The first cocoa beans that we were able to buy in reasonable quantities (500kg) were Nacional Arriba beans from the Calceta region of Ecuador. We loved the gentle floral notes with hints of nuts and fruit and the Corazon del Ecuador Camino Verde 72% remains one of our "Desert Island" bars. Last year we started working with Vicente Norero and his "Camino Verde" project. Based in Balao, a canton of the Guayas province, the Camino verde project grows and sells cocoa beans and associated products (cocoa powder, cocoa butter and so on). They are in control of the whole process, from selecting genetic material, grafting and planting seedlings, growing the trees, harvesting the pods and the post-harvest treatment of the beans themselves.
The project is committed to control water consumption, use bio-fertilisers, maintain traceability of all of it's trees and to achieve optimal fermentation and drying of the cocoa beans.
On the human side they also have a strong sense of social responsibility towards their employees and the local community, providing housing and training programmes, as well as medical and recreational facilities. They help schools to interest pupils in the cacao industry with 4-week programmes covering the basic skills. We try and help with this approach by paying a premium for these fine flavour beans.
Ecuador has a distinct type of cocoa bean - Nacional, now recognised as being a specific genetic cluster in its own right. The Nacional "Arriba" bean is a unique type of Nacional with a distinctive flowery bouquet over deep chocolate flavours.
We use these lovely beans to make several of our bars. We started with the Corazon del Ecuador 72% dark bar. "Corazon" means heart in Spanish and the bar delivers those floral notes with hints of soft fruit and nuts. As the beans deliver soft flavours we developed the Corazon del Ecuador 83% bar – strong, but without becoming bitter. It is usually our best seller at Chocolate Festivals when customers can taste samples. The acclaimed chocolatier Paul A Young has started to use this to make some of his fantastic creations. The 43% Ecuador milk bar is soft with caramel notes and is another big seller.
We even use the Ecuador chocolates and add flavours: the award-winning Corazon del Ecuador 43% with oak-smoked salt and cocoa nibs is always the outright best seller at fairs. The hint of salt allows the chocolate to melt in a very generous way, making the mouth water. The bashed-up cocoa beans add a nutty texture to complement the smooth flavours.
The Corazon del Ecuador 72% with coffee beans and cocoa nibs is a way to replicate the lovely flavour of chocolate-covered cocoa beans but utilising better chocolate and without leaving your mouth full of little shards of coffee bean for the rest of the day. The coffee and cocoa beans are bashed into smaller pieces before being sprinkled into the first half of the bar and covered with more chocolate.
The Nacional Arriba beans we use are some of the best produced in Ecuador and have won awards in their own right. Distinctive, full of flavour and warm.