A Fair-Trade Valentine
Countless entrepreneurs have tapped into the craze for artisanal chocolates, but far fewer have combined a focus on quality with socially conscious methods. Here's a sampler of chocolate makers that do:
Askinosie Chocolate Springfield, Missouri; founded in 2005
SOURCES: Honduras, Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Philippines EMPLOYEES: 6 KNOWN FOR: Small-batch white chocolate bars, hazelnut chocolate spread, bars sourced from specific farms
Shawn Askinosie says his 20-year career as a criminal defense lawyer was a cinch compared with his current job of finding the best cacao beans for small batches of his namesake chocolate bars. Askinosie shares profits with farmers and uses open-book accounting. "I've visited every farm I've made chocolate from," he says. "None of the farmers had ever met a chocolate maker before me."
Madécasse Chocolate Brooklyn, New York; founded in 2006
SOURCE: Madagascar EMPLOYEES: 5 KNOWN FOR: Bars available in 63 percent to 80 percent cocoa content, plus a specialty bar with cacao nibs and sea salt
Peace Corps alums Tim McCollum and Brett Beach founded Madécasse to make money and to help Madagascar, one of the world's poorest countries. "We decided to break up the plantation model, where there are many middlemen," McCollum says. Madécasse provides employment for 60 farmers and 29 workers at a local factory that makes its bars. It's one of just two bean-to-bar operations in the country.
sweetriot New York City; founded in 2005
SOURCE: Latin America EMPLOYEES: 5 KNOWN FOR: Dark chocolate-covered cacao nibs—chocolate in its purest form
Sarah Endline has built her company around the cacao nib, the bean at the center of the cacao pod. Good for the people who eat the nibs; good for the people who grow them. But raw cacao beans don't taste so great. "People thought I was nuts," she says. So she coated the nibs with dark chocolate and sold them in small tins. Bingo. "I figured chocolate-covered nibs would answer a lot of desires that people didn't even know about," she says.
Taza Chocolate Somerville, Massachusetts; founded in 2006
SOURCES: Latin America and the Caribbean EMPLOYEES: 25 KNOWN FOR: Dark chocolate stone-ground bars and Mexicano "discs" flavored with coffee, sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, vanilla bean, chili, or yerba maté
A trip to Mexico in 2005 got Alex Whitmore thinking about chocolate in a new way. "Up until that moment, my experience had been heavily processed European-styled sweets," he says. "This was stone ground and as close to the source as you could get." Given that chocolate was first made in Mexico some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, the centuries-old practice is the definition of sustainable.