The history of cocoa
The cocoa tree is native to the equatorial region of Central America. The Olmec, who are thought to be the first people in past centuries to cultivate the cocoa tree, named it “Cacao”, a name adopted by the Maya (approx. 400 BC to AD 100) and later by the Spanish conquistadors. The word “chocolate” derives from “Chocol haa”, the name of a chocolate drink brewed by the Maya. In 1753, natural scientist Charles de Linné named the mallow Theobroma Cacao, which is Greek for “food of the gods”.
The most important countries of origin for cocoa
The cocoa tree can only be cultivated under certain climatic conditions. It grows in a small band spanning 20 degrees north and south of the equator and is primarily cultivated on lower lying land or at moderate altitudes in tropical regions. Close to the equator, it can even be grown at up to 1,000 metres above sea level.
Visiting the home of precious beans
Anyone looking to make the best chocolate first has to look for the best cocoa. And this can be found by travelling to the cocoa farm where it is produced.
I recently met some people from our chocolate family for the first time. They live on Trinidad, a tropical island off the coast of Venezuela, and they share our passion: making some of the world’s best chocolate.
In the middle of the island, surrounded by the lush green hills of Montserrat, Jude Leesam showed me and my sons Johannes and David his pride and joy: trinitario cocoa trees, which grow here in the protective shade offered by banana trees and cedars. For some time now, the residents of Trinidad have been going back to their great traditions and enthusiastically cultivating cocoa in an entirely unique way: cocoa from the Montserrat hills is fruity, earthy and intense, with notes of vanilla, blackcurrant and black tea.
Jude Leesam is one of the 44 cocoa farmers on Trinidad from whom we source our beans. These are solely family businesses, which have joined forces to form a cooperative. They may supply Läderach, but for us they are much more than just contractors. They are part of our global chocolate family whom we trust and for whom we assume responsibility. The cocoa business is not ideal and in many cultivation areas, the conditions are not as good as they are on Trinidad. That’s why, wherever possible, we buy our beans from the cultivators directly. We prefer to conclude longterm agreements with people on-site who we know personally. With people who don’t just have a short-term outlook, but look ahead to the next generations. Just as we do. Läderach is a family company as a matter of principle, and has its roots in the heart of Switzerland. My grandfather ran a bakery in the Canton of Glarus from 1926, and my father – the first chocolatier – began creating pralines and confectionery here in 1962. I – as well as my children – therefore grew up with the business developed with it. With the help of people such as Jude Leesam, Läderach is now bringing something new to the table: Single-variety Grand Cru chocolates made from the best luxury cocoa, as it is grown on Trinidad. Or in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil or Madagascar. Because it’s not only the type of cocoa but also its origin that decides its taste: the climate, the air, the earth, and the local conditions– all of these have an effect on the chocolate’s flavour. And needless to say, each terroir has its own people who live there, with their own special cocoa traditions.
Why are we bringing a Grand Cru line to stores now? Quite simply because we believe that the time is right for us. For four years now, we have been producing our chocolates ourselves from start to finish in Bilten in Glarus. By building our own chocolate factory, we aimed to gain control over every stage of production – ideally all the way from cocoa tree to counter. We have learned a lot in this time. We now know exactly what we’re looking for in cultivation areas: firstly, suitable cocoa types that are of the highest quality, and secondly, people who fit in well with our chocolate family because they are reliable and take a sustainable approach. And because they know how the cocoa should be cultivated, fermented and dried before the beans are shipped to us. In this way, we work together to create something new. The environmental protection organisation and our partner, Rainforest Alliance, helps farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa, secure a higher income and protect the environment.
It’s just like in every family: everyone does their bit and learns from one another. During our visit, my sons and I met many people from whom we were able to learn new things. From inspiring cocoa farmers to scientists from the Cocoa Research Centre on Trinidad, a global leader in its field, as well as an architect – known as the Caribbean chocolate queen – who makes such wonderful pralines using simple means. Cocoa is so much more than just a raw material. Behind every good chocolate are people, families or even entire villages, all with their own stories. And in future, we hope to tell you some of these stories from our great chocolate family.
Jürg Läderach | Owner of Läderach (Schweiz) AG