Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, but less than 1% of the world’s chocolate is made there. Instead, farmers sell whole cocoa pods to the first of many middlemen who eventually export the cocoa beans to chocolate makers in Belgium or France. Tim McCollum and Brett Beach--introduced to Madagascar and each other while in the Peace Corps--founded Madécasse in 2008 to keep more economic benefit within the island nation. The company partners with 45 cocoa farmers in the Ezaka cooperative and a factory in Antananarivo to move from bean to bar in one month and then onto shelves in Whole Foods and boutiques internationally.
Though Madagascar is the size of Texas, almost all cocoa farms are within a 50-kilometer radius along the Sambirano riverbed. (Its annual floods pull rich nutrients down to the soil.) Farmers use hooked tools called “lagafs”--sometimes attached to 20-foot poles--to pull ripe cocoa pods from trees.
Madécasse has trained farmers--who typically live on 80 cents per day--to process pods into dried beans, doubling their value. The first step is to separate the pod’s 30 beans from a protective pulp. The hollowed shells feed farmers’ cattle.
After six days in fermentation tanks, the beans are dried on cement slabs for six days, to a 7% humidity content.
Madécasse’s production partner Shahin Cassam-Chenai has been a self-taught chocolate maker since 2006.
The time and temperature at which beans are roasted help determine their depth and flavor.
Beans travel by oxcart to Ambanja, where they are spot-checked for damage and appropriate dryness.
Madécasse crafts seven different bars, from milk to 80% dark chocolate. Its sea salt and nib--dotted with roasted bits of beans--is the most popular. “I’ve eaten it every day since we started prototyping it,” McCollum says.
Bars are wrapped and shipped to 500 retailers in the U.S.A., South Africa, the U.K., and, soon, Russia. They are also sold at madecasse.com.