Tree-to-Bar Chocolate in Australia? It’s Already Happening!
There is one big problem in the chocolate industry that has a domino effect on all the other issues.
The places around the world where most of the cacao grows don’t coincide with the places where most of the cacao is processed and consumed. This discrepancy is due to the natural biology of the cocoa tree that only grows around 20° north and south of the Equator.
This means tropical environments, rainforests, rural areas and hot climates. So while cacao grows in countries like Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Ghana, Uganda, Philippines and Indonesia to name a few, the biggest chocolate consumers are actually located in Europe and North America.
Here is where the major problem begins: chocolate consumers are far from where cacao grows (having high demands for their chocolate while not understanding the challenges faced in the poorest countries in the world), and cacao farmers are far from where the chocolate is produced and consumed (never seeing the development of their hard work or witnessing the immediate impact of their farming practices on the chocolate).
Thankfully, things are changing. On one side, producing countries are starting to find a demand in their local market, therefore diving into the bean-to-bar production of their own chocolate. On the other side, some major consuming countries that are closer to the equatorial belt are starting to find fertile ground to grow their own cocoa. One of them is Australia.
For once, it was the interest and the money of a big chocolate company that positively contributed to Australia discovering its potential to grow cocoa.
In the mid-90s, Cadbury Australia wanted to scope the viability of producing cacao in its home country. The main goal was to secure local supply without depending on the political and economic uncertainties of West African countries, nor dealing with the fluctuating prices of the market. In 1998, a complex research started that lasted eight years to find the best place in Australia where to grow cacao.
A consortium called the Northern Australia Cocoa Development Alliance brought together the government and horticulturists all over Australia, with the supervision from Cadbury Australia. The result was unanimous: North Queensland was the best place in Australia to grow cacao.
Legend has it that “despite being a key driver of the project, Cadbury lost interest since the economics of an Australian cocoa industry suited family farming done on a co-op model rather than a corporate enterprise”.
However, Cadbury Australia’s research director at that time, Barry Kitchen, decided to carry on the next steps of the project and go all in. In 2010, together with a few enthusiastic investors and a team of growers, he founded the Daintree Estates company, the world’s first chocolate made from Australian-grown cacao.
The Daintree company covers all the operational activities needed to make what they call farm to plate chocolate. From seedling nursery and cocoa estates to post-harvest processes through the bean-to-bar production, until marketing and selling activities, they take care of it all.
Their supplying partners are growers located in tropical Far North Queensland and are also shareholders of the company (some of them started as sugarcane farmers that could finally diversify their income thanks to cacao).
The company’s chocolate assortment currently ranges from pure bars such as the 70% Classic Dark and the 45% Rich Milk to delicious inclusions like Sencha Green Tea, Salted Caramel, Espresso and Blood Orange. Their creations can be found on the shelves of the most exclusive Australian chocolate retailers.
But Daintree Estates is not the only company currently making tree-to-bar chocolate in Australia.
Chris and Lynn Jahnke from Charley’s Chocolate harvested their first cocoa pods on their property in tropical North Queensland in 2014. Those first cocoa beans were turned into 50 individually numbered chocolate bars under the Charley’s brand, and the couple’s cocoa journey never stopped since then. Their chocolate became so popular in the national market that the company quickly scaled up:
“Soon, our cocoa farm could not fulfil demand, so we sourced ripe cocoa pods from other local growers and beans from highly reputable growers in the Solomon’s, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. By early 2017, our production facility was too small for future growth, so Chris modified a shipping container as a modular manufacturing unit and installed it in late 2017. In late 2019, we raised new capital to fund trellising, to increase tree plantings and buy new equipment.”
Remarkable in their assortment are the dark and milk chocolate bars enriched with fresh, crunchy and flavorful ingredients like macadamia nuts, pineapple, coconut, lemon, myrtle, granola, chili and pink salt.
Tree-to-bar Chocolate in Australia
The fine cocoa produced in North Queensland by Daintree Estates, Charley’s Chocolate and all their partnering farmers is just a tiny portion of the huge national demand by Australian chocolate makers, chocolatiers and dessert professionals.
However, these businesses are a great contribution in bridging the gap between cocoa producers and chocolate consumers. When Australian consumers learn that cacao grows in their own country, they can feel inspired to learn more about fine chocolate, to sustain local makers and be proud of the tree-to-bar chocolate made with all-Australian ingredients.
Australia is now also crib to a growing number of craft bean-to-bar makers. As of 2020, there are over 30 bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Australia, including Spencer Cocoa, Bahen & Co. and Metiisto Chocolate, that contribute to the expansion of the fine chocolate culture with their artisan products every day.
The tree-to-bar chocolate trend is generally expanding all over the world, with cocoa farmers in origin country starting to make their own chocolate to keep as much value as possible inside their countries, rather than selling their cacao away only to get back the finished chocolate from a foreign company.
So watch out for a lot of delectable Australian tree-to-bar and bean-to-bar chocolate coming to your nearest specialty food store!
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