A visit to Kallari

Kallari Chocolate Bars

My favorite part of the trip happened at the end of our tour, when we visited the Kallari cooperative in the the Amazonian rain forest.  The trip began with a long but beautiful ride into the eastern part of the country.  The air got thicker, the roads bumpier and the conversation deeper (it was a 6 hour drive so we discussed chocolate — a lot). I was thrilled to be heading into the heart of cacao country.  According to studies tracing the origins of cacao,  Theobroma cacao is native to exactly where we were heading, the Amazon basin.

Fermentation Bins


We were here to visit  a cooperative of indigenous people living in the Napo region of the Amazon called the Kallari cooperative. They harvest, make and market their own chocolate.  The Kallari story is a fascinating one.  It began in 1997 when a group of Quichwa leaders decided to help local farmers to earn more money for their beans.   With the help of  Judy Logback, an environmentalist and volunteer working in the region, they began selling the beans directly while improving on their fermentation and drying techniques.  Several years later, they decided to take it a step further and actually began making their own chocolate.  They asked John Steinberg, one of the founders of Sharfenberger chocolate to help them develop their first prototype bar and the first shipment of bars went out in 2008.


Beans drying at the collection centre

To learn more about Kallari’s journey, and the people involved, check out these two articles.




Tasting the Fresh Bean

Shortly after arriving at our Amazon lodge, we visited the Kallari headquarters to watch a slide show presentation about the cooperative and to taste some chocolate.  Prior to this visit, we had toured the chocolate factory in Quito that manufactures the Kallari bars.  When I  tasted the bars then and I liked them a lot.   The chocolate is mellow and fruity with an excellent mouthfeel that signifies good conching techniques and a high cocoa butter content.


The opportunity to see this cooperative in action in the region where the cacao is grown,  really made me feel connected to the chocolate.   As a result, it tasted even better than before.  It just goes to show that the story behind a food is very important in increasing your pleasure of it.


Nacional Pods

On the itinerary for the next day was a visit to a traditional family farm.  The Quichwa use a system of agriculture called chakra where different crops are planted alongside each other to promote biodiversity.  Next to cacao plants were medicinal plants, vegetable ivory, and tropical fruits, such as coconuts, and plantains.  I learned that this system is also a way to preserve a traditional way of life that is threatened more and more by the encroaching western culture and economic pressure.  For example, if the Quichwa families didn’t make a secure income from selling their beans, they would probably resort to logging vital Amazonian trees as a way to make money.  This destruction of the forest threatens their environment, and hence, their way of life.


On the way to the farm

The very last stop before heading back into Quito (and our farewell dinner) was a tour of the cocoa collection center.  Unlike some of the others we’d seen, this one was clean, well organized and busy.  I saw a lot of pride in the people working here just like I had seen in the workers on the farm and in the office the day before.  It struck me that Kallari could be a really great model for other cooperatives in other cocoa growing regions. Instead of being at the mercy of multi-national companies who force down the price paid to cooperatives for their beans,  the Kallari cooperative retain 100% of their profits from the finished chocolate, the Kallari bars, all of which go directly back to their members.  That is a massive achievement and definitely something to be proud about!


Beginning a chocolate tour of Ecuador.

This post is being released out of chronological order.  I will report on what happened in Peru and Bolivia in May and early June soon.  Thanks for your patience.  

(Events from mid June 2012)

I decided to treat myself(as if traveling around the world wasn’t a treat enough)by partaking in a chocolate tour at the end of our trip.  The tour was put on by Ecole Chocolat (http://www.ecolechocolat.com) which is an online school based in Vancouver that offers classes in chocolate making, chocolate manufacturing and chocolate tasting.  I am not a graduate, but I do use their website as a resource for finding ingredients and equipment. I sometimes fantasize about participating in one of their Master Classes which bring students together to the kitchens of highly acclaimed chocolate companies such as Valrhona or Felchlin in order to hone their chocolate making skills.

On perusing their website, I discovered that there was a plantation and factory tour scheduled in Ecuador at the end of June.  Not only did it fit exactly with the dates that we planned to be there, but it was lead by my chocolate hero, Steve DeVries!

Steve Devries is my favorite bean to bar chocolate maker in the United States.   His chocolate is a revelation.  He coaxes out amazing flavors and texture without the use of vanilla, cocoa butter or too much sugar.  During the tour, I discovered that this is a testament to his knowledge of cocoa processing techniques and a love for antique chocolate making equipment, which he insists makes much better chocolate. For those interested, his chocolate will soon be available online only which he ships from his shop in Denver, Colorado (http://www.devrieschocolate.com).

To begin the tour,  our group met in the lobby of Hotel Quito in Ecuador, which would be our hub for the week.   The plan was to take side trips to 3 different regions in Ecuador and then reconvene back in Quito.  There were 12 of us including Ecole Chocolat founder,  Pam Williams and her husband, Daryll, and on this first evening we shared dinner and stories of chocolate at a nearby restaurant.    It was the only time I would be away from my family during the entire 10 month trip and after meeting my new travel companions and fellow chocolate enthusiasts, I was excited to do my my own thing for a week.

The photos below are of some of the participants!


Paris chocolate tour with Chloe

The day after our visit to the Salon, Cyrus and I joined Chloe Doutre-Roussel‘s chocolate education/chocolate tour. It was pretty awesome. I’ve been wanting to meet her since I read her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, several years ago. Her book helped me gain an understanding of fine chocolate and build a vocabulary to better explain what I was tasting.

We started the morning out by tasting some chocolate.  It was fascinating —  I learned to taste chocolate in a different way. Chloe suggested that instead of picking out various notes in the chocolate, we should take note of how the chocolate makes us feel. She used the metaphor of a symphony to describe tasting chocolate. There’s the beginning, the

crescendo and the end. You don’t dissect the piece while you listen, but every once in a while your ear picks out the piano or the violin. Overall you listen to music for the pleasure that it gives you. It’s should be like that with chocolate. I hadn’t thought of it, but she said that you choose a chocolate because of the way it makes you feel, and you do the same when you choose the music you want to listen to.

Afterwards we went to Rue St. Honore where we visited 2 chocolate shops: Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Hevin. We compared the difference between a fresh truffle and one that was made to last a long time. The fresh one from Hevin was as delicious as I remembered from a year ago. We concentrated on plain dark ganaches and a rocher made of praline (roasted hazelnuts and caramelized sugar). The difference between them was interesting.

My favorite rocher was the one I tried at La Maison du Chocolat. It nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. During our morning discussion, Chloe told us that the French don’t forgive inconsistencies in quality. Once you’ve messed up, you don’t get another chance. Thank you La Maison for always delivering!

We stopped at Pierre Marcolini (who has partnered with Nestle since 2007 but is still making great chocolate as far as I can tell) before ending the tour at Gallery Lafayette where Chloe dropped us off at the chocolate section. She suggested we buy our gifts here because they have the best selection and best prices for gourmet bars in the city. Knowing I was planning a visit to the Valrhona and Bonnat factories, I decided against buying anything, but didn’t stop me from marveling at the selection (and prices!).

Chloe’s tour was a huge highlight of my trip to Paris (dare I say I enjoyed it even more than the Salon du Chocolat?). It was great to meet someone so influential in the chocolate world and to learn from her the secrets of enjoying chocolate even more (which I had thought  was impossible!). Once again I am in awe of how much there is to know about chocolate, and I am inspired after meeting people who are truly knowledgable.