Raaka, the Brooklyn-Based Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Maker

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Raaka
If it seems early for us to be hawking "perfect holiday presents," keep in mind that the Christmas commercials are already airing, department stores are telling us that the shoes we want for ourselves are actually great gifts for other people, and here in New York, the Winter Village at Bryant Park, packed with more than 125 boutique-style pop-up shops, opened last week. So even though we haven't even hit Thanksgiving, the holiday season is here, whether you're ready for it or not. And if you're walking through that Winter Village, feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the sheepskin gloves and crafty jewelry, consider going with a gift (or, um, indulgence for yourself) that few will find fault with: chocolate.

One bar -- or several -- from Brooklyn-based chocolate company Raaka Virgin Chocolate is sure to please just about anybody on your holiday gift list. The artisanal, socially conscious, small-batch chocolate bars are made from organic virgin (translation: unroasted) cocoa beans that have been carefully sourced through fair trade channels to ensure that no child slave labor or other corrupt practices were used in their cultivation. (Yes, your Hershey Bar was made with the help of child slavery, environmental degradation, and general political corruption.)

Raaka goes out of its way -- and out of its pocket -- to support a better system of global trade in chocolate. According to co-founder Ryan Cheney, Raaka supports in-country growth and development by giving cocoa farmers around the world an effective 20 percent raise for their beans. The impact of this kind of capital influx goes far beyond the farmers themselves. "For example," Cheney says, "Maya Mountain Cacao in the Moho River Valley of Belize has seen an increase from 45 percent to 85 percent of children of cocoa farmers in school since they became a cooperative which only supports fair-trade purchases."

Raaka's good practices go further than just its responsible sourcing, though. Customers will immediately notice the bars' wrappers, which could be saved for their gorgeous designs. The packaging isn't just pretty -- printed with soy inks on 100 percent recycled paper and processed with wind-generated energy, it's good for the planet, too. The company also donates its cocoa husk to Edible Schoolyard NYC, a Brooklyn after-school gardening program, to be used as mulch and fertilizer.

With a diverse selection to choose from, you'll have plenty of options for finding the right bar for your partner/in-law/boss/anyone. For the fan of the salty-sweet combination, try the 71 percent dark with sea salt, a straight dark bar dusted with Himalayan pink sea salt. Beer-lovers should go with Cheney's favorite, the porter, hops, and malt (67 percent cacao), made with organic dry cascade hops and sweetened with malt extract and maple sugar. (This is the only non-gluten-free bar.) And because it doesn't use any nuts, milk, or soy, you can be sure that a gift from Raaka will make even your vegan, gluten-free, or otherwise hard-to-please family members happy.

The catch? Ethically made chocolate does not come cheap: One bar costs $7.95. But before you let the price scare you, consider why it's so expensive. As Cheney explains, "I do get my fair share of [sticker shock from customers], but our story usually resonates with folks, and most people can understand why buying fair-trade beans and making chocolate by hand, bean-to-bar, in Brooklyn might be more expensive than the manufacturing model the industrial food system has put forth." So instead of wondering why Raaka's chocolate is so pricey, ask yourself why Hershey's (or Godiva's, or Lindt's etc.) is so relatively cheap.

Raaka Chocolate is available online, in stores, and, now, at the Bryant Park Winter Village.




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