I have a confession for you: I used to not like dark chocolate, so when a friend first offered me a piece of dark Arriba Nacional chocolate, I accepted it only to be polite. I was living in Quito at the time, working for the World Wildlife Fund, and my friend had been an avid supporter of a project I started to improve oral hygiene in Ecuador’s school children – in other words, I owed her. As I slipped the chocolate into my mouth, I remember thinking: Wow, this is smooth! That first piece of velvety dark richness melted on my tongue and set off a small taste explosion: There was fruity blended with nutty creaminess, a touch of bitter softened by an unobtrusive sweetness.
As you can imagine, I was soon hooked on the complex sensory experience that is dark chocolate! Not only did I want to eat more, but I also wanted to learn everything I could about Arriba Nacional, the world’s finest cacao that makes Ecuadorian chocolate so irresistible. I traveled all across the country and finally arrived in the coastal province of Esmeraldas, where generations of cacao farmers have perfected the art of growing Arriba Nacional, Ecuador’s very own cacao variety. Excited to learn more, I set up a meeting with a local organic certified farmers’ association. One of the farmers walked me across his land and explained how his cacao beans are cultivated organically, without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and in poly-cultures to preserve the region’s biodiversity. This was sustainable agriculture at its best, empowering local stakeholders to create a world-class product!
However, I recognized a major flaw in the scheme: Local communities were producing 65% of the world’s finest cacao, yet Ecuador was not reaping the metaphorical fruits of its labor: Global chocolate manufacturers usually buy their cacao beans via middlemen on the world market and take the production process elsewhere. Even where chocolatiers acquire the raw materials directly from cacao farmers, processing is handled outside of Ecuador, thereby diminishing value creation inside the country.
I knew I could do better. And out of my desire to create a fine chocolate sourced and produced in Ecuador, Tolita was born. Since I knew very little about starting an environmentally and socially conscious business, I went back to school and got my MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development. Studying by day, I became a chocolatier by night, collaborating with experienced Ecuadorian chocolate manufacturers to create the perfect recipe for Tolita. Again I traveled the country, this time in pursuit of the finest flavors and ingredients. I saw farming communities ruin their lands with fast-cash monocultures and logging, which only strengthened my resolve to support sustainable agriculture. After two years of hard work, Tolita was ready: The entire supply chain linked cacao production in Esmeraldas with chocolate production and packaging in Quito. Friends and focus groups unanimously agreed that this chocolate was amazingly smooth and flavorful.
Tolita proves that premium gourmet chocolate and sustainability can go hand in hand. Every bite you take is delicious and supports farmers who preserve sustainable agriculture in Ecuador. I am very excited to embark on this journey with all of you, and I know you will love Tolita – at first bite.