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Exploring Colombia's Rich Chocolate Industry

Back in the throes of UK winter, Shelly had the pleasure of escaping to the warmer climes of Colombia with the incredible Choc Affair team, joining them on a visit with renowned chocolate manufacturer Luker Chocolate.

We have worked with Choc Affair for the past eight years and share the same values when it comes to championing high-quality cocoa beans and ethical farming practices. Being invited to learn more and experience the entire process from bean to bar was a fantastic opportunity and has fuelled our need to continue sharing these values and the importance of educating our clients.

As you may already know, when it comes to chocolate, Colombia's roots run deep, and family-owned Luker Chocolate has been in the industry since 1906. Luker Chocolate is one of Colombia's largest buyers and manufacturers of Cocoa, with most of their products staying within Colombia.

Did you know;

  • 95% of Colombia's cacao exports are classed as 'Fine Flavour' or 'Fino de Aroma' by the International Cacao Organisation.

  • According to Fedecacao (National Federation of Cocoa Growers in Colombia), there are approximately 188,370 hectares of cocoa plantations in Colombia. All in 28 of its departments. In 2021, the country produced 69.040 tons of Cocoa.

  • As a tradition (and often served with cheese), the Colombian people have drinking chocolate every morning. Luker is the leading manufacturer of this.

  • The farms in Colombia are mostly family owned and run, rather than large plantations, which means the plants and beans are lovingly cared for rather than being mass farmed.

Trip Diaries from Shelly

Day One | Arrival in Bogotá and Luker Chocolate Factory Tour

We arrived in Bogotá on a late-night flight from Heathrow. The jet lag kicked in immediately, but thankfully, I was distracted by the buzz of city life as we travelled to our accommodation. Bogotá is going through significant changes in infrastructure, which is needed; the roads are so busy that residents are only allowed to drive their cars on certain days of the week!

After a quick turnaround at the hotel, we met with the Luker Chocolate team and had a tour of their city-based factory; they clearly live and breathe chocolate, which even features throughout their office and factory interiors. Seeing how many beans are brought in for processing was mind-blowing. The cocoa lots are monitored at this stage, and the expert R&D department performs physical, chemical and sensory characterisation checks. We looked on as important tests on moisture content, fat content, tasting notes and degree of fermentation, among others, were performed.

Day Two | Granja Luker & The Chocolate Dream

With the jet lag fully taking over, we took a short flight from Bogotá to Pereira and on to the Granja Luker centre to explore the production and farming process.

Caring for the farmers that grow for them is one of the company's main focuses and why they have the Granja Luker, a research centre and one of the few research and training centres for Cocoa in the world. Farmers are invited to training sessions at Granja Luker to learn new techniques to help farming, sustainability and productivity. The research side is all about plant cultivation in sustainable ways and finding more disease-resistant strains of plants.

The farming and fermentation process was fascinating. Once harvested, the farmers have 24 hours to deseed the pods. The beans are then placed in large wooden vats to start the fermentation process and are left for six days, covered over with hessian. Throughout this time, the beans are stirred and checked. Post-fermentation, the beans undergo a six-day drying process. They're moved and rotated at this stage every 6 hours to encourage drying, aided by the beautiful Colombian sunlight. The Cocoa beans are then placed into hessian sacks and are ready to be sold.

Towards the end of the day, we spent time with the director of sustainability, Julia Ocampo. She discussed the importance of moving forward with sustainability being at the heart of the business model and key initiatives, including 'The Chocolate Dream' project.

'The Chocolate Dream' initiative supports and inspires communities and positively impacts local families through education, entrepreneurship, art and culture, agricultural development and job creation. Luker Chocolate brings together different contributors to the chocolate value chain, including clients, NGOs, and the local government. Read more about partnerships and projects here.

Day Three | Spending Time With Farmers From the ‘Guardians of the Forest’ Project.

The Journey to meet Ricardo, who runs a small farm near Pital, was breathtaking. I found the mix of flora and fauna, of mountains and tropical areas, very inspiring. I've never seen such outstanding natural beauty! Meeting with local communities and farmers highlighted their pride, passion and love for their land. A truly humbling experience.

Ricardo discussed his farming practices with us and explained that everything is done by hand due to the nature of the terrain. In very few cases, machines are used on farms. As you can imagine, farming on a mountain has many challenges, including better solutions to irrigation, which are constantly developed and reworked.

Day Four | Luker Chocolate ‘La Escalereta’ Chocolate Dream Visit & Time With Laura From the ‘Green Guardians’ Project.

We met with Laura, a 25-year-old farmer and learned about her story. She was inspirational in her outlook and dedication to her environment. Farming on what I'd describe as a sheer mountainside drop, her focus on increasing biodiversity and planting her land with as many native trees as possible was incredible.

Day Five | Chocolate Tasting Back in Bogotá and a Visit to the Old Town

Our final day in Colombia involved an insightful (and delicious) morning of chocolate tasting with the Luker Chocolate experts. With the amazing smell of chocolate in the air, we sampled most of the chocolate offerings, including a tasty new oat milk-based bar! Soaking up the last of Colombia's fantastic, colourful scenery and culture with a walking tour of Bogotá's Old Town was the perfect ending to our trip.

Spending time with Luker Chocolate, seeing how they nurture and build relationships with farmers as people, not farms and hearing inspiring stories from their initiatives has reinforced the importance of being fully aware of the origin of products and who we're buying from as UK consumers.

Thanks to the wonderful teams at Choc Affair and Luker Chocolate for hosting. Read more about Luker Chocolate below.

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