Chocolate. You can’t live without it. So let’s talk about buying Fair Trade, which supports those whose livelihoods really do depend upon it.

Fair Trade chocolate workers (photo Fair Trade US)

Cacao bean workers. (Photo: Fair Trade US)

Chocolate makers who’ve been certified as Fair Trade have promised to pay fair wages to the cacao bean farmers who supply them. It’s really that simple. You, the consumer, can do the kind thing at Valentine’s by buying Fair Trade chocolate products. You’ll be supporting small growers in Latin America and Africa, while also making sure your dollars are not supporting the low wages and indentured servitude that have blighted mass cacao production on the Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa.

Chocolate, Theo, in Pink....Sure, it’s easy to pick up chocolate wherever you find it — it’s everywhere! — but it’s also getting easier to find Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa powder as chocolate makers link up with growers directly. In addition, almost all Fair Trade chocolate is Organic-certified, meaning the cacao beans were grown sustainably and without pesticides, which is healthier for you, your giftee and the environment.

All the treats featured here are Organic and Fair (or Direct) Trade. Some of the chocolate is made in the US, some is manufactured in Europe; chocolatiers are getting wise as well.

Chocolates Mama Ganache...vegan or regular...Mama Ganache – Artisan Chocolates, Obispo CA

This Organic, Fair Trade chocolate is made in the USA. Romantics can select from two chocolate collections in red velvet heart boxes for Valentine’s. One is filled with classic chocolates with cream or caramel centers. The other is the vegan alternative. A 24-chocolate box is $45. One with 11 pieces of this custom chocolate is $25.

Need a fundraiser? Mama Ganache offers a line of fundraising bars and chocolates packaged for business gifts.

Chocolate - Sjaaks heartsSjaaks Organic Chocolates – Petaluma, CA

Sjaak’s is a gourmet chocolate company that began with Jacques Sjaak’s chocolate-making training in Holland (of course). He and his wife brought their Dutch chocolate to Northern California and have prospered. Valentine’s specialties are going fast at Sjaak’s, but there’s still a 3-pound tub of Fair Trade vegan chocolate hearts for $65, along with a few other specially packaged items. They’ve got several vegan options, and while dark chocolate often is vegan by default, it’s still nice to see it packaged up for gift-giving, like this smaller tub of dark chocolates for $33. Sjaak’s is unique among Fair Trade chocolatiers in operating just like the old-fashioned chocolatier, with a variety of sampler chocolates suitable for special occasions.

Chocolate --Taza  MiCarino_LGTaza Chocolate – Somerville, MA

We first found this Mexican-style chocolate in northern New York of all places. It has a very distinctive taste and texture; as Taza puts it, the stone-ground cacao “speaks for itself.” We love its rich earthy, cacao taste. In addition to being Organic and Direct Trade (like Fair Trade, and can be even better wage-wise), this chocolate is gluten free (naturally), dairy and soy-free and Kosher-certified. Made in Massachusetts by a man who trained with artisans in Mexico, this handcrafted product is available online directly from Taza and also on Amazon.

The Mi Carina gift set features three bars, Coco Besos Coconut Bar, Factory Limited Hazelnut Butter Bar, and Factory Limited Raspberry Bar for $23. You’ll get even more chocolate (16.2 oz.) in the Mexicano Classic Collection, a sampler of six disks for $28.

Chocolate, Divind Valentine box div-vpdvgsDivine Chocolate – Washington D.C.

The aptly named Divine Chocolate is produced by a collective in Africa, where farmers grow cocoa on their own family-owned land. By retaining control, they’re able to make a better living and set working conditions for themselves.

This year they’ve assembled a 7-bar gift box for Valentine’s Day. It’s $37.49. Divine’s also got a Dark Chocolate Lovers Gift Set featuring dark chocolate paired variously with ginger and orange, fruits and nuts, and raspberries. It’s wrapped with a gold bow for $27.99.

We could go on with Divine, which is a truly smooth and delicious treat. Their White Chocolate with Strawberries works for a simple V-Day gift, available at Amazon. Ditto the Dark Chocolate with Raspberries. We mention this by way of showing how convenient it’s becoming to buy Fair Trade.

Chocolate -- Alter Eco BlackTrufflesAlter Eco — Oakland, CA

Like Divine, Alter Eco chocolate bars have been a mainstay in the Fair Trade market for several years. Their cacao beans come from Peru and Ecuador, it’s crafted by chocolatiers in Switzerland. Alter Eco was the first that we know of to put out a chocolate/quinoa bar (they also sell quinoa), creating a crunchy dark chocolate (and vegan) treat that’s becoming popular with other chocolate makers. Now, Oakland-based Alter Eco is selling Velvet Truffles in dark and milk chocolate. These melty chocolates are made with Peruvian dark chocolate and coconut oil. In addition to being Fair Trade and Organic, they’re packaged in compostable wrappers.
You can find this brand in natural food markets or order directly online. They’re $7.99 for a 10-piece box.

chocolate Equal Exchange -heartsEqual Exchange – Bridgewater, MA

This employee-owned co-op, based in Bridgewater, MA with offices in St. Paul, MN, and Portland, OR, imports its Fair Trade chocolate and coffee and sugar from worker co-ops in various locales, and they’re really deep into chocolate.

For the coming holiday, they’re selling Valentine Hearts in dark or milk chocolate, 24 for $6.99, available on their website and in affiliated stores, including faith groups. Their Organic Hot Cocoa also is looking pretty good this extra-snowy, cold winter.

And no one outdoes Equal Exchange’s delicious, wide-ranging menu of chocolate bars, which are available online and in natural food stores. To name a few: Organic Milk Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt (with 41 percent cacao), Organic Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt (55 percent cacao), Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper (55 percent cacao), Organic Very Dark Chocolate (71 percent), Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds (55 percent) and there’s still more… These reasonably priced bars ($3.75), will win you over to the Fair Trade way.

Equal Exchange, which has been around for about 25 years, also runs a robust Interfaith program, partnering with many religious groups to sell and promote Fair Trade products that support their food coop suppliers around the world.

Chocolate Green and Black's Red Chili

Green & Black’s – East Hanover, NJ

Another sustainability pioneer, this brand offers one big advantage, it’s got longevity and is available at a lot of stores, including some of the usual Big Boxes in the US; an option could prove handy, if not so gifty. This is good chocolate, with heart, grown sustainably by small farmers under the shade of the rainforest in Belize. If you eat chocolate, you’ve probably already tried Green & Black’s, which was founded by a couple in the UK and is now owned by Mondelez International in the US.

Bar choices include: Dark Chocolate Mint, Milk Chocolate with Almonds, Milk Chocolate with Toffee, 70 percent Dark, 85 percent Dark, Ginger Dark Chocolate and of course, the signature and piquant, Mayan Gold.
Find them at grocery stores or online at Amazon.

Chocolate Theo_MyCherryBabyTheo Chocolate – Seattle, WA

Theo’s offering two Valentine-inspired bars, Cherry Baby and Cinnamon Love Crunch, each retailing for $4. The Seattle-based Theo began with a vision of supporting sustainable, Fair Trade practices and its chocolate is certified Fair for Life. This cause-oriented company sells a chocolate bar that helps buy bicycles for the poor, the Theo Chocolate Sea Salt Dark Chocolate World Bicycle Relief bar (just look for the picture) and also a fig and fennel creation that benefits farmers in the Democratic Congo.

Chocolate --riotbar-6pack_largeSweetriot Gift — New York City

This arty, up-and-coming company has gone Fair Trade with this set of 6 riotBars. These dark chocolate bars are from chocolate sourced in Latin America. The kosher, vegan, gluten-free pack comes with two bars each of three flavors – 85 percent dark chocolate; 70 percent dark chocolate with coconut and 70 percent with quinoa. A good deal at $24.99 for the six bars.

Chocolate, Dagoba Chai chai-exteriorDagoba – Portland, OR

Dagoba offers an interesting line of cocoas in four Organic, Rainforest-certified fun flavors. These “drinking chocolates,” come in Chai, Unsweetened, “Authentic” with dark chocolate bits and Xocalatl with Chilies and Cinnamon.

Making Mayan and Aztec-inspired sweets, Oregon-based Dagoba has created a dozen flavors of chocolate bars if you count the cooking chocolate, such as beaucoup berries with 74 percent cacao, lavender blueberry (59 percent cacao), mint, chai, new moon and more.

Their chocolate comes from Peru, Dominican Republic and Tanzania. It’s all Fair Trade, though the company has been bought by Hershey, which does not use Fair Trade chocolate and has been in hot water with activists over its failure to switch over.

Fair Trade campaigners say Hershey has used child labor and tolerates low wages in cacao-growing regions. Hershey says it does not exploit workers. Activists respond that this iconic American company could really make a difference if it would certify its operations as Fair Trade, and commit to rigorous environmental practices. Dagoba remains a Fair Trade operation. Oh, the dilemma. You decide.