On day 2 of our trip, we had an early breakfast and then caught the bus to Quevedo, a city in the Los Rios region of Ecuador, and one of the top cocoa bean exporting centers in the country.
After a long but picturesque 6 hour drive narrated by our excellent guide, Pablo, we arrived at Samuel von Rutte’s farm. Samuel is a swiss immigrant and former Nestle employee who moved to Ecuador years ago to become a cocoa farmer. He now has thousands of trees and supplies many local and international chocolate companies with premium quality beans. He also supplied us with a premium quality meal of homemade empanadas and chocolate mousse, which we hungrily gobbled up before taking a walk around the plantation. Samuel’s trees are purely Arriba Nacional, a type of forestaro cacao that is indigenous to Ecuador and considered to be a fine flavor bean. The success of the cocoa industry in Ecuador is linked to the Arriba cacao because it is said to have a distinctive flavor profile(floral) that can’t be found in the CCN-51, the other and perhaps more common type of bean available in the country. The demand for Arriba cacao is so high now that farmers are encouraged to plant them over the CCN-51 even though the latter are easier to grow. Whether or not the Arriba can still be found in its pure form is another story and I’ll go into that later.
After our walk we saw Samuel’s fermentation and drying set up. Samuel has a special technique to ferment the beans. Instead of dumping all the baba (raw beans with mucilage) into fermentation bins and rotating them over the course of 4 or 5 days, he does something called dry fermentation. Once the beans are removed from the pod, he spreads them out to dry for several hours. He then piles them up overnight to allow them to ferment for 2-3 days. In wet fermentation, it takes days for the enzymes to permeate the husks. Using Samuel’s technique, the moisture is removed from drying the beans first, which allows the fermentation to start more quickly. By doing this, the bad-tasting acids that normally stay trapped in the wet process, are eliminated straight away and the chocolate tastes less bitter and astringent.
After our tour, Samuel let us try some of his 100% chocolate and it was amazingly sweet, smooth, and lacked any bitterness at all. We all bought lots of bars to take home with us.