In the present day, Ecuadorian chocolate is flourishing and bringing sustainable changes for those that grow and harvest rare strains of cacao around the country. Keep reading for a glimpse into the different chocolates made in Ecuador and a tradition that dates back thousands of years.
Each year new revelations in South America bring amazing discoveries to the forefront that make traveling more than just sightseeing. Some shed light on the benefits of modern technology. In 2012, a team of explorers used radar to discover a hidden chamber at Machu Picchu that could very well be the resting place of Inca emperor Pachacútec.
Other finds show the reach of the Spanish Empire. In 2015, researchers uncovered the shipwreck of the San Jose of the coast of Cartegena, Colombia. The flagship of the Spanish fleet sank with 17 billion dollars’ worth of gold, silver, and emeralds in 1708 after a battle with the British.
Cultural discoveries from the past rewrite history here as well. In 2018 Archaeologists announced that the ancient Mayo-Chinchipe people in Ecuador were the first to cultivate cacao to make chocolate. Previously the honor was given to the Maya in Central America.
The cultivation of the Nacional cacao bean and the chocolate made using age-old methods is reviving a practice that dates back to when the Mayo-Chinchipe traded cacao to the people on the coast.
Ecuadorian chocolate is helping to provide a sustainable living to the people in Ecuador and protect the environment of the country with delicious results that defy the mass-produced brands sold elsewhere.
The Nacional variety of cacao has been sought after by international chocolate companies for decades. It’s used to make fine chocolate worldwide, having a complex flavor that isn’t found in other strains of the bean.
Ecuador’s chocolate producers have upended the old trend of companies buying the bulk of the bean at prices below the market value and making huge profits off of the dividends. Here are just a few of the companies that have become a hit internationally with their unique blends of Ecuadorian chocolate.
Mindo is a small, charming town close to Quito that serves as a hub for people who want to explore the cloud forest. Arriving here from the capital is a shock to the senses; the pace of the place takes you off guard. The people here are welcoming and the natural diversity of the surrounding cloud forest is stunning.
Hundreds of exotic birds, an astounding number of orchids found underneath the canopy, and secluded waterfalls are all hidden in the rolling hills seen from every vantage point.
El Quetzal is a quaint hostel and restaurant up the street from the town’s park. Its appearance is deceptive, some of the finest Ecuadorian chocolate made in the area is found inside these walls.
Started by Jose and Barbara Wilson in 2009, the chocolate produced here is made from cacao beans from a single cooperative of farmers, Cooperative Nueva Esperanza. The group of eighty farms, thirty minutes from Mindo, harvest Nacional cacao beans by hand. El Quetzal asks them to ferment and dry the beans before being shipped, giving them a higher price in the process that makes a difference to the rural community.
The Nacional beans that they produce have received high praise by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund, which El Quetzal is a member. The fund is committed to improving the lives of the farmers who assist them in protecting and preserving cacao diversity and the chocolate they produce.
The Amazon Basin is the birthplace of chocolate as the Mayo-Chinchipe lived here between 5500 and 1700 BC. Today the jungle’s indigenous communities are making strides towards a sustainable living that preserves their way of life and the environment which they have coexisted with for centuries.
Down the Napo River from the port city of Coca on the way to the Peruvian border is the Yasuni National Park. Considered the most biodiverse place in the world, the people that live here include the Waorani, Kichwa and the Shuar.
In a Waorani territory inside the reserve, a group of women are turning the tables on deforestation caused by oil companies. Three hundred women and counting are growing and harvesting cacao that is then turned into fine chocolate and sold to benefit the ten communities where they come from.
The cacao plants don’t degrade the land and exist alongside food crops. The trees also act as a defense against the exploitation of the biodiversity and are part of a greater imitative of land management by the collective of indigenous women.
After harvest, the beans are fermented and dried and then shipped to Quito where they are made into milk and dark chocolate bars.
Tena is another gateway to the jungle and is known as an outdoor adventure base for white water rafting. Present day Kichwa communities live in the surrounding area, and in the small village of Santa Rosa, cacao farmers have formed an alliance with Pacari Chocolate.
A hundred people live here and farm and process cacao beans that supply the Pacari brand. The company partners with small groups of farmers all over the country, and helps families to develop their skills when it comes to the planting, fermenting and drying of cacao beans before they are shipped to Quito for processing. Part of Pacari’s business model includes paying a fair price and their range of chocolate bars have won international awards year after year and counting.
Kallari Chocolate is another company that makes gourmet chocolate from cacao grown in the Tena area by a group called the Kallari Association.
The association was started with the help of an American volunteer working with 50 families. The beans were taken to Guayaquil for processing, and in the early days, the group received threats from robbers looking to make a quick buck.
Today the association has grown. More than 850 Kichwa families in 21 communities grow cacao, and they have their own processing plant near Tena that turns the nibs into an array of chocolate bars using fruits and herbs from the jungle.
When Jerry Toth stumbled upon a grove of Nacional cacao trees in the Jama-Coaque Reserve which he founded in the Manabi province, he started a passionate journey that would find him and his partner Carl Schweizer reimagining the chocolate bar.
After two years of learning from a fourth generation cacao farmer, experimenting, and coming up with a 36 step process, they started producing chocolate bars that are on par with fine wines and spirits.
This is chocolate making at its peak, the cacao is grown, harvested and dried by a collective of 14 local farmers. The chocolate nibs are aged in oak barrels previously used for spirits for as long as four years, bringing out the subtle flavor of the chocolate. Bars are made in limited batches, unique to each season’s harvest.
They come with a 116-page booklet that describes the process, the season’s climate, and recommendations for wine and spirit pairings. They are delivered in handcrafted wooden boxes with matching tweezers so the oil in your hands doesn’t interfere with the taste of the chocolate; these are the most expensive dark chocolate bars in the world.
The To’ak team is passionate not only about their chocolate but the wellbeing of their farmers and the community at large. They pay above the going rate for cacao and give percentages of the profits to both the farmers and the community.
With their success, they have also invested back into the place that started the journey. The grounds of the Jama-Coaque Reserve have grown from 100 to over 1500 acres-new trees and plants are planted annually to ensure that the environment thrives.
Me to We Chocolate comes from the Esmeraldas region of the coast, where generations of cacao farmers have labored to sell their produce for years. Today, with the help of the foundation that gives the bars their name, the people of the Chone area are finding a sustainable living through their work.
Me to We buys from the local farmer’s co-op at a fair trade price and processes the beans into fine chocolate bars. The bars are sold through the organization, which has a much larger reach than the people on the coast.
The process doesn’t stop there. Each flavor of chocolate bar gives funding toward a different aspect of the community. Milk goes toward education-a school has been built with the proceeds. Dark goes to health, and Dark plus goldenberries goes to food. The bars are available on shelves in Toronto and online for people in North America.
There are many more brands of Ecuadorian chocolate to discover when you travel here that are sold in Quito, in most cities, and at the major airports. The Kallari Café in the capital on Wilson and Mariscal Sucre is the storefront for the Kallari Association where you can buy a wide range of their products as well as sample cuisine from the jungle. Another spot to check out is Galeria Ecuador on Reina Victoria and Lizardo García.
For more information about the areas in Ecuador where you can find people making chocolate and the activities and tours that we offer there, contact a member of our team.