by Philip Keenan and Jane O'Connor (1996)
Ghanaian cocoa beans have long been known for their quality and depth of flavor. The beans are grown on small, family owned farms; and, until recently, have been the source of exported cocoa beans to European and American chocolate factories and confectioneries. The cocoa industry has traditionally been government controlled. The Ghana Cocoa Board oversees agricultural research, hybridization of seeds, and even the sale of seed to the farmers. The Board owns the trucks that transport the beans, along with the factories that roast them. The Cocoa Board even has its own cabinet-level post because the cocoa industry is that important to Ghana. But that has changed in the last five years. Ghana is now not only growing the beans, but also producing exquisite dark milk chocolate for export thanks to the dogged determination of Steven Wallace.
Steven Wallace is an attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is the founder of the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company beginning in 1991. Omanhene (pronounced OH-man-HEE-nee) is the Ghanaian word for "paramount chief," a Ghanaian title of royalty. Steven's own ties with Ghana trace him back to 1978 when he was a high school exchange student in Ghana. He stayed with the Brobbey family in Sunyani. Steve describes his host family as "very large": Yao, the father; his three wives; and their eighteen (now twenty-one) children. After leaving his host family in Ghana, he enrolled at Brown University where he graduated with a degree in history, and went on to law school at the University of Chicago. Over the years since his departure, he maintained his ties with Ghana, and dreamed of eventually doing some type of business that would involve Ghana. Steven states "I saw private business as the most efficient way to assist the people of Ghana in dealing with the economic hardships that have faced them."
So, for over two years, Steve saw his evenings and weekends filled with research on Ghana, its economic survival, and its chief exports. He learned that the cocoa sector provided the second largest source of export dollars to Ghana. According to the London Financial Times, Ghana grows the finest cocoa in the world. Much to Steven's surprise, he learned that Ghana was not producing finished chocolate for export; rather, it was exporting either raw cocoa beans or semi-processed items such as non-alcoholic cocoa liquor to chocolatiers in the United States and Europe. These countries then added most of the value to the product and consequently received the higher price for the product through their own production of the finished product.
The challenge Steven faced was to produce the finished product that European and American consumers would accept; and produce and package it right in Ghana. After all, if Ghana grew the best cocoa beans in the world, why couldn't they produce the best chocolate and export it? Steven found one cocoa processing factory capable of producing a finished product in Ghana in the city of Tema. However, the chocolate they produced was for domestic consumption, and its flavor was not something appealing to the American and European market. After experimenting and tinkering with Ghanaian cocoa beans in his own kitchen, he was convinced he could eventually produce an outstanding product. He states, "It seems odd, but ignorance can be a virtue when you're starting a new endeavor in a small business. It entitles you to ask stupid questions. But, more importantly, it enables you to see with a fresh eye, almost a child's eye. Of course you make mistakes; but you learn from them and you're not burdened by the weight of 'tried and true'—and possibly ineffectual—ways of doing things. I think that's how real progress is made."
Since Ghana's involvement in the cocoa industry was so regulated, Steven had to battle his way through a morass of bureaucratic tape and prove that his endeavors were in earnest. He eventually was able to contact the Acting Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board, Flight Lieutenant Joseph B. Atiemo, Esquire, who took a real interest in Steven and his ideas. Then the ideas slowly and steadily began to take shape. The project took several years to negotiate and develop. It involved, among other things, refurbishing part of the chocolate factory in Tema. "During those years," Steven adds, "I learned the value of patience. When doing business in another country, it's so important to understand the culture of that country. On the government level in Ghana, decision-making is a careful and complex process. You have to accept a different time-frame, a different way of doing things, and be able to adapt."
Steven credits his ability to adapt to his experience as an AFS foreign exchange student. As he explained, "To succeed as an AFS-er you may not have to be smart, but you have to be willing to hold a mirror up to yourself and see the areas where you can change and grow. My AFS experience was, for me, like a graduate course in adaptability. It's an invaluable skill, one that has helped me to get this business off the ground. The people in the US State Department have told me that I am one of a very few small business owners who have consummated a transaction in West Africa."
So now Steven finds himself a "reluctant capitalist." He states, "I am reluctant only in the sense that being a 'capitalist' seems to connote a preoccupation with making money to the detriment of pursuing other worthy goals. But I've come to realize that you cannot ignore the fundamental economic principles that underlie relationships between companies and countries—principles that in a very real way influence US foreign policy and determine whether or not this country will choose to go to war. Why, for example, did the US quickly send troops to the Persian Gulf but not to Bosnia?" Steven's goal is a laudable and impressive one... to create an economically self-perpetuating, arms-length, mutually beneficial relationship. The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company has accomplished this goal, because for the first time, Ghana is producing a gourmet quality chocolate that can successfully compete in the US and world markets. The majority of the value is created by Ghanaians and they reap the greatest financial benefits because the chocolate is produced in Ghana.
Steven encourages Americans to do business in Ghana, noting that "in my experience, business in Ghana is clean and corruption free. Ghanaian integrity and their high level of education make Ghana a good place for foreign investment." Our CoCoHats are off to you Steven! Your dedication and determination to succeed has been a moral and political challenge which you have conquered. Congratulations!
The most important ingredient critical to the flavor of chocolate is the chocolate liquor—the essence of the cocoa bean. Omanhene believes their chocolate contains the highest percentage of this liquor of any milk chocolate in the world, and it is this that contributes to its rich, deep cocoa flavor. In a unique process, their beans are fermented between banana leaves right on the forest floor and dried in the warm African sun. Then the beans are roasted and ground to extract the finest chocolate liquor available anywhere. Their state-of -the-art factory is the only one in the world that roasts the cocoa beans and refines the chocolate in Ghana, just a short distance from the cocoa farms where these extraordinary beans are grown.
Throughout this process, Steven has been impressed with the technical skills and production capabilities available in Ghana. This high level of skill and education that Steven speaks about can be seen in his Managing Director of the factory in Ghana, Mr. P.K. Awua. Mr. Awua holds a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Science and Technology at Kamasi, Ghana, and a masters in food technology from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Steven credits Mr. Awua as a major asset to the success of the project.
The packaging has a look of royal distinction in its unique design. The gold foiled chocolate "ingots" are wrapped in a regal purple pattern designed after kente cloth, a traditional pattern of Ghana, and features a crowned lion on the kente design background. The inscription on the box written in Akan and English is Omanhene's motto: "Eho Yena," "It's so rare." The New York Amsterdam News describes Omanhene chocolate "Like a fine wine, chocolate lovers have described its tantalizing flavor as 'sublime' and 'extraordinary'."
Since its introduction to the US in 1994, Omanhene has received the attention and praise of connoisseurs and gourmet chefs nationwide. It has enjoyed recognition in upscale stores from Beverly Hills to Boston. It has been praised by the head pastry chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, DC., and was recently selected by Chocolatier magazine as one of only three dark chocolates worldwide invited to participate in its annual Caribbean cruise chocolate tasting. Charles Lupton, III, of the Fancy Foods Gourmet Club states, "It is clearly the richest dark milk chocolate that I have ever eaten, and the flavors coming out of the chocolate are a treat to enjoy." Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company has been featured in articles in the New York Times and the Voice of America radio network.
To order Omanhene chocolate direct or to find out in which stores it is available, visit:
The recipes were developed by Omanhene and two chefs. The first is Stephanie Zonis. Stephanie met Steven and became acquainted with Omanhene chocolate at a trade show a few years ago. She was impressed, as we were, with both Steven's commitment to quality and the quality of his chocolate. Stephanie holds an M.S. in Foods from Virginia Tech. Our second contributing chef is Andrea Mandel from Milwaukee, WI. Both women have developed these recipes especially for Omanhene.
Desserts Made from Ghananian Chocolate
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This page modified January 2007
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