A travel though the cocoa estates in “The Land of the Finest Chocolate”

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On this journey through the northwest of the Pichincha province we’ll discover the cocoa’s natural aromas and flavors from the national ancient strain “National Arriba from Ecuador”… It’s crops are close to the Ecuadorian Capital, Quito, and to enjoy a good chocolate with high content of “Fino de Aroma” cocoa, it only takes our senses: taste, smell, sight and touch… and a 3 minutes reading.

I must say that traditionally it has been argued that the origin and domestication of the cocoa bean dates back around 2000 years. However, recent studies shows that at least one variety of Theobroma cacao has its origin in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Mayo-Chinchipe-Marañón culture was responsible for disseminating the cultivation and consumption techniques of this product more than 5000 years ago.

Allow me to delve into the cocoa culture in Ecuador. It is known that at the arrival of the Spaniards on the Pacific coast, they could observe large cacao trees which tells us about an ancient knowledge and use of this species in the coastal region.

After reviewing several studies conducted by Ecuadorian and foreign institutions, something that drawn my attention are the benefits of our cacao due to its geographical location in the equator: 12 hours of sunlight year round together with the invaluable presence of the majestic Andes mountains, that acts as a natural refrigerant for the crops, along with the marine currents of Humboldt and El Niño, that regulates the temperature of the land making it ideal for the bean to thrive. Ecuador is the cradle of ancestral knowledge that through its millenary techniques began the domestication of cocoa. So for all these reasons Ecuador is indeed The Land of the Finest Chocolate.

Leaving History behind, the experience of Ecuador as the Land of the Finest Chocolate, takes us thru many routes and traditional farms with vast crops, some of them cultivated by ancestral communities that have kept alive it’s great flavor. It is a unique experience that you can live lin three of it’s four Worlds: Pacific Coast, Andes and Amazon.

How to get there?

Today we’ll travel the Quito-Pacto-Mindo route to the Mashpi Artisanal Chocolate Farm located in San José de Mashpi in Pacto. Its entrance is by the kilometer 104 in the route Calacalí-La Independencia. You must pass through the Pachijal entrance to Manduriacu and keep on approximately 3,10 miles until you cross the concrete bridge on the Mashpi river. Then there is a small hill and then go right where the road changes from paved to ballast, we continue skirting the river for about 2.17 miles to the wooden gate with the Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal logo on it. Approximate time: two hours and 30 minutes from Quito.

Sustainability

Alejandro Solano Ugalde, an expert in Ecology and Sustainable Development, receives us in San José. He is one of the promoters of the project that began about 10 years ago, with the idea of ​​recovering a part of the Ecuadorian Chocó region that have been affected by the logging activity.

Its extension is 138,37 acres, 118.60 ​​of them being a forest in danger of extinction and 19,76 acres dedicated to tropical fruits and cocoa crops. 198 bird species have been registered on this region.

Alejandro is for me a modern Quixote who’s thrown himself to the defence of Nature and the forest itself. We talked about the Fine Chocolate production, a very different one from the common chocolate to which most people are used to.

He told us that the road to a good chocolate begins with the cacao tree, continues in the harvest, and ends up in the different phases of the bean processing. The project is not in itself to make chocolate, is to use the national cocoa properly and to restore and add value to the local farms. They are pioneers on dark chocolate production nationwide and have innovated the production of chocolate.

He also emphasizes that during these stages different variables may affect their sensory quality. In fact, the character of chocolate not only originates from the precursors of the flavor and aroma inherent to the cocoa bean, they are also generated during the post-harvest treatments, when transformed into the manufacturing process.

There are complex biochemical modifications of the grain constituents that are altered due to thermal reactions given during roasting and conching. I am very interested in the basic and specific flavors. First I tasted the sweet, followed by the salty, then the bitter, the astringent and finally the acid. His wisdom and knowledge of the chocolate process is fascinating.

At the end of the visit I underwent the last examination, a tasting of Mashpi handmade chocolate produced on the farm of fine 100% organic cocoa. Alejandro is a passionate farmer. I followed his instructions and I got carried away by his indications to detect the chocolate candy with the tip of the tongue, the acid at the side, the bitter in the back of the throat and the astringency, a sensation that I can feel in all my mouth.

It is only now that I can tell how this production contributes to social justice and ecological sustainability in the forests of the Ecuadorian Chocó by the northwest of Pichincha.

After visiting Mashpi Shungo farm, I leave the place to visit the rest of the endeavors in the Route of The Land of the Finest Chocolate, where I found Mindo Chocolate — El Quetzal, Yumbos Chocolate, Choco Art (Mindo); Finca Blanca Margarita, km 135 at the Calacalí — La Independencia road, Finca Sueños, entrance by the km 147 of the Calacalí — La Independencia road, Achiote site; and Yaussa estate, entrance by the km 135 of the Calacalí — La Independencia road at Unidos Venceremos precinct.

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