Ecuador is the New Name in Artisan Chocolate
When I think about really good chocolate (a not infrequent occurrence), my thoughts tend to drift toward Europe. Belgian chocolate, German chocolate, Italian chocolate: these are the gold standards of fine gourmet confectionery. These countries don’t actually produce the cocoa used in their products, however. Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree, grows best in very particular conditions found within about 20 degrees of the equatorial band. Western Europe, for all its charms, doesn’t cut it for cacao.
Currently, roughly 5% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from Ecuador. It’s a small percentage, but it equates to approximately 200,000 metric tons of the stuff annually. More importantly, when it comes to so-called “fine” or “flavor” cocoa beans, the highest-quality varieties used in gourmet products, Ecuador is one of the world’s top producers. Traditionally this raw product has been exported wholesale to European confectioners, but there is a growing movement in Ecuador to keep chocolate production local – and the world is taking notice. Pacari Chocolate, producers of the first single-origin organic chocolate made entirely in Ecuador, swept the prestigious International Chocolate Awards in London in 2013, taking home seven awards and putting the country on the chocolate-making map.
And Pacari doesn’t stand alone when it comes to excellent Ecuadorian chocolate. I recently stopped into Chez Tiff, a family-run chocolate company based in Quito, to learn about their processes and sample a kilo or two of their product. Founded by a Swiss-born chocolatier and his Ecuadorian wife, this small family-run company uses local cocoa, fruits, and quinoa to create their luscious treats. Their tiny café, located on a patrimonial street in Quito’s historic center, offers colorful truffles, rich chocolate bars, cakes and pastries. They even have high-percentage dark chocolate for those with sugar sensitivity. (“We tested it on my diabetic aunt!” the proprietor’s daughter told me cheerfully.)
The owners of Chez Tiff are seriously passionate about what they do. If you’re interested in learning about Ecuadorian chocolate and the process of converting cocoa beans to the refined product (or if you’re just looking to eat some fantastic chocolate), their café is a great place to visit. The family offers tastings, presentations, and demonstrations.
If you’re interested in setting up a chocolate tasting or presentation on your next trip to Ecuador, just let us know! And be sure to pick up a few artisan chocolate bars while you’re there for family and friends. They’re sure to be well-received – provided you can get them home without eating them.