Wezi Mzumara (35) ventured into the fashion and entertainment industry in the United Kingdom for some time after finishing her studies. In 2011, she moved back home to Malawi, unaware that paralysing news had been waiting for her.
“My parents said you can do all the entertainment stuff, but you need to farm,” she says. This seemed a boldly insane idea, to even think she’d be a farmer. “I like my mascara, eyeliner and makeup,” she laughs.
But given that her family has deep roots in agriculture, she couldn’t dismiss the idea just like that. On a chance visit to one of her parents’ farms, she discovered they had planted four cocoa trees. “I was like, maybe I could go cocoa, who doesn’t love chocolate?” she says.
Then in 2013, Mzumara expanded and planted 30 more cocoa trees. “Initially, I wanted to plant and sell the cocoa beans,” she says. Since cocoa trees take at least five years to mature and produce, she had plenty of time to return to the entertainment and fashion industry.
Making chocolate in a blender
In 2017, the cocoa trees were ready. “I was like, I am going to make chocolate,” she says. But, frankly speaking, she was perhaps too ambitious. Chocolate making is a different game which involves complex, intricate science.
“Since we didn’t have the machine, I said I will try the cocoa sticks. I did not realise that cocoa beans were hard to grind,” she says, laughing. “I tried all sorts of things, including a blender and grinding.” All of her attempts were unfruitful.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic broke and while under lockdown, more sensible options emerged. “I started learning more about the chocolate making process,” Mzumara says. Last June, she bought her first chocolate making machine. “Literally, since then it’s been a journey of product development, testing events, expos, establishing product lines.”
Mzumara’s company, Kwanza Cocoa, has nine employees and was officially registered last year. “My first slab of chocolate was horrible. And when I say horrible, I mean bitter!”
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Chocolate is hard work
But through education and personal development, she’s learned to master her craft as chocolate maker. “Making chocolate is a lot of hard work,” she explains. The cocoa beans need to be fermented between five and seven days. “They need to reach an optimum temperature in the fermentation process. After they are fermented, they are dried for about six to seven days, depending on what the weather is like,” she says. “After that they are roasted and then they are cracked and they need to undergo winnowing, which is removing the shells from the cocoa nibs.”
This is just to prepare the cocoa beans, which the machine grinds and refines for at least two days without a break. Then comes the science of making chocolate. A delicate balance! “Now I am a cocoa farmer, chocolate maker and chocolatier-in-training,” Mzumara says with excitement.
Although it is labour intensive, Mzumara finds the process to be quite fun. “I am creative at heart. With chocolate, you can be creative as much as you want; there are no limits. Usually, when people think of chocolate, they think of dark and white chocolate and that’s it. With us, we’ve been very creative in the ingredients we’ve used.”
The creativity of making chocolate
At the moment she produces 27 kilos of chocolate per week, mostly supplying specific customers but she hasn’t yet started supplying retail stores. “If we were to distribute at retail stores, that would mean our capacity needs to quadruple.”
Mzumara says she is in her own league as a chocolate maker in her home country. Currently, she makes four regular types of chocolate, which is dark chocolate, demarche, milk chocolate and white chocolate. But outside of these regulars, it is a lot of play and creativity.
“Malawi has this kambuzi chilli. We mix it with salt in our chocolate. If you love your wines and the whiskeys, that’s usually a favourite to all the big drinkers,” she explains that her special varieties include Baobab white chocolate, mocha and an endless list of other fruits. “I am also working on a pineapple and chilli dark chocolate. We love people to taste the variety of flavours.”
What makes her chocolates so special is the fact that the cocoa is locally farmed in a sustainable way and the end product—the chocolate—is a process driven by curiosity, versatility and creativity. With pride she says, “My chocolates are extremely nice.”
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