To’ak was born from a rainforest conservation project that co-founder Jerry Toth started in Ecuador in 2007. Through his nonprofit foundation Third Millennium Alliance (TMA), he helped create the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, which currently protects over 560 hectares (1,400 acres) of tropical forest along the coastal mountain range. It was here that he began cultivating cacao trees and making chocolate by hand in a thatched bamboo house secluded in the middle of the forest.
As it so happened, this forest is located in the Ecuadorian province of Manabí, which is to cacao what the French province of Burgundy is to wine. As part of his conservation work, Jerry spent several years cultivating an organic fruit tree orchard that features cacao trees intermixed with over fifty different species of other tropical fruit trees.
In the mountains above the house, Jerry and his team also found abandoned groves of old cacao trees growing along stream banks. They harvested this fortuitous supply of heirloom Nacional cacao and used it to make chocolate in the so-called Bamboo House, following the methods taught to them by their neighbors.
The house didn’t have electricity, so initially the entire process was done by hand. They roasted the cacao beans in a big iron pot over a wood fire and then de-husked the beans by hand, one by one. Jerry then used an old hand grinder to manually grind the beans. The unforgettably powerful aroma that wafted from from the beans was his first cue that Ecuadorian cacao was unlike any other.
After years of honing his passion, Jerry linked up with co-founder Carl Schweizer and fourth-generation Ecuadorian cacao grower Servio Pachard with the mission to radically change the way the world experiences dark chocolate.
"In ancient times, chocolate was considered sacred and noble. Then in the industrial era it was commodified and mass-produced. To’ak is working to restore chocolate to its former grandeur and push its boundaries to new horizons."
To’ak works hand-in-hand with a small group of cacao growers in Piedra de Plata and pays them the highest price per pound in all of Ecuador. All wood used in To'ak's packaging is directly replenished through the planting of native hardwood trees by the entire To’ak team in partnership with the Ecuador-based rainforest conservation foundation Third Millennium Alliance (TMA).
To’ak also donates 1% of its sales to TMA as part of the global philanthropy movement 1% for the Planet. To’ak is working with local farmers, conservationists, and multiple universities to protect the world's oldest and rarest variety of cacao and nurse it back from the brink of extinction.
To’ak is working with a coalition of local cacao growers, conservationists, and international universities to save Ecuador’s historic Ancient Nacional cacao from the brink of extinction. Cuttings from DNA-verified 100% pure Nacional trees have been grafted onto seedlings and planted in a protected plot of land in the nearby Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, managed by the rainforest conservation foundation Third Millennium Alliance. Within three years, each of these young trees will be able to provide enough cuttings to reproduce dozens of additional pure Nacional seedlings each year, which will then be distributed to any local cacao grower who wants to help save this historic variety from extinction. We call it the Noah’s Ark of Ancient Nacional cacao.
To’ak was co-founded by Jerry Toth and Carl Schweizer, both of whom are long-time Ecuadorian transplants from the United States and Austria, respectively. To’ak’s Harvest Master is fourth-generation cacao grower and organic agroforestry expert Servio Pachard, on whose farm To’ak cacao is meticulously fermented and dried. To’ak’s cacao is sourced from a small group of cacao growers in the valley of Piedra de Plata, who are paid the highest price per pound in all of Ecuador.
Carl and Jerry produce the chocolate together with other renown chocolate makers based in Ecuador, such as Vicente Norero at Camino Verde and Guillermo Heredia at Ecuatoriana de Chocolates. Dennise Valencia, born and raised in Quito, is To’ak’s general manager and is married to Carl. To’ak’s Chief Executive Officer, also based in Quito, is James Le Compte. From tree to bar to packaging, To’ak chocolate is produced entirely in Ecuador.
Derived from a fusion of ancient dialects in Ecuador, the name To’ak (pronounced Toe-Ahk) means “earth” and “tree,” which together represent the true source of all chocolate. We liken this name to the French term terroir, which describes how the taste of an artisanal product (wine, cheese, chocolate) expresses the specific soil and climate conditions of the land on which it was grown.
Today our valley Piedra de Plata is reknowned on a national and international level for its unique heirloom cacao, thanks to To’ak.
– Fernando Cantos, one of the small cacao growers from the To’ak family.