Marou Chocolate 101:
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5:27 - Vietnam is a very marginal producer of cacao, it’s less than 0.1% of world production. So that’s why it remains a fairly obscure origin for cacao. As to why we decided to make chocolate in Vietnam it was precisely because there was cacao, but not enough to get the big players interested. So we thought there was an opportunity. The question we didn’t have the answer to when we got started was whether the cacao was going to be any good, or the chocolate we were going to make was any good. Neither of us (his co-founder) had any background in chocolate.
8:01 - Chocolate, like the beer industry, is immensely concentrated. Three or four huge companies that people don’t know the names of that make probably 80% of the chocolate consumed world wide. You have Hersheys, Mondalays, and others… that operate on enormous scale and produce most of the world’s chocolate.
10:59 - A century ago if you were a chocolatier, you would buy beans and make your own chocolate. But nowadays, out of 5,000 chocolatiers in France, you have less than 50 that buy their own beans.
The difference with bean-to-bar is you start with the raw material, you start with cocoa beans and we think it’s a much more exciting approach. Through the processing of the chocolate, every step of the way, and most importantly the selection of the cacao, you select your flavor profile… and it won’t taste like your standardized industrial chocolate.
14:02 - I think wine is kind of the model, they’ve had centuries to refine that model, and if you get into it it’s kind of exasperating because there’s so much snobbery but at the same time it’s really exciting. Chocolate is nowhere near that stage.
15:45 - If you’re looking at the factors that are going to make beans taste different from one place to another, you’ve got basically three big variables. First is the variety. The second is a mixture of climate and soil. The last factor is probably the most important, and it’s the fermentation of the cacao. Cacao is a fruit that grows on a tree, but to transform this to beans that you can make chocolate out of, there’s a step called fermentation and drying, and it’s a key step.
20:24 - To generalize Vietnamese chocolate quite a bit [the biggest difference with chocolate from here] it’s fruitiness. We see a lot of similarities with chocolate from Madagascar, for example. Bright fruit notes, sometimes more citrus-y. A lack of bitterness.
40:56 - I think the fairtrade model has flaws, and they are widely recognized even by people who are a part of the FairTrade ecosystem, but for us in Vietnam, there’s one major problem. It’s that some of the rules that have been built into the FairTrade system - for instance… It cannot be fairtrade if you do not buy from a co-op. You can see where that comes from - the idea that the buyer has the power to divide the farmers, so the farmers are more powerful if they’re united in a co-op, in theory it’s fine - but it assumes that the buyer is a bad guy and the seller is a poor peasant who cannot fend for himself. In Vietnam, it feels irrelevant.
(The effect of the article): 45:11 - For insiders I think it was fascinating and fairly horrifying to watch the whole thing. Parts of me think the original expose about how the Mast Brothers may have cheated about bean-to-bar was well-argued. They weren’t exactly what they were pretending to be. At the same time, it’s something that happened years ago. The real problem, the reason why you could take them on such a small issue and blow it into something huge was because of something the Mast Brothers had come to symbolize - being this sort of hipster, food company, poster-child for your Brooklyn-based hipster company.
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