached to inside the pod.
Here you can see a single cacao bean, partially peeled. Now it’s starting to look like the beans we all know and love.
And here are the folks in the field, harvesting the pods that take hours of manual labor to open, ferment, dry, and sort—and that’s just the preparation for the long journey to a chocolate maker’s production space.
TCM Holiday Tour Day 9 pairing:
COCOA DIARIES and MOKA ORIGINS
It would seem the story is fairly straightforward: 2 million children in West Africa toiling on cacao plantations so we Westerners can have our cheap chocolate. Kwame argues it’s not quite that simple, as the definition of child labor can be inadvertently politicized and work against the very societies it’s intended to help—and it’s true there are a lot of shades of every color in this rainbow that don’t see enough daylight. Consider, for example, the child who works on his family’s cacao farm because all hands are needed to make ends meet. This isn’t quite the same type of “child labor” as the case of the children sold to illegal cacao plantations by traffickers, who then don’t see their parents for years, are forced to work 14-hour days, and subsist on a meager diet. And those are just the extreme ends of the spectrum. In between lie cases and scenarios and situations that are as varied and complex as the policies, definitions, and regulations that various international bodies are trying to implement to make sense of and govern said cases and scenarios.
And that’s not to mention the bewilderment we chocolate eaters feel when we’re presented with the confusing and conflicting marketing claims by chocolate companies, news articles about child slavery, and popular late night shows.
In honor of Kwame’s heritage, I’ve selected a lovely dark milk chocolate bar made with Ghanaian cacao.
The Cacao Muse: Welcome to the Holiday Tour Kwame! We’re excited to have someone here from the cocoa industry, and from Ghana no less. Tell us about you and Cocoa Diaries.
Kwame Kwarteng: I’m Kwame, the son of a cocoa farmer turned cocoa crusader. From the humble beginnings on a Ghanaian farm to the academic halls studying the ins and outs of the cocoa industry, my journey has been as rich and diverse as the cocoa itself. At Cocoa Diaries, I weave tales of sustainability and industry insights through the eyes of someone who’s seen it from the roots up. Let’s connect on LinkedIn and Twitter (@asamoahpeter), where the cocoa conversation continues! ✨
Birgitte: I think Substack loves you already Kwame—look how it makes your twinkling star emoji nice and big! And how lovely that your Substack was a featured publication in 2022!
TCM: So, we have to ask. What’s your favorite chocolate?
Kwame: Ah, chocolate, the elusive luxury of my childhood! Growing up on a Ghanaian cocoa farm, chocolate was as rare as a snowflake in the Sahara. It was the stuff of legends, a mythical treat for the well-heeled.
Birgitte: This is what I consistently hear—that the people of West Africa, especially the children, never get to experience the end product of all their hard labor. This is mind-blowing, ridiculous, and sobering. It’s the equivalent scenario of a cotton farmer never being able to wear a pair of jeans, a cattle rancher never tasting a burger, or a coffee grower never having a cup of joe.
Kwame: I wasn’t nibbling on chocolate bars; I was busy dodging cocoa pods! But I did stumble upon Tony Chocolonely’s milk chocolate once in adult life recently. It’s not too greasy, with a chewiness that could give a gum a run for its money. It’s like finding an oasis in a desert; you never forget your first taste of luxury!
Birgitte: Now this is interesting. We were just talking about Tony’s two days ago; they’ve become extremely popular but also pretty controversial. You’ve got a post about them as well. As far as taste goes, I agree with you, it’s not bad—although I’ve only tried their dark chocolate. I’m not a milk chocolate fan, but I’d be a little weirded out by milk chocolate that’s “not too greasy” and “chewy.” Chocolate isn’t supposed to be greasy or chewy, be it dark or milk!
Let me present you with a chocolate bar that I’ve selected especially for you. It is a dark milk chocolate, and it’s made with beans from your country, Ghana. The company is MOKA Origins, based in Cameroon, that works with ABOCFA, the only organic Fair Trade certified cooperative in Ghana. I wonder if you know them?
I wish we could do this in person!
Chocolate: Dark Milk
Ingredients: Organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic milk powder, organic cocoa butter
Tasting Notes: Caramel and butter are the reigning flavors in this bar, making this milk chocolate not milky at all. It has real cacao flavor, not too sweet as milk chocolates tend to be.
TCM: What’s the one burning question you've had about chocolate that you'd want an(other) expert to answer?
Kwame: Here’s my burning question: Why is the “world market price” a thing for cocoa but not for chocolate? It’s a curious tale, really. Farmers are left juggling beans at prices they can’t control, while chocolatiers play puppet masters, setting prices as they please. It’s like agreeing to play a football match where only one team knows the rules. Quite a sticky situation, wouldn’t you say?
Birgitte: Yes, especially if the chocolate is greasy :) The “world market price” is a commodity mechanism—and in that lies your answer. Commodities are financial instruments and physical goods at the same time, and that’s not a good recipe for equity and fair wages. The entire system is designed to benefit the people pulling the strings, as you say, on the backs of those producing the raw materials. I’d welcome your thoughts on how we can all help nudge this system and start moving that needle. Because, as you well know, you don’t move a mountain with a powerful machine; you move a mountain with a million hands.
TCM: You come from the second largest cacao producing nation. You’ve lived the life of a cacao farmer. If there is one thing you had the power to change about the chocolate industry, what would it be?
Kwame: In my cocoa-tinted utopia, farmers would be the kings and queens of their cocoa castles. Imagine a world where cocoa beans aren’t just another commodity, but a prized possession with a price tag that truly reflects its worth. A world where farmers set their prices, factoring in their sweat, tears, and the melody of their cocoa songs. It’s not asking for the moon, just a fair share of the chocolate pie!
Birgitte: Your utopia existed once—in ancient Mesoamerica and South America. Cacao used to be a gateway to the gods themselves. My hope is that we can get back to a little of that deep respect for a plant that existed long before the Andes mountains pushed up through the Earth’s crust. I believe we can, and it’s conversations like this one where it starts.
This was but a taste of the complex and deeply interconnected and conflicting realities and needs that cacao farmers face. Add to that everyone else along the chocolate supply chain, and you start to see the Gordian knot that the chocolate industry has become. Voices like Kwame’s are not only invaluable—they need to be at the table.
COMING UP! DAY 10 of the TCM HOLIDAY TOUR
See if you can guess tomorrow’s featured writer:
This writer bakes. This writer is also a botanist, forager, farmer, and an advocate for locally grown food.
Second clue: what type of dough that most people know only in its bread form, can also be made as pasta, pastries, cakes, cookies, crackers, and dumplings?
Make a guess in the comments! You’ll see if you were right tomorrow… and if you are, maybe the baker will blow a floury kiss your way.