2023 was a long overdue visit to Colombia, after the craziness of the pandemic, this was our first chance to get back out there and see firsthand the amazing work which is going on out there.
Experiencing the Luker Factory
Arriving before dawn in Bogota, we headed to our hotel for a few hours, as we waited for the day to begin. First stop was for a tour of the Luker factory, where all the cocoa beans are processed into the chocolate we know and enjoy. Part of this was for us to understand how we taste chocolate and use our senses to be able to pick up the different flavour notes in each of them, particular to the area in which the cocoa beans are grown. It’s not easy to pick out the subtleties in all the chocolates, so it’s an incredibly skilled job, and one we hold in admiration.
Aside from the fact that Colombia is renowned for it’s exquisite cocoa flavours, and carries the highly prized classification of Fino de aroma cocoa, one of the major reasons we choose to work with Luker chocolate for all our product ranges is this: because they make the chocolate in country,(in Colombia where it is grown) it means the value chain is kept in Colombia, providing employment and monetary support to the local people and their economy. Other chocolate producers, primarily export the cocoa beans (mainly from Africa) and process them in Belgium, which is where the term Belgium chocolate comes from. The name, holds no other significance and is no indicator of quality of product, it is simply that the raw cocoa beans are processed into chocolate within a factory based in Belgium, thus reducing many employment opportunities in the countries which need it the most.
So, there we were in the factory, seeing first-hand how the raw cocoa beans go through a refinery process to become our delicious chocolate.
Colombia’s Love for Chocolate
Chocolate is a big deal in Colombia, especially in drinking form, with it being an intrinsic part of the culture. For the farming communities, their day starts with a robust mug of steaming and energy giving chocolate, whereas in the cities, enjoying a mug of chocolate in a café with friends is the norm.
Around 60% of the chocolate produced in Colombia, stays in Colombia, to be sold within the domestic market, to fulfill their passion for hot chocolates. That’s a huge percentage of the overall chocolate production of Luker, and an amazing reflection of the culture – there’s no such thing as a watery powdered drink there!
Granja: Innovation, Tradition & Colombian Cocoa Bliss
We headed off to Granja Luker, the heart of all the ongoing research carried out by Luker. Here, they are constantly looking at ways of increasing the harvests, and quality of the cocoa trees,improving the flavours of the cocoa, as well as in turn training the farmers how to maximise their crops, to produce a higher income to support themselves and their families. It is here at Granja, that the trials of playing classical music to the cocoa trees to see if it increased growth were carried out – disappointingly, Camilla told us that after two years of testing this, there was no evidence of it doing so. Can you imagine If it had worked? The sound of classical music, amid a stunning canopy of trees, to encourage strong growth – what a world that would be. I suppose you could argue that if we take the time to walk amongst the cocoa forests as they are, we get to listen to the music of nature, which is constantly playing all around us.
The region where Granja is situated is stunning, one of beauty and peacefulness, and it was here we tried a traditional Colombian hot chocolate, made from 100% chocolate, panela sugar and milk. Strong, robust and soul satisfying, it was a bit of a surreal experience, sipping this rich chocolatey drink, sat in the heat of the Colombian sun. You’d never think to do that at home, instead associating hot chocolate with cold winter days, and warm cosy fires. The hot chocolates are made in a metal jug, called an oleta, with a wooden “molinillo” whisk, whisked into a frothy delight. Our day concluded with planting a cocoa tree, a lovely touch Luker do with their visitors. We’ll see over the coming years how well it grows!
Meeting Farmer Laura and Discovering the Art of Grafting
The highlight for me personally, was when we met a young farmer, Laura, who had taken on the cultivating of her Father’s land. Being situated on a really steep hillside, she’d had been told by those living nearby, that it was not possible to farm the land. This inspirational young woman, through determination, hard work and passion is now successfully harvesting cocoa from her land. I wish I could adequately show you the steepness of the hill Laura was cultivating, and the way she effortlessly bounded through it as we followed her, trying to keep up. She just oozed delight and pride in her land and was so keen to show us what was going on with the cocoa trees, you couldn’t avoid being enthused along with her.
During our time together, we learnt about grafting a new tree onto an established tree, so you have the strength of the younger tree, growing into the established root system of the older tree and it was fascinating to see. The photo here shows Laura, next to one of her trees: a 2 year old sapling, grafted onto the base of a 30 year old tree, and it had worked beautifully – who would have thought that was possible!
Can you imagine if we could do this as humans? Graft all the energy and zeal of the young and youthful, into the wisdom of the elderly – we would be an amazing race of beings! Anyway, we were given a lesson in how to graft, not that I’m likely to be trying it at home, but it was a privilege to do so during our visit.
Chocolate: Uplifting Lives in Colombia
Colombia is a country which has been ravaged over the years through the illicit drugs trade and by the cartels dominating the lives of the local people. Chocolate is helping to overcome the hold they have on the rural regions, and through the work Luker and other companies are doing: the education, the training, the investment, the partnerships, the tide is turning, and more areas are turning coca growing into cocoa growing, making a living from the harvesting of cocoa beans as they seek a safer future for their families.
We’re delighted to play a very small part in that journey, in supporting cocoa growing community inspired initiatives. With your help, we are ensuring chocolate will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come, and that for those who grow this precious crop, they have what they need to create the life they envision for their families.
As part of The Chocolate Dream, we provide financial support to vital projects in cocoa-growing regions throughout Colombia, providing opportunities for the farmers and their communities, and helping to create positive change. Watch our Co-Founder, Julian, and South Sales Rep, James, in this short video as they talk about their experience visiting our Colombian suppliers.