Exploring fine flavour cocoa production in Tanzania: Kokoa Kamili visit

Starting a cocoa fermentary in Tanzania is not exactly the most obvious career choice. Brian LoBue and Simran Bindra however, saw the potential of Tanzania cocoa, and decided to take the plunge. In Mbingu, a town bordering the breathtaking Udzungwa National Park, they found the perfect spot. In just a few short years they built Kokoa Kamili: a facility where cocoa beans are fermented and dried to perfection. 

From the start, Kokoa Kamili is on a mission to raise the profile of Tanzanian cocoa, and give cocoa farmers the opportunity to command higher prices for their quality cocoa. Their work didn’t go unnoticed by the international chocolate industry, with a growing number of chocolate makers winning awards with their Kokoa Kamili bars. Cocoanect has been a proud partner of Kokoa Kamili since 2015.

Do you want to know more about the Kokoa Kamili cocoa beans? Read our sourcing report here or contact our Specialty Cocoa Specialist, Mr. Mirko Bellocchio at specialtycocoa <@> cocoanect.com. 

In this photo essay, we invite you to travel along the long and windy roads to the heart of the Kokoa Kamili operations in Mbingu. 

It’s a 12-hour drive from commercial capital Dar-Es-Salaam on the coast, to Mbingu in central Tanzania. Part of the road is paved, though the closer you get to the cocoa farmers the bumpier it becomes. During the rainy season, the roads might even disappear completely… However, en route you are rewarded with some beautiful landscapes and if very lucky, you might even spot some wildlife.

Owners Brian and Simran and their team of 30-50 employees (depending on the season) are very welcoming hosts. The team takes care of the purchasing of wet cocoa, post-harvest procedures, quality control and of course the logistics from Mbingu to the port, and ultimately the Cocoanect warehouse.

Chocolate makers across the world have turned Kokoa Kamili’s beans into mouthwatering chocolate – as proudly displayed on their office walls. We were happy to be able to expand their collection with new bars made by Aruntam and Original Beans, delicious dark chocolate made from Kokoa Kamili cocoa.

Meet Elisante, the field officer. He makes daily farm visits and has a wealth of knowledge on farming practices. During group training sessions with the farmers, he teaches important farming skills. These range from what the best ways are to plant new seedlings to what the safest way is to harvest cocoa pods. The prevention of diseases and pests is also covered, as these are always a threat in the tropics. The majority of farmers Kokoa Kamili works with never had real education on best agricultural practices, and their knowledge at times is outdated. This makes Elisante’s advice all the more important.

The small-scale farmers Kokoa Kamili work with generally have plantations in the size of about 2 acres. The farmers use an intercropping system, which means that next to cocoa they also have other crops on their plantation including banana, mango, pineapple and/or rice.

The farmers harvest the cocoa pods once they are ripe, and cut them open to release the beans and the pulp. The farmers bring this so-called ‘wet cocoa’ to the nearest Kokoa Kamili buying station the same day, or Kokoa Kamili will send a truck to pick it up if it is >50 kilo of wet beans. The majority of farmers do not own motorized vehicles, which is why Kokoa Kamili operates two buying stations in the region and another one at the factory gate, which means there is always a buying station nearby.

Straight after entering the gate of the fermentation center, you will find one of the buying stations. This is where the wet cocoa is weighed, and the farmers receive their payment straight away. The scale is government approved, which means the farmers can trust that they are not being cheated (this, unfortunately, is a concern in many cocoa regions).

Kokoa Kamili uses a three-tier cascade box system for the fermentation. The beans start in box no 1 on the top and lower down after 2 days, making it a total of 6-day fermentation. Organic and non-organic beans are separated during the entire post-harvest process.

After fermentation, the beans are transported to the drying tables. Here, underneath the palm trees, the cocoa beans dry for 4-7 days, and are constantly raked to ensure an even drying process.

Part of the reason Kokoa Kamili’s cocoa is of such outstanding quality is the many steps they take to make sure chocolate makers receive the best cocoa. One of these steps takes place after the drying. These women sort the beans and take out the beans that have defects.

Once sorted and bagged, the cocoa beans are stored in the warehouse until they are ready to be shipped.

To improve their farmers’ production, Kokoa Kamili has a nursery where they grow cocoa tree seedlings. These seedlings are sold to the farmers at ~$0.04 each and once fully grown, can replace old trees that no longer bear fruit.

All the care Kokoa Kamili puts into their cocoa is of incredible importance to the final product: chocolate. Here co-owner Simran shares the fruits of their labor in the shape of a bar made by Aruntam.

Are you a chocolate maker and interested to work with Kokoa Kamili cocoa? Contact our specialty cocoa specialist at specialtycocoa<@> cocoanect.com or +31107603113

Learn more:

“Kokoa Kamili has created a very happy farmer community in a very short time”

read our Kokoa Kamili Sourcing Report