Ecuador’s Arriba and Cacao Nacional cacao beans are considered some of the finest in the world and international chocolatier’s have long recognized their superiority. Only recently however, have artisanal labels sprung up from within the South American nation, much of it organic, fair trade, and of superior quality than has ever been produced before.
Republic of Cacao (www.republicadelcacao.com): You see this label in the Quito and Guayaquil Duty Free shops at the airport for $8, though it is usually $4-5 elsewhere. The single origin cacao is grown all in the western hills and lowlands near the Pacific coast of the country – each box notes the GPS location of the plantation. They use Arriba cacao, which as it states on the box, was named when a Swiss chocolatier was traveling on the Guayas river and asked a boatman unloading cacao sacks where it came from and his response was “Arriba,” or upriver.
-75% Cacao Solids Los Rios – Beautifully sweet with floral hints.
-75% Cacao Solids Manabi – A little bit fruity an d there’s even some spicy notes, but the same great chocolaty flavor.
-67% Cacao Solids El Oro – From the southwest of the country near Guayaquil, this one has both fruit and floral notes.
Kallari (www.kallarichocolate.com): This boutique shop in La Mariscal (Wilson and Juan Leon Mera) ells USDA certified and Rainforest Alliance certified organic chocolates from a cooperative of 850 Kichwa farmers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Proceeds of the chocolate go directly to the sustainable development of the farmers and their families. The farmers harvest, market, and and enjoy all profits to their chocolate. They call it four times as fair as fair trade. Surprisingly, their prices are lower than all of the others. Unlike most other farms in Ecuador, Kallari uses endemic varietals from small Kichwa farms, specifically the Cacao Nacional bean, which was devastated in the 20th century but survived in the Napo region. Available at Whole Foods Markets in the United States. Read an article about Kallari from the NYTimes here.
-85% cacao – Wonderful. The chocolate is intensely flavorful. There’s a hint of vanilla and fruit. Might be the best chocolate I have ever tasted.
-Sacha – Called Nina’s Nuance, this 72% cacao spiced with ají chile (capiscum baccatum), wild cinnamon, and vanilla. This one is chocolaty enough that you won’t taste the spice at first, but as you digest it kicks in a little. It’s got some bite, but it’s not too overpowering. It’s a nice combination.
-Not tasted: Kallari 70% and 75% cacao.
Pacari (www.pacarichocolate.com): Pacari has made waves recently at international shows and is even found in select markets in the United States. It’s one of the most gourmet brands and the first single origin chocolate produced entirely in Ecuador. At $8 a bar ($4-5 for a small bar), it’s not cheap. You can only find it in Ecuador at Olga Fisch retail stores and the airport. Their organic, single origin chocolate is made from Arriba Nacional cacao and offered in a wide variety of percentages. They also sell a variety of value added products like chocolate covered cacao nibs, coffee beans, guava, berries, and dried bananas. Pacari chocolates are Kosher, Dairy free, and Gluten free.
-60% Esmeraldas – Complex flavors with hints of banana, honey, and floral notes.
-65% Manabi – Strong cacao flavor with citrus aromas. Smooth finish.
-Not Tasted: 72%, 70% Raw, %100 Raw
Hoja Verde (www.hojaverde.com.ec): This fair trade certified chocolate brand is actually the cheapest of the lot at just $3 per bar. It’s not single origin and the locations of the Arriba plants are only noted as “the tropical lowlands of Ecuador.”
-80% Cacao – Less of the flavors and subtleties of the others, but still good when compared with much of the dark chocolate I find in the U.S.
CHOCOLATE TASTING TIPS:
-Listen for a crisp snap as you break the chocolate.
-Hold the chocolate close to your nose and rub it gently. You should be able to smell the aromas.
-Place the chocolate on your tongue and let melt rather than chewing. Your taste buds will automatically begin to detect the subtle flavors. Smells will reach your nose and try to appreciate the lingering aftertaste.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.