Cocoa farmer tastes chocolate from her beans - Solomon Star News

Cocoa farmer tastes chocolate from her beans

13 June 2016

Cocoa farmer Agnes Pilopaso of Guadalcanal had never tasted chocolate made from her own beans.

The 20-year-old was encouraged to sample a chocolate bar by Liz Rowe, of Dunedin company Ocho, who filmed the tasting.

"That was really neat, such a thrill," Rowe said.

Rowe was one of a handful of craft chocolate makers from around the world who attended the inaugural Solomon Islands Chocolate Week in Honiara the previous week.

The trip included meeting cocoa farmers and sampling 80 different beans from growers, including 20-year-old Pilopaso and her father Ben.

The pair, who farm cocoa beans on their 175-hectare property, came second in the competition and were likely to supply beans to Ocho and other craft chocolate makers.

As part of the 10-day trip, which ended last Sunday, visiting chocolate makers transformed the beans and made them into chocolate bars so each farmer could sample their produce.

Farmers were also taught how to shell beans and make a simple chocolate drink.

The farmers received assistance from Australian Government-funded programmes to help improve the quality of cocoa production, including assisting farmers to better dry and ferment their beans and connecting chocolate makers with farmers.

Previously, the farmers sold their produce to bulk bean buyers "who just paid commodity prices" and which were then stockpiled in Asian warehouses, Rowe said.

"They would love to have their products sold as a high quality niche product where they can get better prices . . . they don't want to get peanuts for their work."

Rowe said she was committed to buying beans sourced only from the Pacific, and had noted "clear and exciting" differences between Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

"It also means the beans have travelled the least possible distance."

The company, which recently shifted to Vogel St in Dunedin's Warehouse District, were now able to tell a story about suppliers, such as Pilopaso.

Rowe said she became interested in chocolate while learning Spanish in Mexico.

"I got back to New Zealand and vowed I would find more about it . . . and the rest is history."