African cacao-producing country starts making top-quality chocolate

24th August 2018 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Cooperation between a South African and a British business has resulted in the establishment of the first-ever chocolate factory in the West African island state of São Tomé e Príncipe.

The enterprises are HBD Venture Capital (HBD standing for ‘Here Be Dragons’), an enterprise of South African entrepreneur and astronaut Mark Shuttleworth, and Coeur de Xocolat, a venture of British chef and master chocolatier David Greenwood-Haigh.

Cacao trees were first planted in São Tomé e Príncipe in 1822 and, by 1913, the islands were the world’s biggest producer of cacao. But, following independence, the cacao plantations were neglected (the collapse of world cacao prices during this time did not help). At no time was chocolate ever made on the islands.

In recent years, HBD has been investing in sustainable tourism on the island of Príncipe, setting up a small chain of hotels, and stimulating local agriculture. The revival of cacao production was an obvious focus. The historical circumstances meant that the island could produce high-quality, single origin, limited-yield, superior-grade cacao and that it would be done on land that had never had pesticides or other chemicals applied to it. This means that the island’s cacao production is naturally organic.

The resumption of commercial cacao production then created the possibility of making chocolate locally. “HBD invited me to visit the island to advise and train a team of locals to make chocolate on Príncipe for the first time, keeping as much of the value on the island as possible ([to] raise trade),” reported Greenwood-Haigh in his blog. “We discovered that Príncipe volcanic soil produces rich-tasting chocolate with flavour peaks of red and yellow fruits, [which] has a very intense and complex taste, rich in roasted cacao, and with lots of refreshing fruity notes, including apricot, red fruits [and] citrus.”

Coeur de Xocolat supplied a “chocolate factory in a box”, which is a shipping container that holds all the equipment necessary to set up a chocolate factory, and which is one of the services it provides. It also provided the requisite training, not least for key members of the local production team – the chocolate tasters. The chocolate factory will also be integrated into the tourism sector, with guided tours of the plantation and the factory, as well as chocolate tastings. The value of the investment has not been revealed, but its symbolic importance was evidenced by the fact that the graduates of the training programme were awarded their diplomas by the country’s President.

With the implementation of Phase 1 of the project, the facility can now produce natural cocoa powder, cocoa butter, cocoa vinegar, roasted cocoa nibs, and couverture (very high quality chocolate) ready for conversion into bars (by the process of tempering). All these products are organic. Phase 2 of the project is under development.

Coeur de Xocolat’s export activities are being actively supported by the UK Department for International Trade (DIT). “It’s an exciting time for the chocolate industry worldwide,” highlighted Greenwood-Haigh in the DIT media release. “Consumers are becoming more interested in premium chocolate, and are increasingly conscious of where their chocolate comes from. We’re now seeing a similar trend to the explosion of barista- made coffee, or how craft beer has taken off in the UK and abroad. It’s being coined as the dawn of craft chocolate! It’s creating a lot of opportunities overseas for me in my consultation work, and for corporate events too.”