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My friend, well-known cocoa grower, and professional “catador” or bean taster has recently begun producing a new 55% chocolate. He purchases beans from around the Quevedo region and works with the processor on the production of the chocolate. We’ll be using this new single origin chocolate in many of our finished confections, as well as producing a bar from it for sale in the US, that we hope to make available in the coming months.
I’m also working with and reaching out to a small non-governmental organization who buys beans from small producers throughout the country. Like so many businesses here, they won’t tell me a lot about who’s processing the cocoa for them into chocolate, but the first samples they sent me last month were excellent, though a bit too sweet for the flavor profile I’m looking for. I’ve found that when arriba beans are done right and roasted at lower temperatures, you can end up with a really sweet chocolate at 55% cocoa solids, or even 70% or higher, such as some of the bars from Republica de Cacao-which is actually made by Confiteca, an Ecuadorian company that mostly focusses on producing sugar-based sweets.
I had a discussion recently with my friend Alex Morozoff of Cocoaroma magazine regarding the quality of beans. There are many who would assert that beans from small producers are of higher quality-I’m not sure of the arguments behind this position. However, one of the arguments made is that many small producers use little or no pesticides and basically gather cacao beans from the wild; if you drive around Ecuador enough, you can see that this is definitely true. Basically, without any conscious effort on their part, they are harvesting what amount to organic beans.
There are all kinds of areas throughout Ecuador where you may have a family living in a bamboo house on small plots of land, usually 10 acres or less, and there just happen to be some cocoa trees growing there. They are gathered seasonally and sold to brokers/buyers who are often located in the larger towns along some of the main highways. The argument against the quality of such beans is that these small “gatherers” often have little knowledge of drying or fermentation, and thus good beans are often rendered into poor quality ones due to improper post-harvest techniques. You’ll often even see small batches of beans (like no more than just a few kilos) being dried along the highways, where trucks and buses spewing out nasty diesel fumes are often passing by.
One of the arguments against large growers is that they are mono-cropping, thus damaging the natural habitat. Of course, this may have nothing to do with the quality of the cacao. Another argument is that they may be using pesticides more heavily. On the other side, however, larger growers often have better facilities for drying and fermenting, and more control over, and knowledge of, proper post-harvest techniques, resulting in a better final chocolate product.
We’ll continue to discuss and explore this topic, as well as our linkages with local organizations, growers, and manufacturers, in the future.