Get Your Fair Trade Fix at Theo Chocolate Academy

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In 2006, Theo Chocolate Factory changed the face of the American chocolate making industry by becoming the first certified Organic and Fair Trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the United States. Theo’s small-batch chocolate production is truly an art form — it requires understanding the art of cacao bean growing, roasting and chocolate making.

Local fans and tourists alike have enjoyed getting the scoop on Theo's sustainable sourcing and production processes via their popular sample-laden factory tours. But now there's plenty more to learn. Starting this month, Theo's experts will be divulging some of their award-winning secrets to budding chocolatiers and connoisseurs who enroll in the Theo Chocolate Academy (PDF).

Chocolate cadets will attend lectures, workshops and hands-on demonstrations to earn either a specific certification or a comprehensive “Degree in Chocolatology.” These courses, offered Wednesday nights at Theo's Fremont headquarters, will follow a curriculum that not only teaches students to whip up a batch of delectable chocolates, but also helps them understand the product's social and environmental backstory.

Course titles include: Chocolate for Nerds: Biochemistry of Flavor; Journey to Africa: Life among the Cacao Farmers; Inside the Industry: The Economics of a Chocolate Bar; and Homemade Chocolate: Reviving an Ancient Tradition.

Theo's local/global message is already percolating out into the world of chocolate making. Mast Brothers in Brooklyn and Patric Chocolate in Columbia, Mo., are just a sampling of the new artisan producers championing organic and fair trade practices across the country. Even large-scale chocolate producers are moving toward more sustainable practices. London-based confection giant Cadbury and the Fairtrade Foundation, for example, recently announced plans to achieve Fair Trade certification for Cadbury Dairy Milk by end of Summer 2009. This groundbreaking move in the industry will result in the tripling of sales of cacao under Fair Trade terms for farmers in Ghana, both increasing Fair Trade cacao sales for existing certified farming groups, as well as opening up new opportunities for thousands more farmers to benefit from the Fair Trade system.

We're proud to have a local business leading the way to help redefine this powerful industry. Here's hoping the Chocolate Academy inspires the next generation of artisan chocolatiers -- or responsible business advocates -- here in Seattle.

Photo credit: flickr/disatasu, Creative Commons license.

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