I am very fortunate to live in a cacao growing country. In industry speak, it's called 'at origin'. As in, from where cacao originates.
This is what I have the good fortune of being able to do at origin: go directly to the cacao farm, admire the cacao pods on the trees (maybe even harvest a few myself), meet the farmers, see their processing center, pay directly for the cacao, put the sack of newly acquired beans in the trunk of my car, drive back to Bangkok and make chocolate with local, direct-traded, ethically sourced beans. Putting actual money in the hands of the farmers: that's as direct as direct trade gets.
There are makers who have been crafting amazing chocolate for years (which by de facto is honoring the source, by the way) yet have never laid their hands on the slightly lumpish, pleasingly smooth to the touch football-shaped pod, let alone tasted the refreshing zesty pulp that surrounds the bean. That's not to do them any discredit, I'm merely highlighting my advantage of being a chocolate maker and chocolatier that won the geographical jackpot of living at origin in Thailand. It also means I have a profound duty to the farmer.
To honor the source, one must know the source. Buying cacao direct from the farmer or, next best step, knowing the people who source and trade the cacao, is no different from knowing whether or not your tomatoes are heirloom, or knowing how free-range is that free-range chicken. Peel away the mystique with which most consumers regard cacao and chocolate (Big Cocoa did an excellent marketing job making sure consumers couldn't even figure out what questions to ask about the product), then you can think of that bar of chocolate as you would think of your cruelty-free bacon or your favorite local artisanal cheese. Meaning, all those variables that you have grown accustomed to considering while you practice mindful shopping, can be applied to cacao. Environmental stewardship. Equitable and fair pay. Good quality of life to both the product and the farmer and, by extension, their entire family and community.
At Xoconat, we/I know the source. I wear many hats at Xoconat — sole proprietor, maker, roaster, chocolatier, recipe developer, marketer, packager, dishwasher (the list goes on, which is why I juggle first person and first person plural pronouns at will) — but cacao sourcer and buyer is one that I regard with most solemnity and gratitude.
I know the source, meaning, I’ve looked into the eyes of the person who tenderly cares for the cacao. I’ve met their kids. I’ve shared my chocolate with them. I know they want cacao to help revitalize their flagging local industry. I know they live simple, mindful lives and simply want to cultivate the economic means that does not require the family members to break off to find work in the city or even other countries. Just as chocolate unites chocolate lovers all over the world, they want cacao to help them keep their families united. United and strong.
Honor the source. For Xoconat that means — make great chocolate. Make delicious, beautiful chocolate so I can tell you: this is grown in Thailand. This is not “Belgian” or “Swiss” chocolate or Godiva, this is Thai chocolate. Or Filipino chocolate. Or Ghanian chocolate. Educating the consumer/chocolate-lover so they start equating chocolate with origin and its delicate supply chain, while easing them away from big branded chocolate that spends all its money on marketing rather than the actual cacao — that is Xoconat’s mission.
Know the source and honor it: Xoconat’s core philosophy and driving passion.