by CocoaTown LLC, USA

 

For years, farmers have sold cocoa as a commodity, with the price they earn for their crops set by distant powers. Cocoa farmers had no control over their profits and no means to substantially grow their income. But in 2007, a few chocolate makers in America changed this forever. They saw the potential of cocoa as a superfood – a quality barely recognisable in chocolate bars, full of sugar and with a negligible quantity of cocoa mass.

These chocolate makers transformed the image of a chocolate bar into something austere but delicious – just cocoa beans and sugar (35% or less of the total weight compared to 80% in mass produced chocolate), with no additives or chemicals.

They had the knowledge to make chocolate but had to "MacGyver" existing equipment to suit their needs (a reference to the 1980s TV show). More chocolate makers wanted to follow in their footsteps, but were not able to make the necessary modifications to off the shelf equipment.

CocoaTown was founded in 2008 to provide chocolate makers with the resources and equipment needed for the different steps of chocolate production. Innovation and continuous research have helped CocoaTown to provide a complete, off-the-shelf solution to chocolate makers, with the equipment and education to go all the way from cocoa bean to chocolate bar ("bean-to-bar", as it is commonly called).

CocoaTown now has three different equipment lines – one for exploring and experimenting with new flavours or techniques, one for exhibiting and showcasing the chocolate making process, and one for expanding and growing their business to commercial capacity. The complete Explorer line costs only US$4,000 (F.O.B. Atlanta) and includes a Roaster, Cooling Tray, Cracker, Winnower, mini Pregrinder, and Melanger with all the accessories, so now farmers and small business owners in more than 100 countries can affordably make their own chocolate.

There is a saying that coffee farmers in many parts of the world have never tasted their own coffee farmers in many parts of the world have never tasted their own coffee because of the cost involved in processing the beans into coffee for drinking. Similarly, in the past cocoa farmers could not afford to buy chocolate because the final, finished product was much more expensive than the cocoa beans they produced – chocolate manufacturers were able to capture all the additional value from processing. CocoaTown has shifted the paradigm by enabling cocoa farmers to make their own chocolate and capture some of this value. Even if farmers do not want to vertically integrate and move up the supply chain, having access to chocolate making machinery helps them understand why the proper fermentation and drying techniques are important to increase the quality, and therefore the selling price of their beans. The commodity price for most cocoa beans is around US$1 per kilogram, whereas chocolate makers would pay up to US$3 per kg for quality cocoa beans.

This means that farmers could triple their income by improving the quality of their harvest. If cocoa farmers want to become entrepreneurs (or "chocopreneurs"), they could process their cocoa beans into chocolate and earn US$50-$100 per kg of chocolate (depending on geographical location and other factors). Chocolate-making exponentially increases a farmer"s income and can help the whole community by providing employment opportunities in support activities.

Innovation has always been the mantra for CocoaTown, the company has collaborated with universities and has published papers on various aspects of chocolate making. CocoaTown equipment has patents or patent pending.

So far chocolate makers have been using machinery from other industries for using with cocoa beans. For example they use barley crackers for cracking cocoa beans. The problem was that the beans broke into smaller pieces (called nibs) that were hard to winnow.

Also they had to replace the metal rollers in the crackers often as the tough shell of the cocoa bean damaged them. Some chocolate makers used Champion juicers and had a similar problem that the nibs were too small or the husk was too big to winnow.

They were also using rice winnowers to separate the husk from the nibs. In rice, the weight of the grain and the husk is significantly different, so it was easy to separate the two in the rice winnower. But in cracked cocoa beans, the nibs and husk pieces had very little difference in the weight making it harder to separate them. Too much husk ended with the nibs reducing the quality of the chocolate. Too many nibs in the husk wasted the money. Chocolate makers had to pass the nibs several times through the winnower to get better output. Also they had employed people to handpick the husk from the nibs – making the process more expensive. The winnowers are also open systems – the dust can fly off and land on surrounding areas. This resulted in possible contamination of the chocolate with husk dust that might have pathogens on them. So the winnowers had to be used in a separate area from the grinding area.

The combination of CocoaT Crackers (manual/power) +CocoaTown winnowers (CocoaT tabletop winnowers/InnoWinno commercial winnowers) have the following advantages:

• Crackers break the beans into bigger pieces making winnowing easier.

• They last longer and also peel the skin away from the nibs for better separation – meaning high quality nibs and less wastage.

• Closed system winnower – no dust, no mess and no need to clean the surrounding area.

• The separation is done in a single pass – no need to winnow the nibs multiple times.

• Compact – meaning it saves on real estate cost.

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