It’s that time of year again. Sweet treats, cards, little gifts from the ones who love us, and more. Around this time every year, we’re thinking about what to get for the person or people that mean the most to us.
For many of us, chocolate is the tempt-all that we can’t refuse. It comes on fruit, in heart-shaped boxes, as tiny truffles, or filled with caramel, cherry, or whatever suits you and your personality. In an increasingly interconnected world, though, more of us care where the things we eat come from – chocolate is no different. If your New Year’s goal was to be a little more conscious about the things on your plate, you might want to take a bite out of one of these chocolate companies practicing direct and ethical trade, creating sustainable change, and supporting workers in the U.S. and abroad.
Joe Whinney, the founder of Theo, was one of the first to bring organic cacao beans into the United States. Theo is also the first maker of organic chocolate in America. The company prides itself on how it sources its beans: ensuring that they are grown in sustainable ways that promote biodiversity and positively impact the lives of those who grow them. Currently, their cacao comes from Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bars come in many different flavors – there is even a vegan option! – and cost $4 each. Caramels range from $10-20; special gifts can be purchased for as little as $15 and as much as $50. If you’re looking for a nonprofit fundraiser, Theo can help you, too!
Call me biased, but this chocolate company has an amazing model. It’s the only chocolate company in the world co-owned by cocoa farmers. Profits from the company are reinvested in the community and distributed to those in the co-operative since they are the majority stakeholders.
Different purchases also fund different social justice aspects of the company. For example, profits from Divine’s Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Truffle fund women’s training programs that empower them to make their own economic and business decisions. A 3.5 ounce bar costs $3.99; a 10-pack costs $34.75.
While all of the chocolate companies on this list work to improve the communities from which they source their ingredients, Alter Eco might do it the best. It dedicates itself to community development, women’s empowerment and fair trade with an eco-friendly bent. They created a nursery in Peru to grow healthier, more diverse crops; set up a community reforestation program; recycle laptops for farmers to use; and offset more carbon than they emit.
Alter Eco’s chocolates come in pretty unique flavors: dark quinoa; dark brown butter; coconut toffee. You can trace the origins of each bar and meet the farmers who provided the cacao. The brand is very transparent when it comes to how its products affect our health, nutrition and environment. They also sell quinoa and truffles. Yum!
Alex, the founder of Taza, apprenticed under a molinero in Mexico and learned how to make stone-ground chocolate. The ground cacao produces a rustic and gritty flavor – something totally different than what you’ve ever tasted. The company created the first third-party direct trade standard and publishes annual reports about its process right on its website. Like Theo, Taza gives tours of its chocolate factory and allows you to host events there, too.
If you’re looking for something different, go for the Mexicano discs or the baking chocolate which can be useful for the baker in your life. The $5 Amaze bars mix stone-ground dark chocolate with strong flavors like raspberry, coconut and espresso.
This brand was founded by two Peace Corps members who served in Madagascar. Supposedly, the cacao on the island nation contains the earth’s heirloom, or original, variety which the founders say gives it a bigger, better flavor. Like all of the other brands here, it follows a direct and fair trade model. I personally love their recipes blog: it’s colorful, fun, and an integral part of the brand, something the others don’t focus on as much.
Their dark chocolate bars come in 7 flavors and cost $4.50; but, what makes them different is their vanilla. It’s all natural, locally-sourced vanilla extract, so the eight ounce jar is completely worth the $18.50, especially if you’re a voracious baker.
Outlets like The New York Times, Food & Wine, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal have all featured the Missouri-based Askinosie Chocolate. Forbes even named it one of the 25 best small companies in America. The company involves its local community with the brand through something it calls Chocolate University, an experiential learning program that teaches middle and high school students how to be global citizens through their chocolate industry. They are also intensely involved with the communities where they source their cacao.
What does this chocolate brand have that the others don’t? Chocolate spreads, beverages and all-natural, vegan cocoa powder. You could buy Nutella, sure, but it doesn’t have as powerful a story connected to it. Their 6.5-ounce jar costs $13.
This is totally their phrase and not mine. I first tried Vosges when walking through O’Hare International Airport. I needed something sweet and these little truffles did me in. Each one is inspired by the cuisine of a culture or country, and all of the ingredients are sourced from across the globe. The brand recently planted its first cacao farm in Belize so that it can “oversee the entire value chain – from root to bar.”
My favorite purchase is the small case of nine exotic truffles – $30 of deliciousness. The dark chocolates dusted with Hungarian paprika and Indian curry are my personal favorite pieces of heaven. If you’re looking to travel the world in flavor – or to spoil that special someone with gourmet chocolate – this is the pick for you.