Theobroma cacao, the plant from which cocoa is obtained to make chocolate, grows in areas between 20º north and 20º south of the Equator.
About 90% of the world’s cocoa is cultivated by smallholders, usually on farms with mixed cropping systems. The lion’s share of cocoa production (around 70%) is concentrated in West Africa, of which Côte d’Ivoire alone accounts for 40% of the world crop. However, the cocoa needed to produce fine chocolate does not typically come from West Africa, but mainly from South and Central America and a few African and Asian/Pacific countries.
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) states that just 6% of the cocoa in the world
can be considered “fine or flavour” cocoa, while the rest is “bulk” cocoa.
Differences between “bulk” and “fine or flavour” cocoa
• Bulk cocoas. Most of the world’s cocoa production is classified as ‘bulk’ cocoa. This does not imply cocoa of inferior quality, but that it has an ordinary, basic chocolate flavour, with no ancillary notes.
• Fine or Flavour cocoas. Even if there is no agreed definition for ‘fine’ or ‘flavour’ cocoas, these cocoas are purchased at a premium price for their exceptional flavour or colour. Fine or flavour cocoas have some ancillary flavours that can be described as fruity, floral, nutty, etc. and they are mainly used to make dark and dark milk chocolate in which their distinctive flavours are appreciated.
Fine or flavour cocoas are not traded as a commodity but have their own supply chains which preserve the identity of the individual lots and frequently allow for the purchaser to test the quality before delivery. The cocoas may originate from specific geographic origins, varieties, environment-friendly growing regimes or be purchased under schemes that directly benefit the growers. Prices depend on supply and demand for each type; average premiums start from about 20% rising to double or even triple the bulk cocoa bean prices.
Fine flavour cocoa production
ICCO currently recognizes the following 23 countries as fine flavour cocoa producers/exporters*
* = as reported by latest press release by ICCO in July 2016
According to the ICCO panel chair, the best way to achieve recognition as a fine flavour cocoa country is by winning awards such as the International Cocoa Awards (Cocoa of Excellence Program) or joining the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) Heirloom Cacao Preservation program. Both these programs, in fact, assess various attributes, including bitterness, total acidity and off-flavours.
Consumers influencing the demand of fine flavour cocoa on the market
The consumption of fine flavour cocoa declined from 40‒50% at the beginning of the 20th century to just over 5% per annum in recent times. At the start of this decline, consumer’s demand shifted away from solid products with higher cocoa percentages towards filled products (pralines) and mass-market chocolate bars produced by big corporations, containing considerably lower percentages of cocoa, often mixed with other ingredients providing flavours (such as nuts, fruits, cream, etc.). Only very recently has the demand for fine or flavour cocoa started to grow very rapidly, for reasons linked to increased consumer education. The current pattern in chocolate consumption has caused two main changes in the market:
• Big chocolate manufacturers started concentrating their efforts towards the development of new lines of premium chocolate, while previously relying only on the consistency in quality given by advanced equipment but mediocre-tasting cocoa.
• Small-medium “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers and artisans popping up first in industrialized countries and, in recent years, even in developing countries. These types of producers are particularly appreciated for the transparency in sourcing cocoa, the inclusion of rare cocoa origins in their production and the care in adapting their roasting to each region.
The chocolate consumer/enthusiast can contribute to this market by choosing their chocolate bar from "bean-to-bar" chocolate makers and artisans. This will allow the fine flavour and rare origin cocoa market to flourish and demonstrate an appreciation towards the producers who work so hard towards this end.
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