On The Land

30 March, 2024

World-class chocolate grown in our backyard

As Easter approaches, attention turns to the internationally-acclaimed chocolate of our region, recognised globally for its superior quality, sourced from local cocoa and expertly crafted.

By Brigitte Daley

Great care is taken to harvest cocoa pods at optimum ripeness. The pods are then opened to extract the raw beans which are then fermented. BELOW: A young guest enjoying chocolate.
Great care is taken to harvest cocoa pods at optimum ripeness. The pods are then opened to extract the raw beans which are then fermented. BELOW: A young guest enjoying chocolate.

Charley’s Chocolate founders, Chris and Lynn Jahnke, moved from Melbourne to Tropical North Queensland in 2003 and purchased a 160-hectare property at Mount Edna near Mission Beach in the World Heritage Wet Tropics.

The property was a very run-down banana farm but had workable infrastructure, good soils, abundant rain and a warm tropical climate. It was rejuvenated and turned into a cattle property.

“Little did I anticipate what lay ahead,” Chris said.

After being hit by Cyclone Larry in 2006 and again by Cyclone Yasi in 2011, both of which were Category 5 cyclones, Chris embarked on a new challenge after discovering that the property was ideally situated to grow tropical fruit.

After seeing a segment on ABC television’s Landline program about growing cocoa in the Australian tropics, Chris settled on cocoa growing.

“This was a new industry to Australia,” he said. 

“Cocoa is the main ingredient in chocolate, the other is sugar and both of these are grown locally, so we could create a high value product and do so on location.”

Research followed which confirmed that “tree to bar” – the growing of cocoa and making of chocolate in one location – chocolate manufacturing was possible.

 Charley’s Mount Edna chocolate is “tree to bar”.

With advice from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) the first cocoa seeds were planted in late 2012 and Australian Chocolate Pty Ltd, the company behind Charley’s Chocolate, was launched.  

“Having seen firsthand what 300 km/h winds can do, making sure the cocoa plantation had survivability built-in was critical,” Chris said.

“To protect the cocoa plants, a sophisticated trellis system was installed which was an adaptation of the Tatura trellis developed in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.

“Originally designed for apples, pears and stone fruit, the trellis was easy to modify for cocoa and helped cyclone-proof the trees,” Chris said.

“The trellising also aids light penetration beyond the canopy top enabling earlier fruiting, increased yields and easier tree management and harvesting.

“We’re now exploring using robotics in cocoa harvesting.”

Block 4 (situated close to the original Mount Edna plantation) was established in 2023 with cocoa varieties developed for flavour and yield by long-time partner, Dr Yan Diczbalis, Principal Horticulturist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture in South Johnstone.

The process of cocoa production involves several stages, starting with the planting of cocoa seedlings and progressing to the careful nurturing and management of the plantation.

This includes important practices such as mulching and tree pruning.

Great care is taken to harvest the cocoa pods at optimum ripeness. The pods are then opened to extract the raw beans which are then fermented.

The fermented cocoa beans are then dried before being roasted. Subsequently, the chocolate-making process continues until the final product is attained.

“In August 2014, less than two years after the seeds were planted at the Mount Edna plantation, the first cocoa pods were harvested and 50 individually numbered chocolate bars were made under the Charley’s brand,” Chris said.

“Charley’s was designed as an environmentally sustainable business from the start.

“We are proudly Australian growers and producers of the finest Australian chocolate.

“We use premium local Australian ingredients. Our chocolate range has expanded with additional sourced local ingredients such as Davidson plum and Lemon myrtle.

“We offer a stunning range of chocolates, from the delicate sweetness of our milk chocolate to the intense depth of our 70% dark chocolate. 

“Most commercial milk chocolates use around 30% cocoa, but Charley’s milk chocolate has 52% or 60% cocoa.

“In addition to its health benefits, a high cocoa content provides a unique chocolate flavour rather than the taste being dominated by sugar and milk.”

Chocolate contains a wide range of nutrients including vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B, potassium, calcium and iron.

Charley’s Chocolate is in the process of shipping its first international order. 

Over the organisation’s short life span Charley’s Chocolate has been recognised with multiple prestigious national and international awards.

In 2017, it won the first of their Cocoa of Excellence Awards at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris. It was then recognised with the global Cocoa of Excellence awards in 2017 and 2018. 

To make world class chocolate, beans are sourced from high quality growers including its own plantations in Far North Queensland, and from Papua New Guinea and farms from the Pacific Islands from time to time.

“Just as fine wine relies on high quality grapes, so fine chocolate relies on high quality cocoa beans,” Chris said.

“Our single origin beans come from our Far North Queensland suppliers from Port Douglas to the Tully River Valley.”

“Single origin” indicates the beans are grown in one specific area, estate or farm. The beans have a distinctive flavour showcasing the uniqueness of that location.

The microclimate of soil, topography and weather sculpt the flavours of that specific batch of beans.

“Most commercial manufacturers use bulk beans which are blended to produce a standard taste,” Chris said.

“Our Far North Queensland chocolates show the variations in subtleness of Australian cocoa.

“Single origin chocolate is undeniably ‘special’. Every bite is a passport to a different chocolate landscape.”


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