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20 September, 2020

Chocolate heaven in our backyard

When people think of world-famous chocolate they often think of Belgium or Switzerland, but did you know we have one of the world’s top award-winning luxury chocolate producers right here in Far North Queensland?

By Tanya Murphy

This may be news to some people, as Charley’s Chocolate Factory in Mission Beach has sprouted up from a former banana farm to Australia’s most awarded chocolate maker faster than you can say “macadamia praline!” 

Former Melbourne-based handbag retailers Lynn and Chris Jahnke had no prior experience with cocoa growing or chocolate making, but decided to take on a new challenge after learning that Australia’s Tropics had perfect conditions for growing cocoa. 

They planted their first cocoa plants on their 400-acre Mission Beach property in 2012 and their first harvest in 2014 produced just under 50 bars. 

Three short years after that, they were recognised as a world class chocolate maker and judged to be one of the 18 finest cocoa producers in the world at the International 2017 Cocoa of Excellence Awards in Paris. 

This is the highest international cocoa competition and is the first time an Australian cocoa producer has been so honoured. Charley’s has also been awarded many Bronze, Silver and Gold medals as well as the overall trophy for the best chocolate bar in Australia at the Australian Fine Food Awards in 2016. 

“There are only a handful of places in the world where the cocoa is grown, the pods opened and the beans processed and made into chocolate all in the one place. This is known as ‘Tree to Bar’ and Charley’s Chocolate Factory is one of them!” said Lynn. 

“This is the only place in Australia where guests can see chocolate being grown, fermented, and handcrafted into bars all in the same place.” To meet growing demand, Charley’s also use cocoa beans from other cocoa plantations across Far North Queensland and Papua New Guinea. 

“We have a close relationship with the plantations, the growers and the processes they use to ensure the ingredients are ethically sourced and of a high quality, and this is what has enabled us to make some of the world’s finest Single Origin Chocolate,” said Lynn. 

“’Single Origin’ means that the beans used to make each variety of chocolate are grown in one specific area, estate, or farm, which produces chocolate with a more distinctive taste, showcasing the unique flavour notes peculiar to the soil and weather conditions of that region or estate. “Just like a fine wine, this results in chocolate that’s richer, more natural, and undeniably ‘special’.” 

Reflecting this, Charley’s range includes two “Karkar Island” chocolate bars made from beans grown in Madang Province in Papua New Guinea, “King Ranch” chocolate from the Tully River Valley, “Shannonvale” chocolate from near Port Douglas, and “Mount Edna” chocolate, from beans grown on the Jahnke’s own farm. 

The range also features bars with tropical Australian inclusions such as organic macadamia nuts, coconut, ginger, and Davidson’s plum, a native fruit grown in Millaa Millaa. Lynn said the other key to Charley’s award-winning flavour was their traditional fermentation process. 

“When we process our cocoa nibs we use only traditional granite stone conches in a process which is lengthy and expensive and is therefore not used by the mass producers,” she said. “At Charley’s, however, it’s an expense that we’re willing to take in order to produce the highest quality chocolate. 

“People often comment to us that they never want to eat commercial chocolate again after tasting the real thing.” Of course, the only way to truly appreciate the exquisite differences in flavours of chocolate grown in each region, is to go along for a tour and tasting at Charley’s Chocolate Factory. 

As well as witnessing how chocolate is grown and made, guests will learn how the factory got its name, the ten reasons why dark chocolate is good for you, and the correct way to eat chocolate (hint: you’ve been doing it wrong your whole life!) The tour goes from 10:30am to 1pm every Thursday and Sunday and includes chocolate tastings and lunch. Booking is essential as numbers are limited. 

To book or for more information, contact them on 07 4068 5011 or visit www.charleys.com.au In Cairns, Charley’s Chocolate is available at Jonsson’s Farm Market, Wholelife Pharmacy & Healthfoods on Barr Street and Pease Street, Chocolate World at Cairns Airport, and Skyrail.

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