Diogo Vaz, one of the very best chocolates in the world – World Meanderings (n°69)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
When buying a Diogo Vaz’s chocolate bar we don’t only have the chance to enjoy one of the very best quality-chocolates and the very best tasting ones in the world, we also promote fair trade in Sao Tome and Principe. One hundred years ago this small African archipelago used to be the number one producer of cocoa of the planet before going through a marked decline by the end of the 20th century. Thanks to Kennyson Group known for its involvement in African rural development, the Diogo Vaz plantation originally created in 1880 is now able to rise from the ashes and produces some of the best African cocoa beans.
Set in the Gulf of Guinea at the intersection point of the Greenwich meridian and the equator, Sao Tome and Principe has a rare and luxuriant ecosystem. Cacao trees were first planted there in 1822 and from the 1850’s large plantations called “roças” were created. Conditions were very good for cocoa production and in 1910 Sao Tome and Principe became the world’s largest producer with 35,000 tonnes. Amazing for such a tiny archipelago! Production slowly decreased after the 1975 independence and in 2000 it fell down to only 1,500 tonnes.
The Diogo Vaz Roça was fully taken over in 2014 and the whole production process from “tree to bars” is now done on the estate. It also provides direct employment to 250 people and also helps smallholder farmers thus sustaining 2,000 more people. A nursery and primary school, a small hospital, houses and a church have been built in the roça for the people of the close by villages.
An ambitious replanting programme will soon be completed. Since 2014 150,000 cocoa trees have been planted on 420 hectares (about 1,000 acres). Local varieties such as amelodano, trinitarion and catongo have been favoured and the roça received its organic certification in 2017. Only 1,100 cocoa trees per hectare have been planted and no chemical fertilizers are used. Yield is low but quality is high! In order to avoid monoculture and its harmful effects on the ecosystem, breadfruits, jackfruits, papayas, mangos, bananas, cinnamon, vetiver, ylang-ylang, pepper, vanilla are also grown on the estate. Today the roça looks like a very vast orchard.
Once ripe the cocoa pods are handpicked and brought to the roça workshops to be transformed into chocolate bars. Unlike the way it used to be in the 20th century when the cocoa beans were sent to Europe where chocolate was made the whole process now takes place locally. It was not until the Diogo Vaz Roça began its production that local villagers were able to eat chocolate for the first time in their life! Sao Tome and Principe produced cocoa beans for decades but its people didn’t know how chocolate tasted!
The second step of chocolate making is fermentation. The fresh beans are wrapped into large banana leaves and left to mature during five to eight days. Next the beans are sun dried for about seven days during which they lose half their weight. They are then ready for roasting. Roasting probably is the most important step during which the cocoa beans develop all their fruity aromas. Each cocoa variety, each harvest gets its own roasting to enhance its organoleptic qualities. Once roasted the beans are ground and blended with cocoa butter and sugar and the paste is moulded into bars. The moulds have a unique pattern that has been designed especially for Diogo Vaz and you will recognize them at once when you see them.
The Diogo Vaz chocolate bars are on sale on the estate but fortunately we don’t have to fly to Sao Tome and Principe to enjoy them. You can order them on line and get a 65%, 70% or 75% cacao bars of pure cocoa varieties or of blended varieties. This is not cheap chocolate but quality does have a price and if you are a chocolate addict you just have to know how Diogo Vaz chocolates taste like!
More at https://diogovazchocolate.com/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes or courtesy of Diogo Vaz