Friday, 15 March 2019

Chocoa 2019, Amsterdam



As a small business in a rural area, it is easy to feel a little remote from the chocolate making community out there - I don't even bump into Iain Burnett very often and he only works 10 miles or so down the road!  So, with great excitement and with pockets full of business cards, I set off to meet fellow chocolate makers and adventurers at Chocoa 2019 in Amsterdam, an annual gathering devoted to all things cocoa and chocolate.  It is an extraordinary event - bringing together 'big chocolate'  - the Cargills, Mars and Callebauts, as well as Ministers of Trade and Cocoa from cocoa producing countrues aroud the world - and (where I fit in!) the smaller craft makers, and the various business small, medium and large who are involved in the 'value chain' of cocoa to chocolate. 

Map of Amsterdam port and waterfront
Amsterdam is the centre of cocoa in Europe - the port receives cocoa from around the world, stores and then dispatches it through Europe - and there are also chocolate processing businesses along the industrial waterfront of the city outskirts. For some reason, I had not really known or thought much about this - but it was with real pleasure and interest that I met Astrid Fisser, an amazing woman whose job is to organise all the cocoa logistics in the Port, and she told me all about its role in the cocoa supply chain and then how cocoa is moved on through Europe - mainly through the waterways and by train.

My first participation was in Women Network in Cocoa and Chocolate - an afternoon workshop that brought women from all over the world; through a number of fun introductory activities we got a sense of the global reach of the group (huge), the breadth across the value chain (from growers to bloggers), and rather alarmingly the disparity in how much chocolate we all ate a week!  We were led through a brilliant session on negotiating - so no haggling at my market stalls in the future!

On Thursday and Friday two events ran concurrently - the Chocolate Makers Forum and a Trade fair.  The trade fair covered two huge halls within the Beurs van Berlage - a very handsome early 20th century building in the heart of Amsterdam - originally built as home to the Stock Exchange.  As you walked into the Trade fair, you were met by a wonderful smell of cocoa - an earthy, slightly fruity and chocolatey aroma - and a buzz of conversation and exchange.  There were many west African growers represented - projects from Sierra Leone, Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon - brilliant to see as these are on the whole dominated by the large chocolate companies.  Companies also from East Africa - Uganda and Tanzania, including tree to bar makers.  Asia was also well represented - India, Philipines,and Vietnam.

It is a huge sector, but possibly also a small world - lots of greeting of old friends and colleagues, hearty discussions about bean variety, fermentation, sugar types and flavouring.   A couple of years ago, talk at such events was all about cocoa genetics; now it is 'post harvest' - the fermentation and drying processes that convert the raw cocoa bean into the commodity that is shipped, stored, roasted and ground into chocolate.  Lots of conversations about sustainability - the pros and cons of certification, the bottom line being how to ensure farmers are paid enough to keep them in cocoa, and attract young people into the industry.



One of the most exciting meetings for me was with Samuel Baruta - the founder of Marou - who it turns out has been to Aberfeldy!  Marou make the gorgeous Ben Tre couveture that Dewars have matched with their Aberfeldy Single Malt - so very sorry I did not happen to have a bottle at hand to present to Samuel!

What was amazing was the number of companies converting cocoa into chocolate in the country of origin - a trend that would see the value this adds staying in the cocoa growing countries - as well as skills developed, etc.  The chocolates were wonderful as well - my particular favourite a Vietnamese business VNCacao.


I had a fabulous chat about Indonesia cocoa with a chap who is setting out to source from Aceh, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Flores - it was great to catch up on how things have devoloped in the fine cocoa since my two visits there many years ago.

The big questions asked were mainly about sustainability; I am left with thoughts about integrity of supply chain, as well as are we at 'peak' single origin craft chocolate?  the trend does seem to be moving towards flavoured chocolates more.

And the event finished with a cocoa auction (I had to sit on my hands through that!) and then a rather surreal finale of an opera singer, accompanied by a harpist, singing arias she had matched to different chocolates.  This felt so very, well Dutch, really!


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