From bean to bar: The Bay Area’s chocolate revolution

Which is where Emily Stone comes in.

Uncommon cacao

Stone is one of the founders of Uncommon Cacao, a cacao supplier based in Berkeley that connects small farmers in Haiti and Central America with chocolate makers in the U.S. like Dandelion.

And her aim is to change the way that cacao is bought and sold.

“Cacao, for the last century, has been traded as a commodity,” says Stone.

On the commodity market, there’s no such thing as a high quality cacao bean. All beans are treated as equal, and their price is usually set very low. So the only way most cacao farmers can make more money is by selling more beans, and with the push for increased quantity comes inevitable exploitation.

“Child labor, slavery, and deforestation are major problems in the chocolate supply chain,” says Stone, “and from our perspective, a lot of that is related to price and the serious undervaluing of cacao as a raw material or as an ingredient.”

When there’s a demand for higher quality beans — from bean to bar chocolate makers like Dandelion — farmers can begin to ask for higher prices.

And along with higher prices, Stone says that ethical trade cannot be achieved without transparency. Uncommon Cacao publishes its prices and margins in a yearly Transparency Report. It’s a new model that Stone calls “transparent trade,” but she acknowledges that this model still has a long way to go.

“I would say that in general we’re still really far from farmers in most of the world earning a living income from cacao.”

If progress is to be made, Stone says it comes down to changing the way we think about chocolate and how much we pay for it.

“We have been tricked over the last several decades into thinking that chocolate is cheap,” she says. And bean to bar chocolate is not cheap. At around $8 a pop, it’s significantly more expensive than your average supermarket candy bar.

So should we start start paying more for chocolate? And what is chocolate actually worth? According to the Bay Area makers leading the bean to bar revolution, it’s worth a lot more than you think. And the chocolate lovers across the country are starting to change the way they consume their favorite treat.