Back in 1993, Willie Harcourt-Cooze was lying on Choroni beach in Venezuela when a beach-umbrella seller called Mervyn told him about a hacienda in the cloud forest for sale. The next day, Harcourt-Cooze went up to investigate “Hacienda El Tesoro”, a farm perched up in the Henri Pittier National Park’s treetops. He walked up past a river and into the shade of the canopy of the trees, all in full fruit with kaleidoscopic colour. The one-thousand-acre cacao farm left him lost for words, bar a mere three: “This is it.”
After three years of back-and-forth, he bought the farm, and Harcourt-Cooze’s chocolate-dipped odyssey began. The journey would see him travelling between the shores of Devon to the shores of Venezuela in the quest to create the best bean-to-bar chocolate money can buy.
Harcourt-Cooze explains why his Willie’s Cacao chocolate is truly “bean-to-bar”. The process begins with a pod ripening on a cacao tree; the pods are then opened; the beans are exposed to oxygen and fermentation begins. The beans develop their flavour in boxes covered with banana leaves before being sun-dried and shipped to his chocolate factory in Uffculme, Devon. Once they arrive, the cacao beans are roasted in antique ball roasters and in the conching stage, the bitterness is removed by adding extra ingredients, such as sugar – this step can take anything from two hours to two days. The chocolate is then tempered, warmed and cooled to the right consistency before the melted chocolate is poured into a mould. After the chocolate has cooled and solidified, it is wrapped and beautifully packaged, taking it from “bean-to-bar”.