A ship loaded with Congolese cocoa beans bound for Theo Chocolate is now sailing east across the Pacific Ocean.
Theo Chocolate has been working closely with the Eastern Congo Initiative since 2010 to develop a cocoa crop quality improvement plan to aid the troubled region's economic development. Activists believe cocoa is a promising crop for Congolese farmers because its harvest is so laborious that marauding militia members don't mess with it.
A cocoa-growing belt stretches across Africa from Guinea to Madagascar, but the bulk of production is concentrated at its western end: The Ivory Coast alone supplies 40 percent of the world's cocoa beans. Although central Africa has a reputation for growing excellent cocoa - Belgium's genocidal colonization of the African Congo was the horrific result of a chocolate quest - very few U.S. chocolatiers work with beans from the region. Theo cocoa specialist LC Continenza is aware of only one other domestic manufacturer importing Congolese beans.
"We're very interested in cocoa from that region," Continenza says. "I think it's going to be huge."
Currently, Theo doesn't use any African cocoa: It ended its relationship with an Ivory Coast broker after it lost its fair-trade certification, and was forced to stop buying beans from Ghana because national fumigation policies violated the company's organic standards.
Compared to chocolate from the Dominican Republic, which Continenza describes as "fruity," Congolese chocolate "tends to be rich and nutty."
The container ship carrying Theo's chocolate is scheduled to stop in Malaysia and then dock in San Francisco or Portland. It's rumored that Eastern Congo Initiative founder Ben Affleck may meet the boat. The beans should reach Theo's Fremont production facility by mid-March, Continenza says.