A special treat that this blog has been waiting for is my report from the chocolate museum in Cologne. On my trip to Germany (to visit chocri in Berlin) I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn and experience in the Cologne Museum. Since there's so much at the museum, I'll concentrate today on the cocoa part of chocolate
Let's start where it all begins. The chocolate museum is in a beautiful building just by the river Rhine, and they actually produce Lindt chocolate there. That has the positive effect that, when you enter, you are handed a piece of chocolate to start off with.
The museum then leads you through the history of a chocolate piece from cocoa tree to the wrapper machine -very informative, and also very interactive. Everywhere there's something to open or play with - or maybe I just followed the kids route too much ;-)
First Stop: The Cocoa Tree
The first thing I learned about the cocoa tree is that it is a diva. It takes its time until its ready to bear fruit - up to eight years, and then it bears both flowers and fruit on to the trunk or lower thick branches - as if to say "stay away! they're mine!". Well, granted, cocoa is called "the food of gods" in its Latin plant name. The cocoa tree also has very strict requirements when it comes to temperature and precipitation. And did you know that the cocoa tree is distantly related to the rose? (sounds like some candied rose petal on chocolate to me!)
The museum even had two live cocoa trees in a temperature controlled room.
Second Stop: The Cocoa Harvest and Preparation
If the cocoa farmer is lucky and the tree diva is kind, a tree yields ripe fruit throughout the year. But the cocoa fruit requires between four to seven months to ripen -compare that to your neighborhood apple! The cocoa fruit is removed from the tree by hand or stick, and carried to a collection point with baskets. There, they are sorted and unsuitable fruits are discarded. The remaining ones are prized open and the cocoa beans, which have been hiding inside, are thus collected. A very important step in the process of preparation follows: The fermentation. The cocoa beans and the fruit mush are heated up, ferment, and then are dried, a process during which they lose around half of their weight. Imagine the beans lying flat out in the sun, continually stirred and sorted by the farmers. This is when the intense cocoa flavor develops, and the different types of cocoa are starting to distinguish.
Third Stop: Cocoa Regions and Farmers
The museum did a great job portraying the people who grow and harvest the cocoa trees. Did you know that 75% of all cocoa farmers have never tried chocolate?
There's approximately as many cocoa farmers in the world as Chicago has inhabitants. Cocoa cultivation is limited to a few regions in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania due to the demanding nature of the cocoa tree. The biggest exporter of cocoa beans is the Ivory Coast, where more than a quarter of the world's cocoa beans are produced.
The living and working conditions differ greatly from country to country. Often, farmers are paid in bonus systems, which means that children regularly work as well. That is why there's "fair trade" cocoa products. Here, the farmers are paid a fair price for their product, which enables better living and working conditions and allows the children to go to school.
chocri only uses fair trade (and organic) chocolate for its chocolate bars. Also, we cooperate with DIV Kinder, an organization that helps and protects children of the Ivory Coast. 1% of every chocolate bar purchased goes directly to the children of the Ivory Coast.
Tune back in next week for a walk through the museum's chocolate production.