You’re going to eat so much chocolate, they said. Make sure to pack your stretchy pants, they said... It was about 2 hours into the (ridiculously bumpy) drive to the small (very rural) cocoa-growing village of Kyela in Tanzania when I realized that the likelihood of me devouring my bodyweight in chocolate on this trip was rapidly decreasing. This realization, however, did not dampen my excitement. Visiting a cocoa farm has been number one on my bucket list since I got my first sweet tooth and I desperately wanted, nay, needed to know how I could grow my very own chocolate tree back home in
|Hills upon hills of cocoa trees, tea and bananas roll into the distance in the Kyela region in Tanzania|
|Tanzanian women drying cocoa beans in the sun outside their homes.|
|A little Tanzanian girl playing outside her house in the shade of a cocoa tree.|
|A cocoa tree - in all it's oddness - the cocoa pods grow, bizarrely, straight out the tree trunk!|
Cocoa trees grow here like weeds, sprouting up from the red-clay soil wherever the beans are dropped. In this area, every household has cocoa trees growing outside their door. I mean, there were cocoa trees growing wild outside my hotel! Totally casual. Not only do the trees produce cocoa beans which the families sell, but I spotted more than a few locals taking an afternoon nap under the cocoa tree growing in their front yard. Having a cocoa tree in my front yard sounds like an excellent idea - no wait, two trees! I’ll put up a hammock, lie in it and day dream about… chocolate, duh!
|'Oh I think I'll just park my bicycle right here, under this cocoa tree growing in my backyard!'|
Daydreaming however, is far from the minds of the cocoa farmers I visited. While the trees pop up everywhere, it’s still seriously hard work, which is ironic considering how easily I can polish off a slab of chocolate. Unlike most other plants where the fruit is ready for harvest at more or less the same time, a cocoa tree is constantly producing pods and they all ripen at different times. This means weekly and often daily harvesting. It’s a 3-4 year wait before a cocoa tree produces cocoa pods and after 10 years, the tree has to be replaced; so planting new seedlings happens regularly to ensure a steady supply of chocolate for me - er, I mean, the world.
|The cocoa pods turn from green to yellow, orange and are finally ripe when they turn a deep red colour.|
|Cocoa farmers from the WACOTA business group - they are all third generation cocoa farmers.|
|Sticky, sweet, fruity wet cocoa beans before they are fermented.|
|The wet cocoa beans are fermented in crates lined with banana leaves to develop the chocolate flavour.|
|Dried cocoa beans ready to be shipped off to chocolate-makers around the world.|
|I'm in a cocoa treeeee!|
Grab a copy of Food and Home Entertaining's February issue for a more in-depth article about the cocoa farmers, their stories and how the chocolate we buy affects them.