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Nov 12, 2011

When not to buy beans…

We’ve been churning through our supply of cacao and we’re almost out of a few of our origins. That, by itself, isn’t a problem as we always like trying new beans and looking for great flavors. While looking for beans, we got a sample of beans from Ghana. We roasted them up, put them in our sample molds, and tasted them. They were delicious and aromatic, with flavors like clove and cinnamon that reminded us of a Christmas cookie.

We called the broker who sent us the sample to ask him some questions about the beans and where they came from. Unfortunately, the more we learned the more concerns we had about them. They are “conventional” (no certifications) which can be ok if you know how the beans are grown. The big problem, though, is that the beans aren’t traceable beyond the Ghana Cocoa Board. The Cocobod, as it’s called, fixes the price for most cacao produced by Ghana, in theory to protect the farmers from volatile prices. This creates a couple of a challenges though. First, there’s nothing to stop the Cocobod from setting the price arbitrarily low and keeping the difference between the world market price and the artificially low price for themselves. In fact, that’s happened numerous times in the Cocobod’s 50+ year history. Even if prices are set fairly, there’s no way to trace the cacao after it’s been sold by the Cocobod, making it impossible to set up direct trade with the farmer in the future. Even worse, there’s no way to verify the cacao has been grown without child or slave labor.

With all of this information, we had to make a decision: buy great beans with potentially questionable backgrounds or pass on them and find something else with great flavor. It’s often challenging to make this decision when you have something tasty in your hand. But, as we discussed it, we knew we couldn’t buy these beans in good conscience. This doesn’t mean that Ghana doesn’t have some great cacao or that it’s not possible for people to buy it responsibly. However, there wasn’t a way for us to responsibly buy this cacao given the size of our orders and the sources we have access to at the moment.

So, the search for great cacao continues… and to that end, Alice and I are off to Madagascar!


  1. Tomm

    It makes me happy to read that you value metrics besides cost and taste. Bravo! A conscience is priceless, and you’ll have one more customer once you open your doors.

  2. Cam

    We’re very glad to hear that! There’s no hope for improving the system if we buy the cheapest stuff we can and don’t support the farmers that grow it responsibly.

    Hope to see you in the store one day,


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