Life, Liberty, and Fine Chocolate

An Italian entrepreneur pursues simple perfection on a tropical island

| May-June 2009

On a small Atlantic island on the equator, in a lemon-colored bungalow with a clear view over a tinfoil bay, lives the Italian honorary consul. In his driveway are two ancient Fiat Pandas. In his back garden is a chocolate factory. The consul’s name is Claudio Corallo. He is 58 and lean, with close-cropped, neat gray hair, a matching mustache, and an inventor’s lively eyes. He speaks five languages fluently, and English sparingly and excitedly.

“Paradise!” and “Magic!” are a few of his stock words; they could describe the allure of the rainforest or the transformation of the humble cocoa bean into fine chocolate. “Shameless!” and “Shit!” are other favorites; they might refer to the marketing gimmicks of some of his competitors or the state of Western society.

For the past decade, Corallo has been on a quest to produce some of the finest dark chocolate in the world. His bars, which range in cocoa content from 70 percent to 100 percent, and may contain ginger, arabica coffee beans, orange rind, or plump raisins soaked for months in his homemade cocoa-pulp alcohol, sell for between $12 and $14 for 100 grams in Europe, the United States, and Japan.

That puts Corallo in the same market as the world’s leading gourmet chocolate makers. Yet he has little in common with them.

For one thing, Corallo makes his chocolate at, or at least very near, the source—on São Tomé, off the west coast of Africa, population 150,000. Equally unusually, he controls the entire process, from the tree to the bar.

Most fine-chocolate makers buy their cocoa from farmers thousands of miles away. Corallo grows his own cocoa on a 300-acre plantation on Príncipe, the twin island of São Tomé, 90 miles to the northeast, where he spends part of each month living in a tumbledown colonial-era house with no power, no hot water, and an air-conditioning system that involves leaving all the windows open.

6/10/2011 7:59:13 AM

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