August 06, 2021

From Bean to Bar. Chocolate in Samoa

Samoa is not known for its exports, outside of rugby union players, but it has a small but growing industry in producing extremely tasty chocolate. 

The tropical climate is well suited to the growth of the Cacoa tree and the resulting cocoa beans have become a staple in producing one of the favourite drinks in the islands, Koko Samoa, a very sweet hot chocolate that is a staple amongst young and old.

More recently the high quality of locally grown Samoan cacao has caught the attention of international chocolate producers, as well as local industry, to be turned into high-quality chocolate bars which are well worth tracking down. 

Cacao pods growing on the tree

The very first cocoa seedlings to arrive in Samoa are thought to have come from Peru around 700AD through early Pacific trade routes. 

While the islands were a German Protectorate, over a hundred years ago, large scale plantings of seeds from Madagascar took place, which has developed into a uniquely flavoured bean that is becoming increasingly sought after in the region.

The severe cyclones of 1990 and 1991 proved to be a major setback to the cocoa trees but replanting efforts have resulted in the crop getting larger year after year.

Cacao beans being dried after husking

Innovative projects such as Fainuu Faamatala (roughly translated as Youth Work Gang) whereby the young unemployed in villages are given cocoa plants and training to look after them in order to gain a sustainable income from their trees. 

All the cacao crops are organic, with no pesticides or growth accelerants used, just the warmth of the Samoan Sun and the rich volcanic soil, which has found favour with chocolate producers.

Whittaker’s, the New Zealand confectionary group, have been sourcing the raw beans for creating their Samoan Single Origin bar from Savai’i island for the last few years.

Cacao beans being loaded into containers to be sent to Whittaker's in New Zealand

Locally, the family-owned Wilex group have begun creating their extremely tasty Koko Loa handmade chocolates. With a team comprised of twenty local women, they have begun creating wonderful treats such as the 72% Dark Chocolate, and Fruit and Nut mixed with local mangoes and papaya. 

This is their third time lucky; they had two major setbacks before when first their factory burnt down, and then a cyclone destroyed the replacement building. Their chocolate has already started to gather fans around the world, with both Queen Elizabeth and the Pope enjoying the taste. 

Hard to resist sticking a finger in to taste as Koko Loa chocolate is being hand made

With limited milk production in Samoa; you don’t see that many cows as you drive around the islands, the chocolatiers faced supply problems for expanding their range. They then had the brilliant idea to make use of another form of milk that was abundant on these tropical islands, coconut milk. 

Although still in early pre-production and testing (it is not expected to be launched until later in 2021) it has proved to be an immediate success, not least with the employees, as the test batches keep getting eaten! I was lucky enough to try this new dairy-free chocolate and were impressed by the subtle coconut flavour and smooth texture of the sample. It should be a world-beater when launched.

Even the chocolate bar packaging is done by hand

Visitors wishing to see the plantations and preparation of cocoa beans for Whittaker’s Chocolate can visit Koko Savai’i on tours run from the nearby Vaimoana Sea Side Lodge. Tours are run several times a week and cost 15 Tala. 

To see Samoan Koko Loa chocolate being made, and get to actually taste it, there are plans for the chocolate factory at Wilex to open for tours, which will probably happen in the post-covid world when tourists are allowed in again. In the meantime, Koko Loa chocolate can be bought at the factory and is also available at Farmer Joe’s in Apia, the Duty-Free shop at the airport, select stockists around the island and online.

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