There are already plenty of good reasons to visit Ecuador (biodiversity, architecture, archeology, and cultural history, to name a few,) but now we can go ahead and add chocolate to that list. That’s right: thanks to the country’s booming cacao production, Ecuador is officially on the radar for international chocolate connoisseurs. In fact, in a recent feature in The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, one chocolate critic went so far as to compare the country’s steamy cacao zone to the iconic French wine-growing region, Bordeaux.
But, of course, this sudden international renown is actually the product of centuries of cultivation that lead Ecuador to become one of the most important cacao-exporting countries in the late 19th century. However, after some bad luck decimated the region’s harvests, competitors like Ghana and Brazil moved in to dominate the market, and Ecuador settled in to it’s status as a niche producer celebrated by true aficionados.
Indeed, through thick and thin the small country of 16 million has maintained its reputation for quality, and over the last few years Ecuador has ramped up production and began an important shift from agricultural exporter to high-end chocolate making hub. Thanks to centuries-old institutions like La Danesa, and an infusion of new energy from upstart chocolatiers like To’ak, Pacari and República de Cacao, Ecuador is breaking colonial agricultural dynamics and rather than merely providing the raw goods for traditional European makers, they are moving the elaboration in-house.
The final product has been hailed for its subtlety and complex mélange of flavors; but if you’re not the type of discerning consumer who uses words like “bouquet” and “undertones” to describe your Kit Kat bars, you can take it from the experts: Ecuadorian chocolate makers are prizewinners on the international chocolate fair circuit, and have even attracted investment from French premium chocolate manufacturer Valrhona.
For anyone interested in tasting what all the fuss is about, imports are available from specialty chocolate shops around the US – but don’t expect Hershey’s prices: a 200 g variety pack starts at around $20.