John Kehoe is a bean counter with a conscience. He is a specialty
cocoa-bean broker for Corigins, a company committed to supplying beans
produced under environmentally and socially sound conditions so you can
enjoy your Valentine's Day chocolate without ethical qualms.
Kehoe, 42, grew up on Long Island with a fascination for Latin
cultures. He studied economics at Tulane University in New Orleans and
in 1987 headed to Venezuela, where he worked at a Caracas commodities
When the Venezuelan government eliminated its monopoly on cocoa in
1991, Kehoe got involved in the open market and backed a local farm
cooperative. After 12 years in Venezuela, he worked for a large
cocoa-trading company in the Dominican Republic, buying directly from
farmers and learning to distinguish fine-quality beans from single
plantations or valleys.
In 2002 he founded Eco Trade in Coconut Grove to focus on the U.S.
specialty market, and recently merged with his financial backers to
form Corigins (for ``core origin cocoa'').
Specialty cocoa beans make up only 3 to 5 percent of the world crop
of about three million tons per year. The term encompasses beans that
are single-estate, organic, Rainforest Alliance certified (grown in
buffer zones bordering rain forests) and/or Fair Trade certified.
Cocoa prices can fluctuate wildly, meaning the value of a farmer's
crop can fall below the cost of production. The Fair Trade movement is
about empowering small farmers and creating a minimum price based on a
living wage. Certification is granted to democratically run
cooperatives (not big plantations) that meet those criteria.
Kehoe says his support for Fair Trade was bolstered by seeing the
difference the program made in the lives of farmers on the Kuapa Kokoo
Cooperative in Ghana after helped to bring the co-op's beans to Ben
& Jerry's ice cream in 2002.
Fair Trade is a developing process, and Kehoe says he also needs to
buy beans from certified-organic co-ops and traditional exporters to
supply his customers. Not all Fair Trade beans are high-quality, so
chocolate makers blend them with other beans.
Brokers like Kehoe are key to the growth of the Fair Trade process
as they buy directly from growers they know and give them feedback on
improving their products.
Chocolate makers that use specialty cacao beans include Guittard,
Dagoba Organic, Scharffen Berger and Vintage (''Plantations'' Arriba).
Dagoba bars including xocolatl (with a hint of chile) and Conacado
single-origin Fair Trade Certified bars are available online at dago bachocolate.com and echoco lates.com.
In addition to his wholesale business, Kehoe sells cacao beans in
small quantities to home enthusiasts; contact him at 305-648-1000.
Linda Bladholm's latest book is Latin and Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified.