Farm to Bar: Diary of my Cocoa trail tour in Ghana

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It was 10 pm when our flight arrived. I was exhausted after an 11 hour flight but still excited about the next week or so. I planned on taking my chocolate passion to the nth level by embarking on a cocoa-inspired tour with Nugwa Journeys. As promised, a Nugwa Journeys’ representative was waiting outside with a driver when I came out to the waiting area of the airport. We drove to a quiet neighborhood in Accra called Cantonments where I checked into a small but beautiful hotel.

Next day, we spent some time at the Nkrumah mausoleum where I got my first short lesson on Ghana’s history. Then we stopped briefly at the nearby culture market to look through a range of crafts, including woven baskets, sculptures and hand-made bracelets among others. I opted to spend the rest of the day on the Labadi beach. After getting a full day rest and recovering from the lag, I was ready for embark on the trail.

We started at the Tetteh Quarshie cocoa farm and museum. Turns out the man for whom the farm was named brought the first cocoa seedlings to Ghana in the 1800s from present-day Equatorial Guinea in central Africa. Quite a history!. We took a tour of the farm, had lunch and headed back to the hotel, in time for a massage at a nearby spa.

Day 3 and we were headed on a 3-hour trip to one of the main cocoa producing regions of Ghana; the Eastern region. You could tell there was something special about the region; something different compared to the capital. It was on a higher elevation. It had a milder weather. And it was obviously greener. Forests, trees, and a more laid-back pace of life. It was different.

We stopped by the country’s main cocoa research institute (CRIG) for a tour of its model cocoa farm. Talk about beauty!. I couldn’t help looking at the unassuming but beautiful cocoa fruit that gave birth to my favorite snack. We toured the farm, visited the onsite processing facility (where we learned about the entire step a cocoa fruit undergoes before being sent to a chocolate manufacturing company), and dropped by the section that housed samples of cocoa plants suffering from various diseases. Hereafter, we settled for lunch at the institute’s cafeteria and got some locally-made chocolates from its snack store. A cocoa tour couldn’t possibly feel like one if it didn’t involve eating some chocolate bars I guess.

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Close-up view of cocoa fruit on a tree in Ghana

I spent the rest of the evening on walks in the neighborhood near my hotel in the region’s capital. The day was tiring but well worth it. This was one side of the trip. Next day we drove straight to a local cocoa plantation owned by a family in one of the nearby villages. Our car drove off the tarred road as we headed towards the house of our host. After the handshakes, the customary offering of water and a brief history on the ownership of the farm, we started our walk towards the plantation.

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Local cocoa farmer demonstrating cocoa processing

Obviously it wasn’t as immaculately manicured at the research institute’s farm. But it was original. Practically speaking, it was farms like this, run by tens of thousands of families spread across about five or six regions in Ghana, that made the country a major player in the global cocoa market; the backbone of the global chocolate industry.

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Cocoa sun drying in Ghana

My guide and I listened as our host recounted the history of the farm, the cocoa planting, maintenance and harvesting processes, and the periodic threats faced, especially from crop failure. I learned about my favorite snack. But i also learned about the highs and lows of a less obvious part of the chocolate value chain. It was enlightening. I spent the rest of my time in the Eastern region visiting the twin waterfalls called Boti falls as well as the Aburi garden which plays host to numerous plant species. It was rewarding and i’m glad i went.

A few days later I was back to the bustling city Accra. I stuffed as much Ghanaian milk chocolate and cocoa butter body cream as i could, tried a northern Ghanaian/Nigerian drink called fura (cow milk mixed with ground millet), and spent more time between the beach and a local spa, requesting a massage using cocoa butter oil. It’s a cocoa-inspired tour!

After about 10 days traversing the busy city, the quiet but green villages, the beaches and embarking on a cocoa-inspired shopping spree, it was time to leave. I left with my load of Ghanaian chocolate. But I also left with a deeper appreciation for those at the less visible part of the chocolate value chain. Those whose knowledge and manual labor help me enjoy my favorite snack. It was worth it.   

Nugwa & Co. designs private luxury trips to interesting locations across West Africa. Learn more about us at https://nugwa.com/

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