Sharing Gola Rainforest Chocolate: Part I

As a scholar of cocoa and chocolate, it is not often that I get involved on the trading side. But since early last year, I have been working with the UK-based organization Twin & Twin Trading, whose vision is development through trade, facilitating specialty chocolate market access for cocoa farmer associations in Africa. That means I help farmer groups to promote and sell their cocoa to specialty buyers—who may be paying premium prices for quality, and who may make these farmer groups visible to chocolate shoppers by putting their names on single origin bars.

Apart from Madagascar bars, it is relatively rare in the US to find specialty, single origin chocolate that uses African cocoa, at least compared with bars that use cocoa from Central or South America, or the Caribbean. I started writing about the invisibility of West African cocoa in premium chocolate some years ago; little did I think at the time that I would be part of a team helping to promote the region to specialty buyers.

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Gola’s warehouse manager, Vandi, scoops up a handful of cocoa beans to assess them

But one container at a time, that’s what we have been doing, starting with Gola Rainforest cocoa producer organizations in Sierra Leone. With assistance from Twin and other partners, farmers in four chiefdoms on the edge of the Gola Rainforest National Park have organized into three associations to sell their cocoa: Malema chiefdom, Gaura chiefdom, and Tunkia and Koya chiefdoms, which, being a bit smaller than the others, joined together to sell their cocoa. Together, these farmer associations are working to conserve the Gola Rainforest, which is home to many threatened and endemic species, including the elusive pygmy hippo, and to strengthen their cocoa business practices.

Twin and its partners in Sierra Leone have been working for several years with these farmer associations to provide agricultural training, and to support best practices around cocoa harvest, fermentation, drying, and storage. My role has involved building capacity for farmer associations and the Gola staff around marketing, so that they can strategize from an informed position when negotiating with buyers.

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Vandi with bags of cocoa at the warehouse awaiting shipment

When I started this work, bags of cocoa were sitting in the Gola warehouse in Kenema. Knowing we had superior quality cocoa and a unique opportunity to launch Sierra Leone onto the specialty cocoa map, we aimed high—the first container, the team agreed, should be pitched to the US craft market. To the best of our knowledge, no craft maker in the US had produced a single origin specialty chocolate bar from Sierra Leone before. As confident as I felt in the cocoa, though, I wasn’t sure if any of them would be willing to consider it. In my work over the past fifteen years, I have found that, apart from a very few exceptions (such as John Kehoe and Gary Guittard at Guittard Chocolate, or the folks at Tcho Chocolate), people are generally dismissive, wary, or simply uninterested in West African cocoa for any kind of premium product.

But some people in the chocolate industry are starting to think—and act—differently when it comes to African origins, and especially West Africa. In our conversations about Gola cocoa, these individuals spoke with humility, recognizing that they had a lot to learn about West Africa’s vast cocoa farming systems, and they were eager to begin. Among them were Greg D’Alesandre, who sources for Dandelion Chocolate, and Gino Dalla Gasperina, who founded Meridian Cacao Company. I had a lot to learn from them, too—and all of us had something to learn from the people growing the cocoa and the Gola staff who work with those farmers. Greg and Gino decided to visit Sierra Leone, to see the farms, learn about the  trainings, and discuss priorities and visions with the Gola team, as buyers and sellers of cocoa.

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Photo with Greg (Dandelion Chocolate), Gino (Meridian Cacao), and the Gola team, on the wall at the Gola Rainforest Lalehun research center, where we held the season review last week

And then Greg made the decision to buy the cocoa, which meant Dandelion would make the first ever Gola Rainforest Chocolate bar! Will you forgive me for saying how very proud I am, how even now I have tears and goosebumps, remembering the collective effort it took, and from my gratitude to everyone for working with such dedication and tirelessness, such faith in Gola cocoa? So many people gave this their all, from the cocoa farmers through the Gola buying officers, the agricultural extension team at Jula Consultancy, the trading team at Twin, and right up to Ron Sweetser at Dandelion, who developed the profile for the bar—and, by doing so with enormous care and love, showed everyone just what Sierra Leone Gola Rainforest cocoa can do as a single origin craft chocolate bar.

I will leave it to others to give their assessment of the chocolate, as my own (five star) review of the (most profoundly chocolate) bar (I have ever tasted) will necessarily sound biased at this point. But if you are one of those people who likes chocolate, I do think the Gola Rainforest bar might be one that pleases you (so much that you buy out all the stock in your local shop and eat it for breakfast and create fashion accessories out of the wrappers).

Greg and the team at Dandelion took the first opportunity to share the chocolate with the women and men who had grown the cocoa. The three Gola Rainforest cocoa farmer associations held their season review last week, and I traveled to Sierra Leone to participate. Part of the work was to celebrate the successes of last season, and part of it was to strategize for the coming season. For this, I led a session on chocolate markets, outlining the different categories of chocolate and what advantages and disadvantages there would be to selling into each value chain.

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Presenting to Gola cocoa farmer associations, while business manager Yambasu translates into Mende; photo by Felicity Butler

We talked too about the relationship between Gola and Dandelion, and with other potential buyers, and what they had discussed with Greg and Gino when they visited. I showed maps to chart the journey the Gola cocoa had taken once it left Sierra Leone, and photos of Dandelion’s Valencia Street factory, so that the farmers could see where it was manufactured into chocolate.

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Showing where the Gola Rainforest bar is for sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street factory; photo by Felicity Butler
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Photos showing farmers their chocolate bar on sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street shop
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Admiring the Dandelion Chocolate bar wrapper, which says “Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone”; photo by Felicity Butler

Staff members had taken turns translating my talk into Mende. But when I said that theirs was the first specialty chocolate bar from Sierra Leone in the US craft market, no translation was needed—the cheers and smiles were immediate!

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Celebrating Gola’s success at the season review meeting; photo by Björn Horvath

 

Then it was time to share the Dandelion Gola Rainforest chocolate bar.

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Dandelion Gola Rainforest Chocolate! Photo by Felicity Butler
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Aminata, Supervisor of Cocoa Extension Team & Gender Coordinator for Gola, shares Dandelion’s Gola chocolate with her colleague Janneh; photo by Felicity Butler
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Mohamed Fofanah, Managing Director of Jula Consultancy, tastes Dandelion chocolate; photo by Björn Horvath

So much of my teaching, research, and writing has been about the negative stereotypes that persist about Africa, and how these damage or undermine so many possibilities for real, material change. Superior cocoa grows in Sierra Leone, and farmers work hard to cultivate and process it. It is not easy to swim against the tide of negative stories about Sierra Leone and indeed all of West Africa. But this is necessary work.

Do the people who work so hard every day to grow excellent cocoa, and who buy and haul and store it, who steward it until it sails away on a container ship—do they not deserve to have their experiences, their labor, their cocoa recognized and esteemed? We all want to be seen, and for our work to be valued.

I think that even more than when they tasted the chocolate, when the farmers, buying officers, and agricultural extension staff saw the words “Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone” on the Dandelion bar wrapper, they felt what they had achieved. I saw people’s faces light up with pride. I hope that there is more of the same to come.

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Madame Jebbe, Women’s Leader of the Gaura Cocoa Farmers’ Association; photo by Felicity Butler

It is my privilege and joy to work with the farmers and association executives in Gaura, Malema, Tunkia, and Koya chiefdoms; with the staff (especially Björn Horvath and Katie Sims in Kenema) at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which has worked for decades to conserve and protect the Gola Rainforest and whose idea it was to start a cocoa business in the forest edge communities in the first place; my excellent colleagues at Twin & Twin Trading (especially Hannah Davis, who managed Twin’s contributions from the start, and Deborah Bickler, who kept us all going); Gino at Meridian Cacao, who has been generously helping to build capacity and cocoa expertise for both Twin and Gola; and, of course, Greg and the team at Dandelion Chocolate. Thank you for bringing Gola Rainforest Chocolate into the world.

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Team members from Twin & Gola, looking forward to the future of Gola Rainforest Cocoa!
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Cocoa’s recent price rise

On Friday evening last week, we had a remarkable moment of technological globalization in my Accra home–what students who have taken my Globalization class at UW Bothell might recognize as an example of time-space compression. I was sitting upstairs here at my desk, speaking on the phone to Joe Weisenthal at Bloomberg Television in New York. Downstairs, my partner was watching the program “What’d You Miss?” on Bloomberg, and listening to me speak on the segment, “What’s behind the surge in cocoa prices?” The sound signals of the conversation between me and Joe bounced back and forth between Ghana and the US, and when they arrived on our television screen here, they were accompanied by images of me, my new book, Cocoa, price graphics, farms, and factories.

I decided to extend the information loop once again and write a post recapping my explanation of cocoa’s recent price rise for “What’d You Miss?”, and give an update on what’s happened between Friday and today. In just a few days, there is more to add to the story.

When I was putting the final touches on my Cocoa manuscript last year, the ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics forecast a surplus for the 2016-17 cocoa season, which turned out to be correct. To understand why we had a surplus (which means that the total amount of cocoa grown that season was more than was needed for grindings during the same period), we need to look back at what was happening the year before.

About halfway through 2016, an El Niño cycle came to an end. El Niño cycles alternate with La Niña cycles; El Niño is the “warm” cycle and La Niña is the “cool” cycle. As climate change makes El Niño cycles harsher, that translates into drought conditions here in West Africa.

Cocoa needs rainfall to flourish. During the most recent El Niño cycle, drought conditions in Ivory Coast and Ghana meant that the world’s two largest producers were not supplying as much cocoa as usual. This shortened supply had kept cocoa’s price pretty high for several years, above $3000 per metric tonne. Cocoa’s price remained high even as world market prices for other food commodities fell (not to mention the price of oil, which lost 50% or more after 2014).

But then the El Niño cycle ended, and favorable conditions for growing cocoa returned in West Africa. Trees produced more fruit, more cocoa was loaded onto container ships in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and a surplus loomed. This newly heightened supply happened to coincide with a weaker-than-expected demand for chocolate (as measured through the proxy of cocoa grindings). These two conditions–abundant supply, low(er) demand–have only one price outcome: a fall.

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Price in US dollars per MT; I created the chart using ICCO monthly cocoa averages

By the end of 2016, cocoa’s price had lost about a third of its value. For the next year, it hovered around $2000 per metric tonne. With no immediate end in sight to the abundant supply, it was hard to predict when cocoa’s price might rise again.

But starting in January 2018, conditions changed. Though we are not in an El Niño cycle now (although we may enter one again before the end of the year), there were unusually dry conditions in West Africa for a few months. This meant we were looking once again at a potentially straightened supply scenario. As I mentioned last Friday on Bloomberg’s “What’d you miss?”, in the past few weeks there have been periods of heavy rain in Ivory Coast. We have had intermittent rainfall here in Accra, but nothing unusual or damaging. However, in Ivory Coast, far from welcoming the rains during a very dry period, there was concern that the heavy rains might have damaged the delicate cocoa flowers and baby pods, or cherelles, that are now on the trees. These flowers and cherelles will mature for the mid-season crop later this year. While much smaller than the main season crop, which is harvested from about October through March, mid-season crop volume is still large enough to impact price. The possibility of a smaller-than-anticipated mid-season crop put upward pressure on cocoa’s price.

Once again, there was a coincidence with change in demand. In the past week or so, the major processors released their grindings figures for the first quarter of 2018. Because we can’t exactly measure how much chocolate everyone in the world wants to eat, we use cocoa grindings–or the “grinding” down of cocoa beans into liquor, butter, and powder–as a proxy for chocolate demand. For decades, The Netherlands had the world’s largest capacity for grinding cocoa beans, with other countries in Europe (including Germany) also grinding large amounts. Recently, Ivory Coast has expanded its grinding capacity, so much so that now it sometimes surpasses The Netherlands for the position of world’s largest cocoa processor. Because both are processing so much cocoa and can therefore give a sense of chocolate demand, grindings figures from Europe and Ivory Coast can have an impact on cocoa’s price.

First quarter grindings in Europe were 5.5% higher than in the first quarter of 2017; grindings in Ivory Coast were 2% higher than the same period last year. North America’s grindings were actually a little lower than in the first quarter of 2017. But that weaker demand signal was not enough to counter the impact of the higher-than-expected grindings rates from Europe and Ivory Coast. Now, the supply-demand scenario had flipped from 2016: predictions of a lower supply, and a surprisingly high demand. This means that cocoa’s price rose.

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Price in US dollars per MT; I created the chart using ICCO monthly cocoa averages

Because we are not yet finished with April, the ICCO price average for this month is not available. But the daily price has continued to rise, edging above $2800 per metric tonne. Yesterday, April 24, New York futures were at $2821. This is still not as high as we saw during the most recent El Niño cycle, but it is starting to look close.

That was what I could report on Friday for “What’d You Miss?” on Bloomberg. In the few days since, the story has changed again. Last week, I was reading articles about how Ivory Coast’s rainfall was potentially damaging the mid-season cocoa crop; this week, the articles are all about how the helpful rainfall across West Africa is boosting mid-crop predictions.

In fact, the conditions are looking so favorable that Ivory Coast, at least, is fearful of another surplus and, with it, the inevitable price plunge. The Conseil du Cafe-Cacao, which regulates cocoa and coffee in Ivory Coast, announced that it will suspend its program to help cocoa farmers increase their yields (mainly by distributing high-yield seedlings). We can see from this zig-zag in the cocoa supply news that what we are really dealing with is people’s interpretations of events and subsequent predictions. No one knows whether the mid-season crop will be higher or lower than anticipated. Maybe the rain hurt the flowers; maybe the rain will prove a boon to supply. Every day we get more information and that can help to refine predictions, but the whole thing is pretty much a guessing game.

Where will the price will go from here? I wouldn’t venture a guess right now. The signals are too mixed for me to predict with confidence … although perhaps that is why I am a scholar and not a commodities trader. I like to analyze the signals, not to bet on them!

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Watch my segment, “What’s behind the surge in cocoa prices?” on Bloomberg’s “What’d you miss?”

Read more about cocoa’s price in my new book, Cocoa (Cambridge: Polity, 2018)

What I learned from my Cocoa book tour

Greetings to all from Accra! I am settling in here after my US Cocoa book tour, and feel so happy to be back. We’re planning to stay here for several years, which is plenty of time for me to conduct a new research project, addressing questions that have lingered in my mind from previous fieldwork.

UW Bothell IAS Professor Kristy Leissle at a signing for her book Coca
At my US Cocoa book launch, University Bookstore, Seattle, photo by Marc Studer

As I get that work underway, I have realized that far from being “complete,” there is so much still to learn from my experience publishing Cocoa. Since I started researching chocolate about fifteen years ago, I have always felt that it was important to reach diverse audiences, and sought opportunities to meet and talk with people in many different roles in the industry, from cocoa farmers to chocolate shoppers. What I learned is that we all have a partial picture of the whole. The reality of cocoa and chocolate is so different, depending on where anyone of us is sitting, and perhaps no one can truly comprehend all the diverse meanings and impacts these goods, culturally, economically, politically, and otherwise.

But … some things are pretty obvious. One is the wide gulf between the people who benefit the most in this industry, who have the most power and privilege, and those who benefit the least, who live and work in vulnerable, oppressive, and marginal circumstances. Encouraging people to bridge that gulf became one of my goals for Cocoa. I hope that when a reader picks up the book, no matter what their experiences may be with cocoa and chocolate, they will learn that other people in this industry may have very different priorities, influence, or opportunities than they do. Maybe they will learn that others are a lot like them, too.

When James Field asked me to distill the central message of the book, in an interview for the Geographical Society “I’m a Geographer” column (Field also published a review of Cocoa for the Geographical magazine), I told him that it was empathy. I encourage every reader to see this industry through someone else’s eyes, and to acknowledge, accept, and respect there are other “truths” to know. This requires that we not be fundamentalist: no matter how much we think we know, nobody knows it all. We all make mistakes. No one person’s experiences tell the whole story, and there is always more to learn.

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The event at A Cappella Books in Atlanta was a highlight of my book tour

If you are in a privileged position in this industry, this might be a challenging thing to do, because it will mean recognizing that other people who are less “successful” might actually know more than you, and might have better insight into how to effect change. I recently spoke at the Chocoa conference in Amsterdam. While sitting in on another panel presentation, I was stunned to hear a representative of one of the largest chocolate companies say that he and his peers in the industry had “no idea” what to do about cocoa’s low price. No idea! Given the vast collective experience of the large companies, which sometimes do suggest that they have a “solution” to the problems of the cocoa world, this was an extraordinarily disingenuous thing to say. To me, that response didn’t really mean that the individual and his peers don’t “know” what to do about price. What it meant was that they are not willing to admit to the reality of those who suffer the most from the pittance we pay for cocoa, to see things from their point of view.

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At the Chocoa conference bookstore, Amsterdam

I hope that Cocoa will offer something meaningful for people who are open to learning, and to being empathetic. The response has been encouraging so far. I recently gave an interview with Megan Thompson for PBS NewsHour, and was thrilled to see this post by Dr. Duru appear shortly afterwards on Investing.com. When I was writing Cocoa, I shared a draft of the section on futures trading with Matt Earlam at Twin Trading, who had previously worked with Anthony Ward. Matt gave me some invaluable feedback, which was that I needed to write in a way that would actually engage Anthony Ward, and hedgers and speculators more generally, and not shut them out. I have done my best since then to be mindful of how I speak, to remember my goal of encouraging empathy. So I was moved by the fact that Dr. Duru, who recently sold all his cocoa futures contracts, watched my PBS interview and found something compelling in my comments about farmers’ low remuneration. To be clear, Dr. Duru didn’t sell his contracts because of my book; he sold them because he believes that cocoa’s price has topped out, at least for the time being. But that he listened, and learned something about a farmer’s reality, felt like a success to me.

I feel grateful to be able to say that my book tour was a success on many measures–eight events in eight US cities, many of them full to capacity, with audiences that included family, friends, adults, children, colleagues, researchers, scholars, writers, chocolate makers, chocolate lovers, marketers, retailers, entrepreneurs, food enthusiasts, and even aspiring politicians. That all these different people came to hear about cocoa politics, and engaged with such warmth and openness and enthusiasm with me, and one another, shows that the world is already full of empathy. But it can do with even more.

I hope that Cocoa will reveal something new to everyone who chooses to spend their time reading it. I thank all those who have welcomed what it has to say, and I truly look forward to continuing the conversation with you.

Selected Press
PBS NewsHour with Megan Thompson
Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio
I’m a Geographer by James Field, Geographical
The Six Fifty by Emily Olson

Cocoa Reviews
Financial Times by Peter Chapman
Geographical by James Field

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Final stop on my US Cocoa book tour: Word Bookstore in Brooklyn (where I was born)

Cocoa events – US tour starts soon

I have been having a fantastic time here in the UK and Europe promoting Cocoa, my new book on geopolitics and more. It has been a full month, with an event every week.

On February 1, I had my book launch in London at the Chocolate Museum. There was a great turnout, which always feels good, and I was honored to have remarks by Sophi Tranchell, Managing Director at Divine Chocolate, who has known me as a researcher since my first fieldwork in Ghana. Tomas and Maria at the Chocolate Museum hosted me with real warmth and enthusiasm for chocolate education, and Erik Houlihan-Jong was a superstar for leading a tasting of Divine chocolate.

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Cocoa and chocolate ready for my book launch at the Chocolate Museum

Next up was an event at St. Edmund Hall, my old college at Oxford. I gave a talk about Cocoa and led a chocolate tasting in the Old Dining Hall, where I had attended many events as a student. It was an honor and a pleasure to be back at the Hall, hosting an event of my own.

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Old Dining Hall, Teddy Hall, all set up for my Cocoa book event

The following week, I returned to Oxford to give a talk at the Conservation & Development brown-bag lunch series at the School of Geography and the Environment, at the invitation of Alex Morel, Connie McDermott, and Mark Hirons. I decided to present my very early thinking about my next project, on chocolate marketing, and was grateful for the lively and thought-provoking discussion that followed. I also took the opportunity after the brown bag to walk over to Blackwell’s bookstore and sign copies of Cocoa. It was a life highlight! As a student at Oxford, I had spent hours in the vast Norrington Room downstairs at Blackwells, browsing the shelves. I promised myself all those years ago that one day *I* would have a book on a shelf in the Norrington Room, and it was very moving to realize that dream.

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Signing copies of Cocoa in the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s in Oxford

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After that, I packed my bags for a few days in Amsterdam at the Chocoa conference. On Friday, I spoke on a talk-show style panel about my work with Twin & Twin Trading, helping to link Gola Rainforest cocoa producer organizations with specialty markets. Earlier in the week, I had thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the Amsterdam port, largest in the world for cocoa, and one of the enormous warehouses. We saw no less than 3000 MT of cocoa piled up into a mountain and of course I waded through. When I got back to my guesthouse that night and took off my boots, so many beans rolled out onto the floor! Though I have long studied the commodity trade, my firsthand experience with cocoa trading and chocolate manufacture is typically in the specialty segment, which operates on a relatively small scale. It was an eye-opener to witness the scale of the bulk bean industry up close.

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With a mountain of cocoa beans at an Amsterdam warehouse

And now I am back in Hertfordshire, packing up the house in preparation for my move to Ghana. All our possessions will set sail on a cargo ship in just a week, but before I follow my belongings (and partner!) to Accra, I will have a few weeks in the US to promote Cocoa on the west and east coasts. If you are in any of the cities below, I certainly hope to see you there.

Upcoming US events for Cocoa

US launch!
SEATTLE
7 March, 7pm

University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
with Divine Chocolate & Guittard Chocolate tastings

SAN FRANCISCO
8 March, 6:30pm
Omnivore Books on Food
3885a Cesar Chavez Street
San Francisco, CA 94131
with Guittard Chocolate tasting

PALO ALTO
9 March, 7pm

The Chocolate Garage
Register here for this event
with Dandelion Chocolate tasting

PORTLAND
12 March, 7:30pm

Powell’s Books on Hawthorne
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97214
with Dandelion Chocolate tasting

ATLANTA
13 March, 7pm
A Cappella Books
208 Haralson Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
with Divine Chocolate tasting

ROSWELL
14 March, 6pm
(following regional FCIA meeting)
CocoaTown
108 Oak Street, Suite B
Roswell, Georgia 30075
with chocolate tastings

BOSTON – NEW VENUE!
15 March, 7pm
Taza Chocolate
561 Windsor Street
Somerville MA 02143

A very speedy recovery to Trident Booksellers
https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2018/03/01/trident-booksellers-temporarily-closed-after-fire/wjLiVESjgfpxWZm4pEQpXM/story.html

BROOKLYN
18 March, 4pm

Word Bookstore
126 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
with Divine Chocolate tasting

Cocoa book launch! UK & US events

cocoa cover

Some time back, I made the decision to put my blog and some other regular writing on hiatus while I worked on another project that was important to me: Cocoa, my book on the geopolitics of the cocoa and chocolate industries, for the Polity “Resources” series. It took me two full years to go from proposal to publication—a gratifying process, and one that required nearly all of my professional energy and dedication.

And now … voila! Cocoa will be released in just a few days in the UK, on February 2, and in the US on March 9. If you would like to pre-order, please take advantage of the 50% discount generously made available by Polity: enter code PY928 at checkout when ordering directly from Wiley.

One of the nicest parts about finishing Cocoa is, of course, that I can now share it with audiences. Below is a list of author events that I have upcoming in the UK and US. I will add further events soon for Accra, where I am relocating shortly from Hertfordshire. Later in 2018, I will have additional events in the US and UK.

I hope to see you at an event soon. Please note that while not all tastings are noted here, there WILL be chocolate all events!

1 February, 7pm: Launch event!
Chocolate Museum, London
in partnership with Divine Chocolate

6 February, 6:30pm
St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, Oxford
with a tasting of Divine Chocolate

7 March, 7pm
University Bookstore, Seattle

8 March, 6:30pm
Omnivore Books on Food, San Francisco

9 March, 6pm
The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto

12 March, 7:30pm
Powell’s, Portland

15 March, 7pm
Trident Booksellers, Boston
in partnership with Taza Chocolate

March 18, time TB
Word Bookstore, Brooklyn

A month and more of chocolate

 

Somehow, even though Valentine’s Day is just one chocolate-focused day in the year, the number of “chocolate engagements” (so to speak) around that holiday seems to reproduce and multiply to fill a whole month or more. This year was no exception, and I spent February and indeed March very busy with chocolate.

Everything was a highlight! My dear friend and chocolate colleague, Bill Fredericks, also known as Chocolate Man, and I were invited back to give a second talk and tasting event for The Whole U. The Whole U is UW’s initiative to “foster community, promote holistic wellness, and share the great perks available to UW faculty and staff,” which I guess makes Bill and me a “great perk!”

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Photos courtesy of Quinn Russell Brown, The Whole U

Last year, we began our talk for The Whole U in the Hub on Seattle campus. We had just reached the chocolate tasting portion when the fire alarm went off! Bill and I looked at each other incredulously, and then everyone leapt up to grab all the chocolate and file out of the building. With our hundred or so attendees, we gathered outside in the rain, everyone sheltering their small paper cups full of chocolate from getting soaked. It was comical to stand there in the downpour, with people crowding around us to ask which chocolate was which, and what flavor notes they could expect from each. Eventually, we were allowed back inside to gather up our things, and learned that the alarm had been set off by a burnt bag of popcorn in a microwave . . .

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Photo courtesy of Quinn Russell Brown, The Whole U

This year, we returned, triumphant, to complete the whole talk and tasting with no building evacuation. It was a very enjoyable event!

I returned to Seattle campus the following week to give another talk, this time solo, for the UW Libraries InForum series. I had been truly delighted to receive an invitation to present to this regular gathering of UW librarians. I have been part of UW, as a grad student and as faculty, since 2001. Over nearly sixteen years, the UW library system has felt like nothing so much as a friend—both the vast collection of books (which I love), and the talented, generous librarians themselves. It has been a great source of comfort to me over the years to know that literally any piece of information I wanted, for research or even leisure reading, I could find at UW libraries. I certainly would not have accomplished the research and scholarship that I have without them, so it was a real pleasure to give back in even a small way and host a research talk for the librarians group.

My event, “From Tree to Taste: A Journey from Cocoa to Chocolate,” included a tasting component. I must once again laud the librarians who attended for their diligence in sorting the “data” that I provided on their plates, and for their excellent forbearance as I made them wait to taste that “data,” as I explicated the many features of the chocolate trade.

In addition to the talks, I also appeared on two NPR affiliate radio broadcasts. I always enjoy doing radio interviews, and I particularly appreciated the insightful questions of both my recent interviewers. For KUOW’s Local Wonder program, I spoke with Ruby de Luna to answer the listener question, “Why does Seattle have such a large local chocolate industry?” For KCUR, of Kansas City, MO, I appeared on Suzanne Hogan’s segment, “For a Missouri ‘bean to bar’ chocolate maker, it’s not just about the candy.

In addition to my book manuscript work, I had two other writing opportunities around Valentine’s Day. As I wrote in my last post, it was my great pleasure to contribute a guest post for San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate blog. The tireless and talented Molly Gore solicited and brilliantly edited my post, for which I am so grateful. “Why I teach my students about chocolate” is about my pioneering UW Bothell class—the first university class in the country devoted entirely to chocolate.

I also collaborated with Curtis Vreeland, confectionary industry expert and principal of Vreeland & Associates, to write an article on “artisanry” in the craft chocolate industry, which is due out shortly. I look forward to sharing that piece just as soon as it is published.

And then, after all that, I went on holiday! I was very glad to have time with my family in New York and also with my boyfriend’s family in South Africa. I arrived back in the US on Monday, and dove straight back into chocolate work. From San Francisco airport, I drove up to Moshin Vineyards in Sonoma County, where I hosted an absolutely delightful wine and chocolate pairing event. Somehow the jet lag had not yet hit after 36+ straight hours of travel from Cape Town, and it was a real pleasure to talk and taste chocolate (including Dandelion Madagascar, Dick Taylor Madagascar, and Trader Joe’s Ecuador) with the guests.

The pairing event kicked off my week here in Sonoma, as writer-in-residence at Moshin Vineyards. My grateful thanks to Marcy Gordon and Writing Between the Vines for supporting this extremely productive, rejuvenating time here at the vineyard. I have been hard at work on a processing chapter for my book Cocoa, for Polity Press. It is further along than I had even hoped it would be. I feel so fortunate to have spent a week focused completely on writing in such a stunning and peaceful environment.

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Finally, my thanks to Julia Lander for re-integrating me into the world of human conversation yesterday evening, after my week of solitude with words, and the exceptional tasting of Moshin wines! Till next time, happy spring to all.

 

 

Why I teach my students about chocolate: My guest blog for Dandelion

This week, I wrote a guest blog post for Dandelion Chocolate. The topic is my UW Bothell class Chocolate: A Global Inquiry. When I started teaching it in 2010, it was the first university class in the country (maybe world?) devoted entirely to chocolate.

Enjoy, and thank you, Dandelion, for the opportunity to write for your blog!

Read my guest blog post here: “Why I teach my students about chocolate