Moka Turns Five: Celebrating Five Years of Chocolate and Coffee With Impact

Moka Turns Five: Celebrating Five Years of Chocolate and Coffee With Impact

Posted by Jeff Abella on

New year, same intent

Wow! 2022 marks the 5th anniversary of opening our factory and starting to make chocolate and roast coffee! We're feeling incredibly grateful for all of your support these past 5 years - it really means so much to see other people who care about social wellbeing in the way that you all do.

We never intended to make chocolate and coffee. Starting out, our main intent was to help farmers grow higher quality cacao that would give them access to markets where they could earn premiums for their beans, rather than being underpaid and stuck in poverty. Today, our intent is still the same - to help lift farmers out of poverty by paying them fairly for their beans. We now do that by buying those beans directly, and turning them into gourmet chocolate and coffee. Before we get into our backstory, let's review what you've helped us accomplish in the past 5 years.

In the past 5 years, you've helped:

Planting Trees

In the past 5 years, you've helped us plant nearly a quarter million fruit trees, from mango and avocado to cacao and banana. Not only do these trees help to neutralize carbon emissions (especially trees planted in tropical climates) but every tree planted provides farmers with a source of income through selling the fruit.

Sourcing Ethically

We only purchase beans from farms and farmers that are paid a premium for their beans. This means the beans we purchase are not only high-quality, but also that they ensure farmers earn a sustainable living wage and are paid fairly.

Investing in Communities

When you purchase our products, you're directly investing into the communities who grew the beans used to make our products. Not only that, but you're also helping community members in Cameroon start their own farm through which they can earn a living.

Together, you've helped us reach:

Co-founder & CEO Jeff with Patricia at Moka Farm cacao nursery in 2016

The Moka Origins Story

As mentioned earlier, we never set out to make chocolate and coffee. When co-founders Jeff and Ishan first went to Cameroon in 2007, they quickly realized how integral agriculture is to the Cameroonian society, with Cameroon being the 4th largest producer of cacao in the world. However, if you buy chocolate from the grocery store you often don't know where the cacao used to make that chocolate is from. If it is disclosed where the cacao is from then it's usually from Central or South America, not often Africa. Why is that?

Simply put, many giant companies who source cacao don't care much about where it's from or how farmers are being treated and paid. Their main concern is getting cacao beans at the lowest price possible, which often times means the beans are not processed properly, skipping steps like proper fermentation. Long story short there are a lot of cut corners, mostly to the detriment of the cacao farmers. There is a similar case in the coffee industry. This leads to farmers being stuck in poverty, and poor quality products made from those beans. When Ishan and Jeff realized the negative impact this was having on the lives of so many in countries that are often neglected by the rest of the world, they set out to change that.

From left to right, Farm Manager Edwin, Agronomist Dr. Kobe, Co-founder Ishan, Co-founder Jeff, and a friend of Moka

From left to right, Farm Manager Edwin, Agronomist Dr. Kobe, Co-founder Ishan, Co-founder Jeff, and a friend of Moka

The main issues in the cacao supply chain

Unfair Pay

In much of the chocolate and coffee industry, farmers are not paid enough to earn a livelihood and children are being forced to work on farms. Farmers being unfairly paid for their beans is the main problem we're trying to solve.

Imagine having to work for 12+ hours per day, but those hours still not being enough to earn a living. Plus needing to walk miles per day to get water and not having electricity. Life gets spent purely on survival with little time for education, healthcare, or recreational activities. However, when those 12 hours per day is more than enough to earn a living and feed your family, life gets a lot better.

Lack of Investment

Many companies fail to invest back into the farming infrastructure needed to increase efficiency, quality, and profitability, thereby continuing the cycle of poverty.

Poor Quality

Unfortunately, coffee and chocolate is often made with cheap, low-grade beans that earn farmers very little. This reflects in the taste of the final product.

Cacao pods come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. There are about 40 beans in each pod.

Cacao pods come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. There are about 40 beans in each pod.

Changing the world through cacao and coffee

Getting started in Cameroon

When our founders Ishan and Jeff first arrived in Cameroon in 2007, they knew very little about cacao and had a limited experience of farming in rural Africa. Over time, they worked with local community members who were experienced in farming to develop their own understanding and learn of the issues that existed in the agriculture industry, particularly cacao-related issues. After several years of learning about the cacao industry and the lack of investment from the companies buying it, they realized it was time to take matters into their own hands.

In 2014 they organized experienced farmers in the Kumbo area, near the Himalayan Institute campus where they were staying and working. Then in 2015 they were generously granted 1200 acres of land by the local government to start a socially conscious cacao farming project.

Tilling and examining the soil to get ready for planting

Building Moka Farm from the ground up

The 1200 acres of land was secured, now what? Well, the two founders and the expert farmers they gathered set out to find the optimal spots to grow cacao on the land they were granted. This particular region is cut off from running water, electricity and paved roads, which made it essential that they invest in these utilities before anything else. They started by creating infrastructure essential for sustainable farm operations: a staff camp, solar electric system, tree nursery, well, river irrigation system, and an internal road network.

Construction of two irrigation systems by Technical Director Steven Odnoha, Mechanic Elvis Ngum, Volunteer Kaushik Rai

Beginning with a small but dedicated crew, the core team quickly expanded. Farmers, agriculturalists, and just about everyone from the nearby community expressed interest in joining Moka.

Today, Moka team is a tight-knit global family, working to transform lives by promoting innovative farming techniques while giving our farmers opportunities for a sustainable livelihood. In other words, our vision is for coffee and chocolate to empower communities around the world to not just survive but to thrive.

Cacao sourcing in Cameroon

Moka Farm Now

Today, Moka Farm is a very active place that focuses on building community around cacao. The Moka Farm team has 3 main focuses:

Cacao and Fruit Tree Distribution

Currently the main objective of the Moka Farm team is to distribute young trees to neighboring community members who want to start or expand their own farms and earn a living through cacao and fruits trees. However, this is not a quick process. After 5 years of growing, the cacao trees will begin to bear fruit which the farmers can sell and earn a living.

Young cacao saplings at about 6 months old

Farmer Training

Knowing how to successfully grow and care for cacao is half the battle. That's why the Moka Farm team is comprised of expert farmers who can share their knowledge of growing cacao with other community members. Eventually, we intend to have a way to process and ferment the cacao beans right on the farm. Knowing how to do this next step in processing would allow farmers to get paid even more for their beans.

Farmers are trained on how to grow cacao, then given cacao to start their farm

Local Food Crops

Fruit trees such as banana, mango, and avocado are grown alongside the cacao trees. This process of "intercropping" not only provides shade and helps the cacao grow better, but the fruit that those trees bear provides farmers with food to both consume, and to sell at the local market.

Moka Farm manager Edwin holds a melon grown on the farm

Moka Factory: Then & Now

When we first started making chocolate in 2017 it was in a small test kitchen we put together. We used to roast, crack open the cacao beans, grind the insides (nibs), mix the ingredients, and "temper" the chocolate all by hand.

Jeff at the original " Chocolate Lab"

We taught ourselves how to make chocolate and roast coffee through experimenting and watching many Youtube videos. We started crushing cocoa and grinding the "nibs" into chocolate using the Champion juicer pictured below.

Jeff grinds nibs using the Champion juicer

Sara was one of the first Moka Origins employees. She spent hours hand-making and hand-tempering chocolate.

When we first started we named ourselves "Soma Origins", but after realizing the name was too similar to another maker in the industry, we changed the name to Moka Origins (Moka being a variation of spelling of "Mocha", a combination of chocolate and coffee).

Some of the first bags of coffee and chocolate bars we sold in 2016

Our chocolate and coffee factory has come a long way since we officially became a business in 2017. The year before that consisted mostly of construction and working to develop a sellable product.

Chelsea and young Avery staining boards for the top of our tasting table

Over time our factory has gone through many changes and transformations. Rooms have been added, walls torn down, and a cafe has been installed. It's amazing to think back to when we only had four tiny 10 pound chocolate grinders!

Our factory in 2016 vs now

In the past several months we've worked to make our factory even bigger and more efficient than before. We recently purchased new production equipment to expand our chocolate making capacity, and built a bigger room to put it in.

Our new 200 pound refiner with our two 100 pound refiners

This new equipment will help us multiply our chocolate output by about 4 times! That means 4 times the positive impact for the farmers whose beans we're using.

Our new and old Selmi chocolate tempering machines

Working with farmers around the world

With your support we've gone from making extremely small batch chocolate and coffee, to working with farmers around the world on a larger scale. Now, we proudly partner with five cacao and several coffee cooperatives to ethically source beans. These farms and coops share the same values as we do, and realize how crucial it is that farmers are paid fairly for their beans.

Farmers at ABOCFA coop in Ghana holding up chocolate made from their cacao

Latitude Trade Co.

Founded by Jeff Steinburg with the intention of building transparent and fair supply chains for cocoa farmers in Uganda, Latitude Trading Company is a centrally located fermentorium which collects fresh cocoa beans from over 2500 farming partners. Their attention to quality has allowed them to produce some of the highest quality beans in all of Uganda.

They also pay their farmers 10% higher than local market rates, and give bonuses during the dry season. Like true proud craftsmen, they invest in their farmers for quality beans, and work together with exporters to help introduce their farmers to cocoa markets around the globe. We are honored to source our cocoa from Latitude Trading Company, grown in the Semuliki Forest of the Bundibugyo Region of Uganda. We're really looking forward to visiting their farm in a few weeks!

Zorzal Cacao

Reserva Zorzal is the first-ever cacao-producing private reserve in the Dominican Republic, and it’s dedicated to biodiversity and preserving the Bicknell Thrush, an endangered species of bird. Co-founder Charles Kerchner originally came to the DR in 2001 with the Peace Corps to work on a cacao-related project, and while there he realized the great potential of the area. After getting his master’s and PhD with a focus on conservation economics, he returned to create Zorzal in 2012. The team there works toward greater community development through innovation in agronomy, fermentation, drying, and ecological sustainability.

In addition to growing, harvesting, and processing cacao from Zorzal Estate, they also work with a group of 16 neighboring farms, called Zorzal Comunitario: They buy wet beans from these farms and ferment and dry them in a central location, currently in Los Arroyos.

Kokoa Kamili

In 2013, Simran Binda and Brian LoBue decided to use their backgrounds in international development to make an impact in Tanzania. They founded Kokoa Kamili for three reasons:

“1. We believe that farmers should be rewarded fairly for their hard work

2. We believe that Tanzanian cocoa has the potential to be some of the best in the world

3. We believe in the power of cocoa to bring real economic development to rural Tanzanian farmers”

This has become a kind of mantra at Kokoa Kamili, which is not only a central fermentary but also so much more. Located in the heart of Tanzania, Kokoa Kamili buys wet beans from more than 4,000 smallholder farmers in this region and pays the highest price for cacao in all of Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili handles all the fermentation and drying steps of cacao processing, allowing the producing farmers to focus their attention on increasing their yield and proper harvesting techniques. With such close attention put on post-harvest practices, these beans are now considered to be the highest-quality beans in the region.

Further increasing their environmental and social impact, Kokoa Kamili's fermentary is run on solar energy and is also responsible for distributing cacao tree seedlings to farmers. It’s helped plant more than 330,000 trees since 2015. Planting more trees, growing more cocoa, and helping more farmers, Kokoa Kamili is transforming the Tanzanian cacao market into a vehicle for social empowerment and environmental regeneration.

You've helped us get featured in:

And have helped us partner with:

You've made a difference

We just wanted to close this update by saying thank you so much for believing in us and supporting us. As cliche as it sounds, none of what we've managed to accomplish so far would have been possible without your support. Within these short 5 years we've been in business, you've supported numerous cacao and coffee farmers around the world, ensuring they live well and prosper.

Moka Origins Cameroon team

It really means so much to meet so many of you who truly care about the wellbeing of others, and just know that our factory doors are always open to you if you want to stop by, hang out with us, and grab a cup of coffee (or hot chocolate). Thanks for reading and happy new year.

Moka Origins USA team

← Older Post Newer Post →