From May 18 to 20, 2023, the Terra Ecuador team went on a field reconnaissance trip along the road from Papallacta to Misahualli in the nearby Amazon, so that they could get to know the products they were offering travelers at first hand. Along the way, between Tena and Misahualli, the team visited the community of Santa Rita, located in Archidona, where the Amazonian cocoa beans of the famous Paccari chocolate company are grown and prepared.
Cocoa, an Ecuadorian story
First and foremost, Ecuador is THE chocolate destination. Did you know that the oldest traces of cocoa in the world date back 5330 years and are located in Ecuador? That there are over 135 types of cocoa in the Amazon alone?
But the history of cocoa is even richer, as you can discover in Cocoa, Ecuador’s heritage.
So it’s with the knowledge that cocoa is a specialty in Ecuador that you’ll discover Paccari! Paccari is a family-run business committed to small-scale producers and recognized the world over as producing some of the finest chocolate in the world.
Paccari chocolate comes from different regions of Ecuador: the Pacific coast, the foothills of the Andes or Amazonia. Each cocoa bean is unique according to its terroir of origin, and has its own specific aromas (linked to soil, sunshine and hydrometry).
In the Kichwa community of Santa Rita, near the town of Archidona (altitude 660 m), Amazonian cocoa beans have been grown for centuries. It’s a long and painstaking process, and Paccari takes you behind the scenes of cocoa production, from bean to bar, from tree to palate.
The Terra Ecuador team discovers the Paccari experience at Santa Rita
On the edge of Archidona, 10 minutes from the village, at the end of a winding gravel track, the Santa Rita community welcomes you: the chocolate village is just around the corner.
On arrival at the community, a member of the chocolate team welcomes you with a cup of guayusa tea and explains how the afternoon will unfold.
First stop: the cocoa fields.
After passing through the village and meeting the locals, we set off for a small field. Situated on the very edge of the community, we start to spot cocoa trees. How do we recognize them? By the red, green and yellow cocoa pods that fill the trees.
We walk the field between the plantation’s trees to learn more about their origins, the differences in pod color and the right ripening period. But we won’t go into all the details of cocoa growing, so you can find out for yourself on an excursion to Santa Rita Paccari. Along the way, your guide will also introduce you to the various medicinal plants also found in cocoa fields.
Did you know?
In most of the world’s cocoa-growing regions, cocoa is harvested only once a year. In Ecuador, however, harvesting is possible several times a year, as the climate remains almost the same for 12 months and there are only two seasons, summer and winter.
Second stage of the tour: from pod to bean.
We continue on our way to a second key site in the community’s cocoa production. Between a few buildings, we can see large stalls protected by a high wind. This is where the beans are cleaned, fermented and dried for three weeks.
But even before they reach the dryer, the cocoa beans are extracted from the pods and placed in large, dark vats. This stage is called fermentation, essential to the preparation of quality beans, and takes place no more than 24 hours after shelling.
The beans are then placed under the large outdoor driers for a further twenty days or so, so that they can finish drying and be ready to become chocolate. It’s a painstaking, meticulous, manual process.
Did you know?
There are various techniques for determining whether a cocoa bean is good or bad at the end of the drying period. For the experts in the community, color alone is enough to identify the quality of the bean. For amateurs, you have to dip them in water to find out the verdict: if the bean floats, it’s good enough to become chocolate. On the other hand, if the bean sinks, its production journey will end under the dryers.
Third and final stage of the tour: from bean to chocolate.
For the final stage of the tour, you’ll take the return journey back to where your afternoon began.
This is the time to learn how to transform dried cocoa beans into melting chocolate.
- The cocoa beans are heated over a small wood fire, stirring them methodically to prevent them from burning. The first smells appear….
- The bark is removed from the cocoa bean, a possible step after heating and browning.
- We take a pestle and start crushing them, turning the beans into cocoa powder. It’s at this stage that the mixture can be sweetened or unsweetened, depending on individual tastes. Some people leave it as is, because they like 100% chocolate. Others prefer to add sugar, to erase some of the natural bitterness of the roasted cocoa.
- Finally, the cocoa powder is placed in a dish over a wood fire, and this is when the magic happens. The cocoa powder gently melts into chocolate. It’s at this point that you can add flavourings, such as cinnamon.
Finally, you can enjoy your homemade chocolate in the hollow of a banana or bijao leaf, accompanied by fresh fruit such as banana, or simply plain.
A short-circuit delicacy!
If, like the Terra Ecuador team, you’d like to discover cocoa production and make your own chocolate, don’t hesitate to contact us!