Exploring the economic realities of cacao farmers in the Amazon region of Peru, the documentary “Setting the Bar: A Craft Chocolate Origin Story,” shown on Monday, Sept. 9, at the Fox Events Center, in downtown Redlands.
Directed by Tim Shepard, the film follows a group of craft-chocolate makers as they venture into the Peruvian jungle in search of the appropriate cocoa trees to produce exquisite and one-of-a-kind taste.
Among the adventurers was Ryan Berk, owner of Parliament Chocolate, in Redlands. Berk said that just as tequila, mezcal, whiskey and other exquisite alcoholic drinks, chocolate producing deserves recognition because behind every chocolate bar there are people working to survive.
“The farmers work very hard so that we could have a product to work with. For us to have the ability to touch and hand sort those beans, roast them, crack and winnow them, refine them and then temper them into a delicious piece of quality chocolate is truly amazing,” said Berk.
The chef, who also owns A La Minute ice cream, and Aroi Mak Mak restaurant, travels to different parts of the world in search of quality products, making sure farmers use good environmental practices to avoid any damage to the motherland.
In Peru, Berk and other chocolatiers, including Nate Hodge from New York, Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt from Georgia and Greg D’Allesandre from California, among others, traveled with cacao expert Steve Bergin.
In their adventure through tick jungle, navigating by boat and small planes at times, the group discovered and investigated the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon, a region in the world where experts are now believing cacao originated from.
In fact, there is botanical evidence that shows cacao was first grown for food more than 5,000 years ago in the Amazon rainforest. According to the film, Peru's harvest yielded about 70,000 tons of beans in 2015 alone. Much of this is grown by small-scale farmers who sell their beans to middlemen, who then sell to the large chocolate makers, according to the film.
Enjoyed by Mesoamerican cultures of Central America, in what today is known as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other countries, chocolate was introduced to Europe after the Conquista.
The film talks about how Peruvian farmers are now harvesting more cacao instead of coca leaves, which is illegal, making it impossible to deposit the revenues into bank accounts.
The fact that families keep their revenues in their homes makes them easy targets for thieves.
While craft chocolate makes up only a sliver of the United State's $17.7 billion chocolate market, it's growing exponentially, with consumers increasingly willing to spend $10 and up for an artisanal bar made from a new variety of cacao.
Consumers are increasingly attuned to food sourcing and production methods and are more willing to pay for sustainable and artisanal products rather than mass production.