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A Very Chocolatey Education

Wow. What a day. After arriving well after 11PM last night, we started the day bright and early in Quito, the capital city. Miriam met us after breakfast for a quick hola and at the same time Frank from Mindo Chocolates (mindochocolate.com/) also joined our group.

After breakfast, we talked a little bit about what the day would bring and while we were visiting, Guy (pronounced Gi) a sign maker from Montreal decided our group looked like fun and since his friends hadn’t arrived from LA, he asked to join us on our travels.

GoBe Girls (Juliette and Jody) with Jeff Stern

We started the day with a chocolate tasting with our friend – Jeff Stern a super chocolatier and owner of Gianduja Chocolate (Irresistible – check him out at giandujachocolate.com). Jeff filled us in on the evolution of the cacao tree and how in the past two months the first group of “super cacao” trees has produced. These trees yield much more and the taste and aroma is superior. There is currently only one plantation that is producing – and they already have an enormous amount of demand – which is expected to grow.

We sampled cacao and Jeff’s dark chocolate-covered golden berries (a lot like gogi berries). The combination of tart and sweet was amazing. The dehydrated berries taste like a cross between an apricot and a cranberry. Deliciouso.

After lunch, we met with Jose Valdivieso, the Director of Conservacion & Desarrollo (Conservation & Development). The mission of this organization is to fight poverty. They specialize in providing support and education to 40,000 cacao producers in Ecuador (there are about 130,000). Jose spoke at length about the introduction of the super cacao variety, which from his perspective will be a great thing for the cacao industry. Currently, Ecuador produces only 2-3% of the world’s yield, but it is considered the highest quality. Over the next several years, he expects demand to exceed production.

Jose is doing excellent work. He (and 300 other people associated with his organization) are continually working to create synergies and opportunities that will expand Ecuador’s growing agri-tourism market.

There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Michigan and Ecuador. The most significant being the reliance on agriculture as an economic stimulator. And then there is the constant struggle of producers/farmers who in addition to knowing the best possible way to coax the most out of their land, must also think about the end-result and focus on growing their businesses and becoming sustainable.

Ecuadorians are incredibly optimistic and entrepreneurial people. I think Frank from Mindo put it best this morning when he said: “People always ask me how come you guys are always happy? And I say, because we eat chocolate.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

Tomorrow we travel south to see our friend Samuel VonRutte (aka the chocolate purist). He operates a plantation and grows 250 acres of the highest-quality tradicional cacao. His chocolate is superior in taste (we’ll be bringing some back for sure) and surrounded by all that chocolate, you can imagine, Samuel is one happy guy.