Most chocolate lovers don't think about where their favorite bar comes from, as long as the fix comes through.
But one cocoa company's story merits a minute of consideration while you indulge your sweet tooth.
Madecasse is the brainchild of two former Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar, the largest island nation in the world, and one of the most ecologically and environmentally diverse places on the planet. Madagascar is the source of some of the finest cocoa in the world, and cocoa is the essential ingredient in chocolate.
Despite Mother Nature's gift to Madagascar, before Madecasse came along, only one chocolate factory operated in the entire country, and it was producing fairly low-quality bars for local consumption.
That scenario is not unusual in the annals of cocoa.
Africa supplies 70 percent of the world's cocoa, but only 1 percent of all chocolate on earth is produced on the continent. The vast majority of cocoa beans are shipped halfway around the world, where chocolate makers whip them into all those bars and candies that chocaholics crave.
That means cocoa farmers from the most impoverished places on earth sell their crops through a slew of middle men, each taking a cut, and each chipping away at the farmer's income.
Madecasse has set out to right that profit imbalance.
Tim McCollum, one of the company's co-founders, tells TakePart that he and his partner, Brett Beach, fell in love with Madagascar and its people, their neighbors. Even after the two left the Peace Corps for the worlds of business and development aid, they felt a bond with Madagascar.
So Madecasse has set up an operation that generates four times more benefit for the local population than created by normal fair trade chocolate.
The entire chocolate making process—from bean to bar—takes place in Madagascar. Almost all of the economic benefit stays in the country, paying out to the farmers and laborers who make the product for the world market.
The revolution all starts at the cocoa fields: Madecasse works with a cooperative of 60 cocoa farmers in the country's far northwest. After they harvest their cocoa, it's taken by ox cart to the company's factory, where the raw material is turned into one of seven varieties—from milk chocolate to 80 percent dark. Even the labels are hand-applied in Madagascar.
Because everything from bean to bar is part of a united operation, cocoa farmers have seen the price commanded by their crops double, and their quality of life has improved dramatically.
"We eliminate three different middle men," McCollum tells TakePart. He said that Madecasse doesn't come in and make physical improvements in the cocoa farmers' villages; the company gives locals the means to do it themselves.
How does the chocolate taste?
It's been winning rave reviews, from the New York Times ("I’m awestruck. The 70% is smooth and chocolaty with a sweet-and-sour dried cherry finish"), to Fast Company (2011's 50 Most Innovative Companies).
You can find their chocolate in foodie boutiques and supermarkets across the country, or order directly from Madecasse on its website. Our friends over at Foodzie feature Madecasse chocolate in their online marketplace. Tim's recommendation? Try the Sea Salt & Nibs.