Where to Buy Chocolate in Ghana: A Directory in Progress

Kingsbite for sale from a traffic vendor in Airport

It’s been just over a year since I moved to Accra, and since the publication of Cocoa, my book on industry politics. I’ve spent that time re-immersing in Ghana’s cocoa environment—a lot has changed since the last time I lived here, in 2005. For one thing, it’s not just about cocoa anymore: now, there is chocolate.

Until just a few years ago, the only domestic chocolate in Ghana was the suite of Golden Tree brands, whose most well known bar is the iconic milk chocolate Kingsbite. Today, there are at least a dozen chocolate makers and confectioners operating commercially, with more in early stages, and many more making other cocoa-based products, including for beauty and healthcare. Even as I write this, the inaugural meeting of the Cocoa & Artisanal Chocolate Association of Ghana is happening not far from where I live in Accra. There are enough cocoa and chocolate craftspeople and entrepreneurs here now to assert some collective power and shape the sector to their mutual benefit.

Greetings from Ghana chocolate bars and Ohene Cocoa products at Wild Gecko Handicrafts

After witnessing this new energy around chocolate, I started teaching a series called “Discover Chocolate”—three classes on cocoa and chocolate history, manufacture, politics, and more. I devote a class to Ghana, from its long and dedicated history of growing cocoa to its new chocolate. In Made in Ghana, as it’s called, we taste about a dozen locally made cocoa and chocolate products. One of the hardest things about prepping for that session is deciding what not to include in the tasting. There are now way more bars and confections than we can realistically taste in an hour!

Another challenge is procuring the chocolate and confections. There is not enough of a cool chain in Ghana to make distribution easy for any chocolate company, large or small, and it’s difficult to store chocolate here. I keep a lot of chocolate at home for classes, tastings, sharing with friends, and eating. I have a dedicated cool room where the air conditioning unit stays on all the time, at a temperature that keeps chocolate stable. Last week, I returned home from a ten-day trip abroad and discovered that, at some point, the air conditioner had failed. I’m not sure when it happened, but even if it had been just an hour before I walked in the door, the damage would have been done. It doesn’t take long in Accra’s 90 degree temperatures for chocolate to become a sticky glop. My bags and boxes and packages of it, which I cooled back down as soon as possible, are of course now all bloomed, and some are in funny post-melt shapes. For me, this is inconvenient and a little sad. If I was selling chocolate as my business, it would have been disastrous.

Maison Kwame chocolate bars and confections at Orchidea Flowers & Café

As such, chocolate makers and confectioners in Accra do not make a lot of stock available on retail shelves, and only in a few places that can keep the ambient temperature more or less constant. Instead, many fulfill orders on demand, with direct delivery or pickup service. With no central location for finding these chocolates, I decided to create a directory. Having taught my Made in Ghana class now several times, I’ve figured out where and how to buy most local chocolates and cocoa products, and have shared what I know below.

Retail spaces in Accra come and go, and stocks are not always consistent. This list is as current as I can make it for May 2019, and I will update it when I can. For this directory, I’ve only included edibles—I’ll tackle health and beauty products in a future post. So that you can find your favorite chocolate, or see what’s available where you shop, I’ve organized first by brand and then by retail location.

Enjoy your Made in Ghana chocolate!

Where to by chocolate: By brand

Chocolate aisle at Koala in Airport
Chocolate bars and confections in MaxMart 37

Where to buy chocolate: By location

  • Koala Supermarkets: Koala markets carry an extensive chocolate selection, including Niche, Cadbury, Mars, and Nestlé products.
  • MaxMart 37: One of Accra’s largest selections of international and domestic chocolate brands, including Golden Tree, Omama Royal, Niche, Green & Blacks, Waitrose, Ferrero, Cadbury, Mars, Belle France, Ritter Sport, Kinder, Nestlé, Toblerone, and more.
  • Mint Club: This fitness club at Meridian Apartments hosts a quarterly market, and several local cocoa and chocolate companies have a table there. Market schedule available on the Mint Club Facebook page.
  • Orchidea Flowers & Café: An elegant café serving chocolate cookies and cakes, as well as Maison Kwame bars and confections.
  • Shell filling stations: Pretty much every Shell station shop carries Golden Tree chocolate, and other brands too, including Niche.
  • Simply Healthy: Along with an excellent range of organic foods, this shop in Labone is the only place I know in Accra that sells Divine Chocolate and Seed & Bean.
  • Wild Gecko Handicrafts: One of the best places to shop for crafts in Accra, Wild Gecko carries Greetings from Ghana bars, Midunu confections (mixed box of 6), and Ohene Cocoa products. The Wild Gecko shop in Kotoka airport also has ’57 Chocolate (and Cocoa!)
  • W.E.B. DuBois Centre: On the first Saturday of every month, the DuBois Centre hosts a large craft and food market, and several local companies usually have a table there, including Bon Chocolat Ghana, Cocoaline, and Ohene Cocoa. There is a smaller market on third Saturdays. Ohene Cocoa has a table near the Sowgreen organic farm stand nearly every Saturday.
Orchidea Flowers & Café—lovely for enjoying chocolate & cake!

Transparency in Specialty Cocoa: An Intermediary’s View

twin logo

I was privileged to attend the FCCI Chocolate Conservatory last month, representing Twin & Twin Trading. Below is the post I wrote for Twin after our thought-provoking panel conversation on specialty cocoa trading.


In early October, I had the opportunity to represent Twin & Twin Trading at the inaugural Chocolate Conservatory, hosted by the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) at Harvard University. Carla Martin, the Founder and Executive Director of FCCI, asked me to participate on an expert panel entitled “Impact and business practice in specialty cacao.” My fellow panelists were Abel Fernandez, Export Manager for CONACADO producer organization in the Dominican Republic; Dr. Erica Caple James, who is researching Haitian cocoa in her faculty role at MIT; Jesse Last, Director of Sourcing & Strategic Initiatives for Taza Chocolate; Heriberto Paredes Urena, from Zorzal Cacao, also in the Dominican Republic; and Emily Stone, co-founder and CEO of Uncommon Cacao.

As you can see, we all work in different locations in the specialty cocoa industry. “Impact and business practice” was broad enough, however, for each of us to speak meaningfully about our work. I took the opportunity to talk about Twin Trading’s role as an intermediary in specialty cocoa, and to be transparent about its operations—including the value that Twin Trading brings, specifically as an intermediary.

“Transparent” now feels like a charged word. Perhaps it should be a neutral term, but at least in cocoa, being “transparent” has become almost a morally good act in itself. If companies are transparent—for example, by publishing reports on their sourcing practices, as both Taza Chocolate and Uncommon Cacao do—then that act of revealing business detail seems, already, a “good” deed. If a company is not transparent, then it may seem as if it has something to hide, and the lack of transparency is therefore, on its own, “bad.”

But being transparent as a trading partner in specialty cocoa poses a number of challenges, many of them to do with effective communication. What if the information that is necessary for transparency is confusing, or dull, or—worst of all—might even appear to show harm?

On our panel, Jesse Last spoke about the risk that information in transparency reports may be read out of context. Taza was the first company in what we sometimes call the craft chocolate sector to produce a transparency report, which has influenced what transparency looks like in specialty cocoa more broadly. The company has more experience than most when it comes to communicating honestly and effectively with interested readers. Jesse gave an example from a recent Taza transparency report, in which it might appear that one of Taza’s export partners had paid the farmers in its network a “low” price for their cocoa, compared to others.

However, within that context the price was quite high. Moreover, Taza’s price had the effect of putting upward pressure on the cocoa buying price in that area. This is a positive and noteworthy achievement, but it may not come across when readers are looking at a price chart.

Even the most motivated consumer may not spend time delving into the specifics of every specialty cocoa trade, to learn about context and to connect all the complex components. And that is OK—I am not suggesting that every person should spend her time doing this. I am suggesting that the complexity of trading, particularly when a goal is to support vulnerable producers, may not lend itself so easily to transparency.

Some parts of trading can seem tedious: tracking vessel schedules, making insurance decisions, calculating margins. Some parts are so complex, such as the mechanisms of price risk management, that it can be challenging to explain them at length, never mind in the brief space afforded by a transparency report.

There is also a popular idea that trading should be lean, minimal, and expeditious to give the best deal to smallholders. To put it another way, trading should involve as few “middle men” as possible, and that will help smallholders gain the most value from their crop.

But in fact, as Emily Stone put it, “middle women” in specialty cocoa add value. Trading is not so easy as picking up a phone and letting someone know you have specialty cocoa to sell. It involves an on-going, dedicated process of negotiation and relationship building, much of it conducted by intermediaries, whose goal is a sustainable business for all involved.

At Twin Trading, indeed it is a middle man—Matt Earlam, Head of Trading—who is responsible for drawing up cocoa contracts for the good of all parties. These contracts must serve, at minimum, smallholders, the producer organization, and the buyer, each with a different set of needs that must be met for the trade to work properly. And, of course, it must also serve Twin Trading, so that it can stay in business and continue this work. Negotiating that, especially when the goal is to generate stability and healthy returns for smallholders, takes commitment and talent. It is no exaggeration to say that specialty cocoa trading would not be happening on its current scale—and it certainly would not grow—were it not for such intermediaries.

The panel was very thought provoking, and I am grateful to the FCCI for creating a space for the conversation. Hopefully specialty cocoa traders can continue along this road to “transparency,” in a way that recognizes contributions and added value at every step, with nuance and engagement, and bringing caring consumers and other interested supporters along with us.

This post was first published by Twin & Twin Trading, November 9, 2018.

Cocoa: Women’s Business in the Dominican Republic

Earlier this autumn, I had a chance to visit the Dominican Republic, where I learned a great deal about women’s roles in cocoa and chocolate. When I returned, I wrote this post for Divine Chocolate USA, which had made a generous donation of chocolate and other fun products for me to share with the Women in Trade Association members, and cocoa and chocolate producer groups that I met. Enjoy the read, and keep an eye out for an upcoming post about transparency in specialty chocolate, following my recent panel talk at the inaugural Chocolate Conservatory, hosted by the FCCI at Harvard University.

Elsie Doñé of Cacao Mae, with a Divine bag at my “Branding for Success” talk for the Women in Trade Association, Santo Domingo

I had the privilege recently to spend ten days in the Dominican Republic, at the invitation of Exporta Calidad (Exporting Quality, a USDA-funded program managed by the International Executive Service Corps).

The purpose was to meet with cocoa producers and chocolate makers, advising on business strategy and marketing, and to better understand the gender aspects of the program. As soon as I arrived, we dove into field visits, driving all across the island to visit businesses that produce cocoa, or cocoa products, for local markets or for export.

Having done virtually all of my cocoa fieldwork in Africa, the first thing I noticed was that there is a local market for cocoa consumables. As a scholar, I have learned a lot about the cultural history of cocoa in this part of the world, where people have been making things to drink and eat out of cocoa fruit for centuries. But knowing something from books is different to experiencing it. I am used to Africa’s export-only markets, where most cocoa leaves the country as beans and there is little taste for cocoa. But in the DR, on our first visit of each day, we were greeted with a cup of hot chocolate, often spiced with cinnamon and cloves, and sometimes paired with bread: a typical breakfast. I spent time with many small businesses that made and sold las bolas de cacao (thick rolls of solid cocoa that are grated into hot water or milk), cocoa butter (often made dearly by boiling the cocoa, when the business did not own a press), cocoa powder, cocoa wine, and even a cocoa pulp marmalade. I had never seen cocoa put to so many uses, or enjoyed it in so many forms.

It took me a few days, however, to realize something else: that I was four or five visits in before I spoke with a man! In West Africa, the business of selling and exporting cocoa is very much a male endeavor. But in the DR, I was seeing women running cocoa businesses and in leadership roles at producer organizations, at least among the small ventures (at the large companies and major exporters, I did meet mostly with men). I asked Nilsy Delgado if this was also the case for the program that she runs for Exporta Calidad, oriental vegetables (so called not because they originated in Asia, but because they are exported to there). She said no. For those crops, women work in the packing plants and are often in charge of quality inspection, but the business leaders are mostly men.

I couldn’t say for sure why this is so, but I think it has something to do with the first point: that in the DR, cocoa drinks and so forth are things that people consume, every day, in their homes. They are part of the food culture. At several of the businesses, local customers dropped in during my visit, shopping for this or that. Women prepare cocoa for their own families to consume, so they are the ones who create businesses out of these products. There are definitely exceptions: near the end of my stay in the Dominican Republic, I met with a young man whose company was producing cocoa products and seeking to export them. Surely there are other local cocoa companies in the DR run by men, perhaps many of them. But at least on this visit, I saw cocoa products as women’s business.

On my last day in Santo Domingo, I gave a talk to the Exporta Calidad Women in Trade association, on branding for success. In my talk, I used Divine Chocolate as an example of a company that has made women’s work—and empowerment—in Ghana cocoa a part of its brand story. Divine has been able to communicate to chocolate lovers in a way that I have not seen any other company do, about the real women behind Ghana’s cocoa. Some of the women who attended my branding talk in Santo Domingo were the same cocoa business managers I had visited earlier in the week. I saw their heads nodding in recognition when I showed images of women from Kuapa Kokoo, which provides most cocoa for Divine Chocolate, working on their farms and sometimes even enjoying chocolate. The women who grow cocoa in Ghana may not make cocoa powder or butter, or serve their families cocoa drinks made from fruits that they harvest. But had I been presenting on Dominican cocoa and chocolate to an audience of women in Ghana (and maybe I will!), I believe that that audience too would have recognized their fellow businesswomen in the Dominican Republic, and seen their cocoa business affinity.

The world of cocoa is both small and infinite. Working in many different parts of this industry, I see similarities everywhere—and, often, the same people—and that makes it feel quite close. But the learning possibilities are endless. I am grateful to have spent time in a cocoa place that was totally new to me, but still to have felt kinship there, and to have taken another step on my lifelong journey in understanding the whys and the hows of chocolate. My grateful thanks to IESC, Exporta Calidad, Divine, and all the businesswomen and men who shared their time and experiences with me in the Dominican Republic.

This post first appeared at Divine Chocolate USA, Good Stuff: http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/good-stuff/news/2018/10/cocoa-women-s-business-dominican-republic

Sharing Gola Rainforest Chocolate: Part II

Chocolate tasting with the Gola Rainforest cocoa team; photo by Katie Sims. All photos below by Felicity Butler, second from left in back row.

When I took the role of cocoa marketer for Twin & Twin Trading, and began working with the Gola Rainforest cocoa producer organizations and others in Africa, I decided that I would host chocolate tastings for my colleagues. Having traded specialty coffee for the better part of three decades, Twin has an in-house coffee lab, where the quality control manager analyzes samples and hosts weekly cuppings for the coffee marketers and traders. Several of the staff are certified Q Graders, a program that has done a great deal to standardize coffee assessment methods and vocabulary to describe quality. But with no Q Grader equivalent for cocoa, and with Twin increasing the variety of cocoa origins it was trading, I thought that the time was right for dedicated chocolate trainings.

I developed a series of courses—Chocolate 101, 201, and 301—and held them at the London office last summer. We explored the bean to bar process, as well as chocolate types, the meaning of cocoa percentages, various origins, and even roast profiles. And, of course, we tasted bars to illustrate all of those.

It was just as important for the producers organizations I was working with in Africa to do chocolate tastings, so I began to think about how to make those happen. As I have discussed in my book, Cocoa, farmers and buyers—the most “upstream” people in the cocoa-chocolate supply chain—typically have little opportunity to engage with chocolate. Many growers I have spoken with over the years have described for me the metrics for assessing cocoa quality, including fermentation level, bean size and weight, insect damage, mold level, and so forth. But very, very few discuss flavor. If the members and staff of cocoa producer organizations could experience dedicated chocolate tastings, I felt they would better understand the flavor priorities of potential buyers. With that understanding, they would be in a stronger position to negotiate sales.

When we were doing the chocolate courses in London, one of the Twin staff members, Katie Sims, was preparing to spend a month in Sierra Leone, to assist with the Gola season review and to prepare for the prospective buyer visit from Greg at Dandelion and Gino at Meridian (Katie is now the Gola Rainforest cocoa project manager, based in Kenema). When Katie set off, I equipped her with a selection of craft chocolate bars (thanks to the range on offer at Cocoa Runners in London) and a flavor wheel or two. Katie led a tasting to introduce the Gola cocoa team to connoisseur methods and vocabulary, and to prepare them for conversations with Greg and Gino. When they arrived, Greg led another tasting. This was, of course, before the sale happened, so the Gola Rainforest bar did not yet exist; instead, the team tasted other Dandelion bars.

When I went back to Sierra Leone last month, for the end-of-season review and to share Dandelion’s now newly made Gola Rainforest chocolate bar, some of the team members had thus experienced two tastings. But in my opinion, there is always room for more chocolate.

Preparing for chocolate tasting with the Gola and Jula teams in Kenema

After our season review at Lalehun research center in the Gola Rainforest National Park, we returned to the town of Kenema and the Gola head office. There, the agricultural extension officers and cocoa buyers sat down with me for our chocolate tasting. The buyers and team leaders had, for the most part, participated in both Katie’s and Greg’s tasting sessions. Most of the agricultural extension officers had not, and nor had one of the farmer organization executives, who joined us.

Tasting chocolate is not the same as eating it. When I was growing up, I ate as much chocolate as I could, as fast as I could so that I could eat more. Tasting chocolate involves, among other things, slowing down the experience. When we slow down, we can taste flavor and experience texture more keenly.

Tasting chocolate involves letting it melt in your mouth. I’m emphasizing, “Don’t chew!”

I began by outlining the methodology that I like to use for chocolate tastings, which involves all the senses. We discussed looking at the chocolate, to observe the features of its molding (for example, patterns of pods or leaves, or a company name) and to inspect it for bloom or the shininess that indicates good temper. We smelled the chocolate to see if any particular scents came through, and rubbed it with our fingers to experience the moisturizing sensation of the cocoa butter. We snapped pieces in half next to our ears to listen to its temper. And then, of course we tasted.

Basic flavor wheel, with major categories often used to classify chocolate

One of the goals was to see what flavor notes we would identify in each bar. To make sure we were all using similar flavor categories, I drew a basic flavor wheel. After I wrote “chocolatey” as a base flavor word, I began to fill in quadrants of the wheel with other typical flavor categories. I wrote “earthy,” “fruity,” “nutty,” and then paused, momentarily blanking on the next category. Immediately, several of the cocoa buying offers chimed together, “Floral, it’s floral!” When I remarked that they had commanded connoisseur methods already, one buying officer said, smiling, “Greg taught us well.”

Prepared for tasting with palate-cleansing water and notebooks; note the Chocolopolis flavor wheel on Janneh’s laptop screen!

In addition to the Dandelion Gola bar (which of course we tasted again), we tasted other dark bars and a few milks and inclusions. My colleague from Twin, Felicity Butler, had brought bars from the UK, and I had brought several from Ghana, so we had an unusually large number of chocolates to taste—ten or eleven in all. After tasting each one, we discussed the flavor experience. We had a remarkable degree of consistency, with most everyone agreeing if a bar was, for example, nutty or floral. We also tasted several inclusion bars, including the Golden Tree Akuafo bar from Ghana, which is lemon-flavored. I have served the Akuafo bar at many tastings over the years and, as usual, there was the ardent love-it/hate-it split.

Listening for the well tempered snap

Looking at, tasting, and listening to chocolate

By the time we finished, it was well past lunch time. As we gathered up our things, we chatted about the chocolates and named our favorites. The winning comment came from Fodie Brima, the producer organization executive who had joined the tasting. For my whole life, I have felt that there could never be too much chocolate. But when I asked Fodie which type of chocolate he preferred, milk, dark, or inclusion, he replied, “I am tired.” Tired! After tasting so much chocolate, he explained, he had no room left to eat rice.

With Fodie Brima, GACFA chairman, who was tired of tasting chocolate


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Showing where the Gola Rainforest bar is for sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street factory; photo by Felicity Butler

Photos showing farmers their chocolate bar on sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street shop

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!

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.

Dandelion Gola Rainforest Chocolate! Photo by Felicity Butler

Aminata, Supervisor of Cocoa Extension Team & Gender Coordinator for Gola, shares Dandelion’s Gola chocolate with her colleague Janneh; photo by Felicity Butler

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.

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.

Team members from Twin & Gola, looking forward to the future of Gola Rainforest Cocoa!

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!”


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 . . .

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.

File Apr 01, 8 57 56 AM

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