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Lerato Bokako

February 20, 2023

How Honest Chocolate is keeping it real with sustainable business practices

We know that this is probably the last question you want to hear. We want you to be able to eat as much chocolate as you want without having to worry about the potential implications that enjoying this treat might have.

The bad news is: chocolate has been linked to a lot of awful things like labour exploitation and deforestation. But the good news is: there are plenty of companies combating this by creating workspaces that are more sustainable and labour friendly. One way to support a brand that is paying its workers well and under decent working conditions is to look for a “Fair Trade” certification. While this is definitely an important signifier to look out for, it’s not the only one. Living in South Africa, we are fortunate enough to be exposed to chocolate brands that are both delicious and kind to the fellow humans helping to make it.

I spoke to Nicola Rabkin from Honest Chocolate about the kind of work that they do and how they’re keeping up with sustainable practices.

Lerato: What does it mean for a company to be “Fair Trade” certified? Is this the most important marker to look out for when wanting to buy sustainable and ethically traded chocolate?

Nicola: We actually don’t have a “Fair Trade” certification. But this does not mean that we do not practice fair trade. Underpaying is a huge problem in the global chocolate industry, so this is an important marker of ethics and sustainability. We have a direct trade agreement with Kokoa Kamili, a fermentation plant in Tanzania. They ensure that their 2000 farmers are paid a fair wage. A short supply line is key! One of our founders has actually visited some of our farmers. From there we use good, old-fashioned trust and real human connection to ensure our customers enjoy “Honest” chocolate.

Lerato: What are some of the other markers that a consumer can look out for?

Nicola: Two other considerations for us are “organic” and “local”. Our cacao is certified organic which means no harmful chemicals (to producers, consumers and the environment) are used in production. 99% of cacao grown in Tanzania is organic, which means it’s also a wonderful reason to support the cacao industry there. Remember: cacao only grows within 20 degrees of the Equator so we can’t grow it here in South Africa.

Lerato: What are some of the other sustainable practices that Honest Chocolate keeps?

Nicola: We also don’t use plastic packaging and all of our retail products are vegan!

Lerato: For a first-time customer, what’s one chocolate treat you would recommend they buy?

Nicola: Our customer favourite is the Kalahari salt chocolate slab. The 70% plain with coconut blossom sugar also really highlights the natural fruity, caramel flavours of the cacao. If you’re visiting the café, you have to try the brownies (named best brownie in the world by “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix).

Lerato: What can you recommend for our readers to buy?

Nicola: Our Artist Range makes for a beautiful gift! If you’re in Cape Town, you have to pop into the café for a box of our gorgeous, three-ingredient chocolate truffles for your special someone.

Lerato: Since lockdown, you have put a hold on your workshops and have introduced virtual tastings. Please tell me more about how virtual tastings work.

Nicola: Wow, yes. We had to do a huge pivot when COVID hit! We were actually planning a massive crowdfunding campaign to open a café in Joburg and launch new and exciting events in 2020. Our virtual tastings filled a small part of what we had to put on hold. How this works: we send each of the participants a tasting spread and then we meet online to have a virtual factory tour, a bit of storytelling about Honest Chocolate and an interactive chocolate tasting where you can sample all the goodies we sent. Our in-person tasting would take place at our production kitchen where you’ll see the whole chocolate-making process, we’d do a tasting and then you’d get to dip and wrap your chocolate bonbons to take home. We really hope we can do these again soon as we have a whole new factory to show off!

Lerato: Your site mentions that a large portion of the treats in your café are vegan friendly. Was this a conscious effort or was this a result of what was more popular with customers?

Nicola: Offering vegan products is important to us because it aligns with many of our ethical and sustainability principles. It also reflects the values of our customer base.

Lerato: There is a very big emphasis on dark chocolate from Honest Chocolate. What was the decision behind this?

Nicola: We love dark chocolate! Our motto is “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark!”. Dark chocolate maintains the integrity and flavour profile of the cacao because of the minimal ingredients. Cacao is like wine and coffee in a way that it has a “terroir” (the flavour represents the geographical elements of the area it is grown). So, each batch might have a slightly different flavour profile. If you’re adding a bunch of ingredients, you lose that uniqueness. It might take a moment if you’re used to milk chocolates, but you’ll start to appreciate it soon.

Lerato: Do you have any milk chocolate options?

Nicola: In 2020 we launched our vegan “Dark Mylk” which is 54% slab made with gluten-free oats.

Lerato: Lastly, is white chocolate actually chocolate?  

Nicola: A matter of opinion! When cacao is processed it can be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. White chocolate is made only with cocoa butter and the main ingredient is sugar. When we make our chocolate, we throw the whole cacao “nibs” into our granite grinders with sugar until we pour out the smooth chocolate paste. Reading our labels, you’ll see that we only use those two ingredients – with cacao being the main ingredient at 70%. So, you decide, what does chocolate mean to you?

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