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Cocoa Origin Trip Report – Ecuador


Behind every bite of a Starbucks chocolate bar there are many stories of farmers, processors and chocolate confectioners. This is my story.

I am with John Kehoe, a cocoa expert from TCHO who has dedicated his life to find the finest cocoas in the world. Our journey starts in Ecuador, a beautiful country with a long tradition of cocoa production. As is traditional in Starbucks sourcing practices, we want to establish direct relationships with the farmers, so we start by visiting a small farmer cooperative named La Fortaleza (which means “strength of a fortress”), located a couple of hours from the town of Portoviejo.

Our first stop is at the farm of Mr. Alfonso. It really caught our attention how his plantation was neat and organized – he had a quite novel irrigation system, and the benefits of all the trainings he has attended really showed. Later on he told us he used to be cab driver in New York for 17 years(!) until he felt the need to come back to his native land 15 years ago.

Mr. Alfonso harvests the cocoa pods, breaks them down and removes the internal contents (beans and mucilage). He bags and delivers it to La Fortaleza’s fermentation station. This white mucilage is quite sweet, and during the fermentation process its transformation gives the cocoa beans floral and fruity flavors. The smallholder supply chains in Ecuador’s Pinguasa region are well-suited to produce high-end cocoa with unique flavors and aromas. However, controlling the fermentation process requires a lot of knowledge, patience and artisan skills.

This is where our friends at TCHO are at their best. John’s dedication to pursue the very best beans and his attention to detail are instrumental in getting the great quality chocolate bars we are currently offering in our stores. TCHO’s process involves monitoring fermentation times and temperatures to control the process as much as possible. The farmers are really excited to learn these new techniques and are even more excited when they taste the chocolate bars Starbucks offers that have been manufactured with their cocoa.

In my next blog, I will talk about more farmer stories delivering their cocoa in canoes, a family that has been cultivating cocoa for many generations, the D.R.E.A.M. project and a little bit about processing.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions below, I will be more than glad to answer them. Thank you and so long from Ecuador.

comments (10)

Comment FAQ

    • hollystrobl
    • 1/18/2011 5:28 PM

    This was very interesting. My son has to choose a product and outline the process it takes to get to him. He chose his favorite product- Starbucks Hot Cholcolate. Can you give me any information about where the cocoa goes once it is in our country? I am assuming that cocoa brokers aren't involved as they are with other products.

    • admin admin
    • 1/19/2011 4:21 PM

    Hello, Pablo here. Thank you for your question, here is how the process works for Starbucks Hot Chocolate. The cocoa beans are harvested in Ivory Coast (West Africa) by around 16,000 farmers that deliver the cocoa beans to the farmer organizations and cooperatives that signed up for our Cocoa Practices program. Later these organizations deliver them to the warehouses of the company that produces the Bar Mocha utilized in our beverages. The beans are dried and selected before being transported to the processing plants in Europe and the US. These plants prepare the Bar Mocha under strict specifications from Starbucks to get the flavor profile our customers love. Once the products are manufactured and packed they are delivered to the Starbucks distribution centers around the world which in turn deliver them to each of the retail stores. Our Cocoa Practices program verifies that the farmers and cooperatives in the program implement sustainable practices and our Ethical Sourcing program for manufactured goods verifies the processing plant to make sure they also comply with our guidelines.

    • admin admin
    • 2/10/2011 4:56 PM

    Starbucks does not source coffee from the Ivory Coast. High quality arabica coffee in Africa is primarily sourced from Eastern Africa.

    • sergiojuanjui93
    • 3/7/2011 8:24 AM

    Hi Paul, very interesting your trip to Ecuador, I would like to try the cocoa Juanjui, Peru in the Amazon jungle specifically in the Alto El Sol, a village entrepreneur who grew the cocoa bean and now has big prizes in Europe, I hope some time you come to visit this community, I hope that cocoa beans are part of Starbucks products

    • ashraf01
    • 4/8/2011 4:28 AM

    Hi ther, i just wanted to find out what your sustainability strategy is in relation to developing starbucks overall sustainability. I have a class project and im am a little confused with that. Thankyou.

    • NickyAlban
    • 7/26/2011 11:09 PM

    Wait! What? ECUADOR? MY COUNTRY? So why we don't have Starbucks here!! D': We need it in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca!!! </3 Please!!!

    • JCPEREZ8553
    • 9/18/2011 7:00 AM

    Please i go at least 3 times a year to ecuador we need stores in quayaquil and quito i think the will be a exelent idea and awsome for mi i realy miss your coffe .

    • giget2000
    • 10/6/2011 11:04 PM

    I agree that Quito needs a Starbucks! I spent the summer there and and "para llevar" is not a well recognized concept in most local coffee shops. I visited a chocolate factory in Mindo and I was amazed at how good the white soft coating around the bean tasted. I wish that juice could be harvested somehow...maybe in an ice tea flavor... hint hint.

    • fatbb14
    • 12/4/2011 1:49 AM

    Hi, I am likely to drink Starbucks chocolate cream chips in my country, so I have choose Starbucks as my assignment topic. Can I know some detail about Starbucks management? Starbucks has management across culture?

    • 7/3/2013 2:08 PM

    In the processing of the Starbucks Cocoa, are the cocoa beans crushed and then sweetened with sugar? Please describe in detail how the cocoa for Starbucks is made for the consumer. What is the percentage of dark cocoa?

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