Friday morning I headed over to another part of town to visit a chocolate maker I had found out about through a contact of mine. It may sound surprising it took me four years to find out about this guy, but I guess I didn’t bother to pick up that cheap bar of chocolate in the supermarket and pick up the phone and dial the number on the package. So I heard about him just recently. Not that there are many businesses here that would invite you on over for a look-see, especially in the chocolate business here, where most people are trying to jealously guard their secrets.
I really enjoyed speaking with the owner, because unlike many people here, he recognized the value of Nacional cocoa and the problems with so many people wanting to grow CCN-51 beans. He also stated the unfortunate truth “To compete in Ecuador you really have to make a bad product.” That is, a product that is cheap and of mediocre or inferior quality. It’s not because people don’t want better-if they knew there was “better” they might want it-if they could afford it. It’s because to sell something here and sell it well, the two main factors are price and quantity-low price, big quantity. That’s what almost, if not all, of what people are thinking about, overtly or not, when they go to purchase something.
The place has been in business over 100 years, and looking at the machinery this was obviously true. The only thing he’d let me take picture of was the winnower, built by “National Equipment” from the US, back who knows when…early 20th century or late 19th century? Anyway, from a few numbers he tossed out, this winnower could probably winnow 500-600 pounds of beans per hour.
Additionally, in another part of the shop (it was basically two rooms) he had a 250 kg conch, two old french mill refiners, a dosing machine for filling molds, and a mixing machine where the cocoa liquor and sugar are combined before being milled and conched. He doesn’t have nearly as much capacity as the winnower-maybe 1 ton a month of total production, everything done almost completely by hand, no holding tanks, very basic. He did have some fairly good chocolate, but the lack of basic hygiene and professional operating standards was evident. The mill refiner had chocolate accumulated on it from what looked like decades. I wouldn’t rush to have him process beans for me, but it is an available option, and a curious place to visit if you’re in Quito and you’d like to see it.