Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade: Can You Trace Your Chocolate?

The Dominican Republic, Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras…

Since you’ve found the FEARLESS blog, I’ll wager you know what these countries have in common. But do you know what the following countries have in common?

France, Germany, U.S., Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, England, Australia.

These are the countries that make and consume 90% of the world’s chocolate.

If the former countries grow the chocolate, and the latter ones make and eat it, have you ever considered, as a chocolate consumer yourself (and you know you are), the process in which chocolate gets from country A to country B.

Simply: Can You Trace Your Chocolate?

Do you absolutely know where your chocolate comes from and how ethical, environmental, direct or indirect the trading process?

Cacao Hands

Life by the handful

Buyers and makers of chocolate take various approaches to the purchase of beans. Some recent and popular words like Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Bean-to-Bar, Microbatch, and Handcrafted have circulated, and anyone who has a serious interest in frequent chocolate consumption should be familiar with these words.

You’ve probably heard of Fair Trade (FT) by now. FT is when buyers pay a “fair price” to producers or growers. The “fair price” is evaluated by a third party organization (the FT organization) that considers cost of production, cost of work input, cost of producer/grower’s living conditions, etc, then, if the plantation meets the standards, the third party stamps the plantation with a  seal of approval. In chocolate, this seal informs the consumer the chocolate has met the standards of the FT organization. Those growers that choose (or can afford) to buy a FT organization’s certification become a part of a cooperative, so when beans are bought, a large percent (between 50-80%) goes to the cooperative, and a small percent (between 30-50%) goes to the growers. The growers do make decisions about the projects and actions that the cooperative makes, but they almost never receive full payment of the paid price.

Despite the positive direction of FT, it has downsides. Most growers are too poor to pay for a FT certification, and if they can afford it, they do not receive direct payment for their beans. For the consumer, FT might mean a limited bean variety, since FT certified growers exist in only 11 origins. In addition, many large corporations buy a percentage of their beans as FT to “trick” the consumer into thinking they’re a “green” company.

For the reasons above, many chocolate makers prefer Direct Trade. DT requires a chocolate maker, usually a single person or small group of people making the chocolate, to develop a face-to-face relationship with the grower. The DT buyer almost always pays higher then FT prices to the grower, and the grower gets 100% of the payment. Some chocolate makers even pay above the FT price and start schools or profit sharing. In direct trading, the buyer has complete control of the bean quality and production. The major downside to DT is that the consumer and the grower must trust the integrity of the buyer, that the buyer pays and practices what he claims.

Circle of life

Cacao Pods on the ground

Due to direct trade buying, bean to bar chocolate making has come to dominate the future of chocolate. In bean to bar, the chocolate maker has complete control of the chocolate from the moment it’s plucked from the tree to the consumer’s purchase of the bar. This includes the way and type of beans plucked, the treatment of the growers, the shipment of the beans to the buyer, and the chocolate making.

Inside the bean-to-bar, direct trade chocolate making world, there are finer terms that some chocolate makers use, like microbatch and handcrafted. Microbatch simply means a smaller amount of chocolate is made per batch. Hand crafted is a marketing term, because in reality, no chocolate can be made without a machine (unless literally four hundred people do the work of one machine, which is, obviously, ridiculous). In bean to bar chocolate making, much of the chocolate is hand-crafted, but a machine separates the shell from the bean (winnowing) and blends the sugar and the chocolate liquor (conching). Realistically, handcrafted means the chocolate maker oversees in-house chocolate on an intricate level.

With the terms clarified, I asked Jordon Michael Schuster, one of the founders of FEARLESS chocolate, how FEARLESS trades and produces their chocolate.

Schuster is a direct trader. He works with three family-owned farms in Brazil, called the Badaro Farms, and visits the farms on a yearly basis (he returns this September) to oversee and make large-scale decisions. He is also in weekly contact with the farms.

FEARLESS is a microbatch chocolate maker in that it makes a ton of chocolate a week. Schuster tells me this is their maximum batch size, and within this production “We [FEARLESS CHOCOLATE] have well elaborated bean selecting criteria based upon 1. bean genetics 2. bean appearance 3. moisture content 4. micro-analysis (for bacterial contamination). All the selected beans are dried and hand-sorted.”

Thus, we have unloaded a minute beginning to the industry of chocolate, giving you confidence in your chocolate purchases. So challenge yourself by testing your buyer! Ask the tough questions: you have a right to know!

  • Where’s my chocolate from?
  • How is it traded?
  • Do you deal directly with the buyer or use third party traders?
  • Is it made in micro batches?
  • And is my chocolate made bean-to-bar, from the fermenting to the conching to the molding?


Don’t settle for the middle man chocolate makers with their inferior beans. Claim your chocolate snobbery!



By Heather Palmer

Written on September 12th, 2011

Heather Palmer has an MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her book works include the online-serialized novella Charlie’s Train (the2ndhand), the chapbook Mere Tragedies (Girls With Insurance) and the novella Complements: of Us (Spork Press). Her forthcoming poetry book, Starfish Over Oyster, will be published with Love Symbol Press in early 2012. She has blogged for FEARLESS chocolate, edited at Monkeybicycle Magazine and Dzanc Books, and now teaches grammar at Harold Washington College of Chicago. Read more about her at “Fine Salt”, her blog:

Posted by & filed under Chocolate, Direct Trade.

Eat Mail for June: Cherry Expresso Bomb-Bons & The Dark Chocolate Pick-Me-Up

Inspired by a productively crazy month of late nights, early mornings, satisfying work and dark chocolate, we humbly present this June’s Eat Mail Extravaganza: Cherry Expresso Bomb-Bons and The Dark Chocolate Pick-Me-Up, eaturing fresh roasted coffee beans from Oakland’s favorite local java purveyor, The Bicycle Coffee Company!

Your mission, should you choose to ingest it, is to disarm a carefully-roasted coffee bean wrapped in a dried tart cherry, jacketed in dark chocolate, and dusted with cayenne cocoa…with your mouth! The Cherry Expresso Bomb-Bon packs a pleasant crunchy punch, tart up front with a delicious spicy fallout.

The Dark Chocolate Pick-Me-Up bar is perfect for rocket-jumping past the afternoon hurdle of drowsiness. We’ve infused our signature 75% Dark as Midnight with a healthy dose of Bicycle Coffee’s freshly ground Medium Roast. You’ll wish this silky-smooth and surprisingly sweet bar was a bottomless cup, so be sure to enjoy one tasty square at a time.

Bicycle Coffee is all about delivering great-tasting coffee by bicycle. Roasting organic, fair-trade, hand-picked, and shade grown Arabica beans, they deliver freshly roasted bags of coffee to offices, grocery stores, and cafes in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Bicycle Coffee uses a custom-built, small batch roaster allows them to roast our coffee exactly how they like it. Keeping their nose to the coffe grindstone, their beans change seasonally, but always offer medium, dark, and decaf roasts. We used a mix of the Nicaraguan medium roast and the Mexican dark roast from Chiapas.

We biked over to pick up the beans ourselves just minutes after they roasted them right before we made this batch of delicious chocolate. Believe you me (er, us), it’s very amazing.


Posted by & filed under EAT MAIL.


Get off your feet. Take a break from walking. Float instead.
up, up, and away
Natsumi Hayashi gently captures the honesty of one’s secret daydream desire to be able to fly.
up and at them
Her photos almost suggest that we all already know how to fly, as if we’re catching a glance of something we’d normally see or do ourselves.
open fields
Even on the odd occasion where she rocks something of a superhero pose, her relaxed, almost detached, face seems to impart feelings of both selfless enjoyment and self-observation.
the yoga of flying
And sometimes, we fall…
only to get back up again.
and we're back!
Fearlessly enjoy

Posted by & filed under Website.

Feeling Fearless? Free Full Service Hair Cut and Styling

We’ve arranged for 8 FREE Full Service Makeovers by REDD, national educator for Shu Uemora & Kerastase. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are looking for a completely new look… well, look no further:
before & after
The catch? You have no say in what happens. Feeling Fearless? Time to test that trust!
before & after
You must be available during the day on either Wed June 15 or Tues June 21. If interested, drop us an email at We’ll take care of the rest!. Be ready to submit a recent photo for consideration. SF Bay Area residents only.
before & after
You can check out more samples of Redd’s work at her website If you are selected, not only will you get the cut of a lifetime, but you’ll get some free chocolate to boot! AMAZING!!

Posted by & filed under Feeling Fearless?.

Science Fact: The Infamous Chocolate Bloom

The world is a magical place, and in many circles, this magic is called science. Sometimes this magical science is a wonderful thing, resulting in double rainbows or David Byrne or magnets or baby giraffes. Other times, this scientific magic gives us something that just isn’t all that great.
bloomin' chocolate!
Introducing Chocolate Bloom, the scourge of chocolate lovers everywhere. You might have fallen victim on a chocolate bar past, dropping the grayed, pockmarked bar with disgust just moments after unwrapping it with hasty delight. “O Calamity!”, you exclaimed with great fervor and an unanswered rumbling stomach, “Why hath fate dealt me such terrible fortune?”
Well, I’ll tell you. Science may sometimes be magical– and in this particular case, cruel– but it is never unintentional. There are two kinds of Chocolate bloom: Fat Bloom and Sugar Bloom. Fat Bloom is a by-product that occurs when unchecked chocolate is heated and cooled. When chocolate heats up, a bit of the fat separates from the solid particles, forming into white residue. The result is that fractal streaking and spottiness on chocolate bars that can ruin the moment.
not so tasty, innit?
Sugar Bloom’s main catalyst is moisture. When water comes in contact with chocolate, it bonds with the sugar, leaving behind chocolate graffiti when it evaporates. Like Fat Bloom, Sugar Bloom occurs when chocolate goes through extreme temperature change.
Suger Bloom
Next time this happens, take heed that the chocolate is still edible, perhaps even still delicious! You can wipe away fat bloom (for the most part), but sugar bloom changes the structure of the bar. You may find the consistency to be grainy or brittle. Rest assured, you can eat it as long as the chocolate is still under warranty (check the “best before” date on the wrapper). If you get a bar that’s bloomed, bring it back to where you bought it. They should replace it. If you store large quantities of chocolate at home, keep it in a cool, dry place enjoying a temperature range between 60-75º Fahrenheit. This should ensure that next time you crack open a bar of FEARLESS, you will get to experience the full magic of delicious chocolate, regardless of what science may have to say about it.

Posted by & filed under SCIENCE FACT.

Foodia is… CHOCOLATE

If you’re in the San Francisco bay area (as if there are any other bay areas) TOMORROW evening at 6pm on Friday, May 27th, you are in for a special treat. FEARLESS will be reppin’ hard at the Foodia is… CHOCOLATE event at the Press Club. Come on down for a special treat!

FOODIA is a website devoted to one sole purpose: to help people find good food. We totally support that.
Check out their site and see for yourself:


Posted by & filed under Demos, EVENTS, tasting.