Let Us Help You Make Hot Cocoa That Is Both Tasty And Not Evil
I live in the Midwest where we now only have negative temperatures, which means that we are in hock to the thermometer. If I’m going to keep us out of temperature prison, there has to be hot cocoa. Has anyone ever turned down a cup of hot cocoa? Not in the history of God and ever.
Pro: Warm, delicious, sweet and tastes like everything right in the world.
Con: Turns out that most commercially available cocoa has dangerous levels of child labor and slavery per serving.
How in the hell did that happen? Permit us to get wonky for just a moment. We’ll get to your hot cocoa recipe when we’re good and ready.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, West Africa produces most of the world’s cocoa beans. Big Chocolate — every name brand you can think of — gets cocoa beans from Africa. They may fudge their recipes a bit with cocoa beans from other regions (trade secrets mixed with denials of sociopathy), but math don’t lie. Most cocoa comes from Africa. As is the custom in this part of the world, labor comes cheap and the working conditions are poor. Who will work for nothing and is too scared to complain? Little kids. Children work on the cocoa plantations, because little kids there have to work to help support their families.
Would you send an 8-year-old up a tree with a machete, or make him or her handle toxic pesticides? If so, I would call Child Protective Services and I would leave my name. Guaranteed! When you get out of jail, I would bash my shopping cart into yours every time I see you at the grocery store, just to make sure you know I’m still watching.
The US government tried to pass a legislative amendment about child labor in the cocoa industry, but Bob Dole and George Mitchell did not care for that idea at all. Instead, the US makes gentle suggestions to chocolate companies. They have protocols and benchmarks with deadlines and it sounds wonderful, because it would be terribly rude to force a company into eradicating child labor and slavery in the Third World as soon as possible. Right? Right on. Big Chocolate assures us they are working this horrifying mess out, which means extending compliance deadlines (by years) and spending part of the branding budget on making it look like they care.
South America is where cocoa was discovered — the finest varieties are in Venezuela. They’re still producing cocoa, but at a drastically reduced rate. Blame capitalism if you like, but to be fair, Venezuela has focused on oil instead of agriculture. In spite of being one of the most fertile regions in the world, they import most of their food from Colombia and the US. Nor have those Central and South American nations launched multi-million dollar branding campaigns like Big Chocolate has, leading people to believe that the best chocolate in the world comes from Europe or somewhere in Pennsylvania. You can make the best candies anywhere in the world, but without quality cocoa beans you might as well stay home and play with your carob.
Food Empowerment Project has a Chocolate List app (free download!) to help you find a brand they feel comfortable recommending. Arm yourself with good information! I did some cross-referencing and the list is very comprehensive, including safe brands available at Wal-Mart. There is something for everyone on their list, to buy at the store or online.
El Rey is a great brand from Venezuela that puts Hershey to shame. Friends of mine from Caracas turned me on to El Rey, and I would give it twelve out of ten stars. You will most likely find it in disc or bar form, in varying degrees of darkness, pre-sweetened. Keep this in mind when melting them down for hot cocoa, and ease up on the sweet pedal. You can get 80 g for about $3.50, or 1 kg for about $25 (not including shipping) from Chocosphere.
Feeling more economical? Trader Joe’s has a nice unsweetened powdered cocoa* from Colombia. I fixed a mighty fine cup of this (and then some more the next day), but used a teensy bit more cocoa in the recipe. The mouth feel is good, and it’s not as bitter as conventional brands, probably because no little kids cried into it. You get 9 oz. for $2.49. Compare that to Hershey’s cocoa powder, at $3.69 for 8 oz.
Keep this conventional recipe for cocoa handy, too.
1/3 c. water
¼ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
Dash of salt
¼ to ½ c. sugar (to taste)
1 qt. milk
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
Mix the water, cocoa, salt and sugar on the stovetop. Stir constantly, for a few minutes, until it is smooth and boiling. Add the milk and stir, but do not let the milk come to a boil. No, really. DO NOT. When it is hot, remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. You don’t have a whisk? Go buy one. You’re a grown person now. Serve plain or with desired toppings, and revel in the glory of sweet, sweet Karma reviving your frozen insides. Bonus: the smugness from your ethically made hot cocoa is a smug that will last all day. This recipe makes about four mugs, so you should definitely share it and spread the word about cocoa.
* I can’t stand behind Trader Joe’s candy bars. They won’t talk about where the cocoa for those products come from, but distract with assurances that the bars were made in Belgium. Belgium schmelgium – show me the beans!