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Our kickstarter project is now live! Please RT and check it out at http://ning.it/vM7yro

What We Want To Do

We all love chocolate. But wouldn’t it be even better if you knew the story behind who grew the beans that went into your bar? Exactly where they came from, how they were grown, and how they were transported and then transformed into that magical substance we all love? Help us to make direct purchases from our partner farmers/cooperatives in Ecuador. We will pay them a fair price-their price-for top quality heritage Nacional beans, and create the amazing elixir that comes only from Ecuadorian cocoa beans.

Why Ecuador?

Why are we so excited about Ecuador? Most of the world’s chocolate is your average bulk grade mediocre stuff. The cocoa beans are bought and sold in massive amounts with little regard for quality. But 5% of the world’s cocoa beans are considered “fine grade” and Ecuador is the world’s largest producer of these beans.

Unfortunately, even Ecuador’s famous Nacional cacao bean is disappearing with the introduction of new hybrid varieties. With our efforts, we aim to not only make a top-shelf chocolate, but to engage in direct trade with cacao growers, and highlight the threats facing Ecuador’s farmers and Ecuador’s world famous heritage Nacional cacao.

How We’ll Do It

How will we source the cacao beans and make the chocolate? We’ve arranged to purchase Nacional cacao from key regions of Ecuador. Because we live in Ecuador and work in the chocolate business, and through the help of Cristian Melo who has spent years working with cacao producers’ associations, we have identified prime sources of top-quality Nacional cacao beans and will buy directly from farmers´ cooperatives. Jeffrey Stern is our Ecuador Sourcing Manager, and has lived in Ecuador for five years. He lives and breathes chocolate and knows Ecuador’s cacao industry firsthand. Jeff is our man-on-the-ground for the purchase and transport of the beans.

Who will make the chocolate? Dana Brewster and Mark Del Vecchio, ofMillcreek Cacao Roasters in Salt Lake City, will make the chocolate at their artisan facility. When the beans arrive at their facility, they will carefully clean and inspect them, then roast, winnow, grind, conche and refine them to silky perfection, to be molded into beautiful shiny bars for your delight. Bars will be hand-packaged, then sold at Millcreek Cacao’s existing locations, as well as online and through other venues.

In each of the regions we select beans from, the bar packaging will include the story of our growers. Not only will you hear about the growers through the bars and taste their story, but we plan to document every step of the process in writing, via blog, and video, to develop a direct trade model others can implement!

How will your donations help make the project happen? We’ve already laid out all the groundwork. We have the logistics and equipment in place. You contributions will help us to pay a fair price to the growers and transport the beans to the US, and make the chocolate and send it out to our supporters!

Rewards

Our rewards include limited edition chocolate bars made from Ecuador´s rare cacao, ever-lasting dried cacao pods, and other chocolate goodies made with the project´s chocolate.  At the top levels, we will invite you to Salt Lake City to see our production facilities, and Ecuador to learn about cocoa and chocolate on the ground!

More Info

You can read about some of the issues we’re trying to address atwww.jeffreygstern.com/blog and www.destination-ecuador.net. As well, we highly recommend reading http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/etd/331/ to learn about some of the issues facing Ecuadorian cacao growers we’d like to address with this project.

Left Bahia de Caraquez Monday morning for Manta, turned out to be another 30 minutes more than we expected. The kids nonetheless were pretty good and didn’t fight or complain too much.

The Ceibo trees are the one spectacular sight to see on the way, and they only grow only for maybe up to 20 miles outside of Manta.  They stand like sentries taking up the empty spaces seemingly at random, but at closer inspection around where water is bound to gather.

At first they appear to grow quite separately, as they have extensive roots which take up all the water in the surrounding area and don’t let much else grow nearby. Manabi is mostly tropical desert and there’s obviously not a lot of rain this time of year. As we got closer to Manta, there were forests of the trees as there must be more water in the soil. Ceibos, Manabi, EcuadorTheir thick trunks quickly branch out and the branches appear like so many hands groping. Most of the trees are gray in appearance, looking almost like dead things. In other areas, the trees appear with a mild green hue and none of them had any leaves, just the wiry, spooky branches. I’m not sure these are like Baobab trees in Africa, they’re not thorny but the seem to look the same. Anyway, they really give the landscape an alien sort of look, as they resemble giant creatures that have touched down and at any moment might use their branches to start grabbing things off the ground.

Manta is a tuna town-there’s a large port and fleet of tuna boats, and as soon as you’re within 5 miles or so of town, the smell of fish permeates the air everywhere, and it’s not pleasant. A lot of canned tuna is produced here, both for consumption in Ecuador and for export. Tuna of Manta, Ecuador

Until just a few years ago, the US military operated an air base here for interdicting drug trafficking flights. But  Ecuador’s current president, Correa, wouldn’t renew the lease unless, as he said “Why doesn’t the US let us operate a military base in Miami? Then we’ll be glad to allow them to operate here.” With all the US presence that was here for nearly a decade, the city has grown a lot, and there are a number of attractive high-rises dotting the waterfront.

We spent a few hours at the local beach, but it was too windy to really enjoy it, so we went and had lunch at one of the local beachfront restaurants. From there we headed back towards Bahia de Caraquez.

On the way, we stopped first just before the town of Roca Fuerte. The area is known for Tagua production-which is a kind of vegetable “Ivory” that only grows in a particular region and comes from a particular type of palm tree. The shop was full of bracelets, necklaces, and knickknacks, all nicely made. Fortuitously, Sebastian needed the bathroom and we weren’t sent downstairs where the workshop was located. It was nothing more than a very basic cement floor with four walls; but laid out on tables were pieces of Tagua in all shapes and colors, being drilled, sanded, molded, and over in another area the tumbling drums were spinning to polish pieces. of Tagua. The prices were ridiculously cheap and I can see that this is one of those places that if you “know” about could make a great opportunity for export. Tagua

Just down the road we stopped in Roca Fuerte, which is known for its traditional sweets. They had all kinds of little bite size things made with guava, papaya, peanuts, banana, and other fruits. I also tried a fully candied lemon=the outside of the lemon was coated with a layer of dried fondant sugar. I broke away the shell and bit into it; the lemon itself was actually filled with dulce de leche, or manjar, which is very similar to caramel. There was no sign of bitterness left, but it was too sweet to eat the whole thing in one sitting. We stopped in two different stores before heading back.  Roca Furete is worth a stop if you have a serious interest in food, but if not, you can pass it over. But the drive through Manabi is worth it just to see the trees. Their spooky appearance is something that will stay with you for a long time.Roca Fuerte, Ecuador, Sweets

After a long 8 hour drive yesterday we arrived in Bahia de Caraquez, a small coastal town on the Santa Elena Peninsula. The new roads through Ecuador are great; wide and smoothly paved, though still mostly unpainted and with no road signs anywhere, so you have no idea where you’re going unless you stop to ask.

We were kindly put up at a small apartment belonging to the parents of my sister-in-law. My in-laws were also along for the trip so of course we had some meals  together. As it is everywhere I’ve gone in Ecuador, the frying pans were not much more than toys-thin, wimpy things that heat up too much and burn everything. There was no large pan to slowly roast the bacon in the oven, so I took the biggest pan I could find, put it on the tiniest burner at the lowest heat, and moved it around as necessary and took all the time I needed (which was bout 20 minutes) to cook all the bacon. In the same pan I then added the scrambled eggs once the bacon was done and cooked those two. My SIL watched and said the eggs looked weird; I basically ignored her remark because when you add ten eggs to a large, crappy pan without enough heat, they’re going to take forever to cook-like they did-and of course they’re not going to cook up fast like they would have in a proper pan. Anyway, I pulled it all off and was glad to have had the distraction of cooking.

After breakfast we decided to head north, up towards a little beach town called Canoa, about twenty minutes from Bahia. The current government has constructed Ecuador’s longest bridge across the inlet, whereas you used to have to cross by barge with your vehicle. bridge bahia san vicente Even I hadn’t been back in 17 years, Bahia doesn’t seem to have changed a whole lot with the exception of this bridge. Canoa was a little better than it used to be; some of the roads are now paved, but it’s still a dusty beach spot with a bunch of crappy restaurants, some gringo backpacker type lodging, and a long wide beach with usually blown out surf. We decided not to stay very long and headed to the next town north-Jama.

Fortunately, the one thing Ecuador’s current president has done is build new roads and while they’re not all finished yet, travel is pretty good. It’s typical here that when you ask someone directions or how much further somewhere is, they’re likely to give you an answer-whether it’s correct or not is up for debate. Jama was supposed to be “another 15 minutes” north but it turned out to be more like 30. We finally got there-another extremely sleepy beach town.

It’s actually one of those spots in Ecuador that neither tourism nor progress seems to have actually touched yet; several dozen fishing boats lined up on the beach, with weatherbeaten fishermen mending their amazingly handmade nets under palm-thatched huts along the beach. The approach is through a bunch of shrimp ponds, and since shrimp farming is a lucrative business, there had to be money somewhere. Actually, along the beach there were a couple of very nice houses with laboratories, probably for shrimp larvae cultivation, alongside them.

A nice stiff breeze was blowing, and the ocean is a large green blue bay that curves for miles. Not a wave in sight. My Son Sebastian and I frolicked in the water a while, I flew my kite a few minutes, then swam some more. The others walked along the beach or sat on the sand. We stayed no more than an hour.

We headed back to Bahia. We finally stopped for lunch in what looked like a nice hotel, but the food did not measure up to the appearance of the hotel. Didn’t really surpass mediocre. Sebastian was hungry and furious and finally calmed down after getting some food in him; but even he commented that it tasted “weird.” So it is having kids with a gourmet palate. The next days adventures were a bit more scenic, so look for photos in tomorrow’s post!

We once had artisan certification. In Ecuador, that means you don´t have to collect VAT tax, you only have to file taxes bi-annually as opposed to annually as a business, and your municipal fees are lower. As a small business owner and artisan chocolatier in Ecuador, anything we can do to be more competitive counts. Ecuadorian chocolate is not cheap, even here, and if we can save a dime, we will. But we had lost our artisan certification a few years ago.

The process to get an official artisan certification entitling us to the benefits meant taking a lengthy course, filing multiple documents, and time, lots of time. I must now applaud the Ministry of Productivity for removing the onerous burden it was to maintain an artisan certification, and taking control of the process away from the Mafia it was that ran it. You can now go online, download the necessary forms, gather your documents and hand them over to the Ministry and wait for a decision.

It´s the most transparent, easy process I´ve yet seen with the government here. Two weeks ago we handed in the folder of documents and required photos. We now must wait approximately one more week. The secretary explained the documents would be scanned and sent out to a virtual committee, who will review them and then render a final decision. I don’t know that it’s all that transparent of a process as I have no idea what the exact criteria are for qualifying us or disqualifying us, but as a chocolate maker in Ecuador, it was cost-free and easy. Stay tuned! Your chocolates might just become a little bit cheaper!

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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