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Back to Home >  Columnists >

Linda Bladholm

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Posted on Thu, Feb. 10, 2005


Chocolates to enjoy with a clear conscience

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 brokerage company.

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 and echoco

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.

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