Eat. Love. Give. It’s not just our name; it’s who we are and how we try to live life every day. It’s also a big part of the brand Moka Origins. We had the opportunity to interview one of the founders, Jeff Abella, to learn more about this amazing company, how they got started and how they are helping make a difference around the world. We hope you feel as inspired as we did after reading this!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
We are a Bean-to-Bar chocolate maker and specialty coffee roasting company that was founded on some very specific ethical principles. We exist because we are interested in sustainable agriculture and job creation all around the globe, while our current focus is in Cameroon, West Africa where our cacao farm and farmer training center was established. Also, of course, we LOVE chocolate and coffee! With this in mind, we pride ourselves in making some of the worlds best chocolate and coffee. We know that if farmers are treated fairly, paid adequately for their efforts, and trained to properly handle the farming, harvesting, and post-harvest practices of their beans, the quality of the chocolate and coffee will ultimate be superior. Therefore, we create really delicious products from raw beans that farmers grow, make chocolate and coffee products from them, and create sales that support these farmers and farms all around the globe at the same time.
What inspired you to start this journey, and what was your mission behind it?
Our work started in 2007, when I started working for a non-profit humanitarian organization called the Himalayan Institute. Our focus back then, and still to this day, is to partner with local communities in Cameroon and provide services that ultimately empower the communities to become happier, healthier, and more sustainable. Some of the services we provide to this region are health programs, mobile health clinics, public libraries, after-school education programs, vocation training, and women’s empowerment programs.
After many years of running these programs, we realized that there was still a large piece missing from what we could provide to the community. We came to realize that, in addition to our educational and health services, these communities needed job opportunities. It only made sense to plan these jobs around cacao and coffee, because this region is already plentiful with farms and farmers that are familiar with these crops. Therefore, coming from a background in humanitarian work and with the intention of uplifting communities, Moka Origins was born as a cacao and coffee farm in the northwest region of Cameroon.
What is unique about the product you are selling on ELG?
Our product is unique because of the quality as well as the direct social impact. Every bar of chocolate you buy, and every bag of coffee you purchase, directly impacts communities around the world. We even have a data tracker on our website that updates weekly on key statistics of the impact we are having in Cameroon. These data points range anywhere from number of trees planted, to families fed, and farmers employed. MokaOrigins.com/Impact
Additionally, we also work with raw beans and take them all the way to a final chocolate bar. This is a long and laborious process that ultimately creates superior flavor and quality in the chocolate bars. The fact that we can work so closely with farmers also means that the quality of bean we start with is exceptional as well. After the final bars are poured, they have gone through several steps where we can control key flavor development and textural changes that make our chocolate absolutely delicious. Each bar is hand-crafted in small batches and perfectly tuned to the flavor profiles we are looking to achieve.
What’s your favorite product that you currently make and sell?
In our coffee line, my favorite coffee to work with is a single-origin Cameroon bean that was grown in the shade of Mt. Oku. This region in Cameroon is famous for two things; their white honey and their coffee. We work directly with a group of women that I’ve personally met who supply us with our coffee beans from this region. Its heartwarming to know that selling this coffee supports Ya-50, the owner of the coffee farm. We roast this coffee to a medium roast level, and it gives you hints of lemon every time you take a sip. Its absolutely delicious.
On the chocolate side, I really enjoy working with our Cameroon cacao beans that come directly from our co-op. Since our farm is still young, we are not able to bring over large amounts of our own beans yet, but our co-op produces some of the best cacao beans I’ve every tasted. We are occasionally able to bring them over to state-side where we can turn them into chocolate bars and its absolutely delicious. This chocolate is nothing like I’ve ever tasted before, and has really deep fudge and graham cracker flavors.
What roadblocks did you encounter when you got started?
Funding is always an issue for start-ups like us, and our experience was no different. This is even exaggerated knowing that starting your own farm from scratch requires a lot of work and a lot of time. At a minimum, it takes 4 years before your cacao farm is ready to produce a large number of crops, and before its at this stage it is really not possible to rely upon it for a source of cacao.
Additionally, there do not seem to be a lot of affordable chocolate machinery available to small chocolate makers. Most of the automation for this industry is extremely expensive, and not really plausible to have when you are first starting out. We’ve had to be really creative in building some of our own equipment. Our biggest bottleneck at this point is wrapping our bars. All of our chocolate bars are still hand-wrapped, and we do it really well, but it just takes time. At some point when our sales start to outpace our wrapping needs, we will have to consider alternative ways of wrapping bars faster.
Are there any specific charitable organizations that you currently work with?
Yes. We grew out of the Humanitarian Projects that the Himalayan Institute runs all over the globe. In fact, I am still the Managing Director for the projects in Cameroon, and half of my day is spent supporting those project needs while the other half is spent growing Moka Origins. Its very rewarding being apart of both sides of the business, in Cameroon and on the States side. I get to see sales growth happen for Moka, and how that impacts communities in Cameroon.
Are there any that you would like to work with in the near future?
We are always open to pursuing partnerships to increase our impact.
If you could change one thing about your company, what would it be?
At this point, I cant say I would want to change anything. The entire journey so far has been extremely challenging, but also extremely rewarding. I think finding additional funding would have made things easier, but at the same time it would have eliminated the need to find creative solutions. Right now, my mind is simply on growth and partnerships, mostly because I know how much our friends in Cameroon will benefit from it.
What does the future hold for your company?
The sky is the limit. I know we are going to keep working as hard as we can to create the best chocolate in the world and to continue supporting farmers in job opportunities, sustainable agriculture, organic practices, and fair wages. Knowing that every time I eat a Moka Origins Chocolate bar is impacts these kinds of communities, it makes me want to push even harder to make everyone know about us.