A Floral Year
As tree-to-bar chocolate makers, we draw heavily from the techniques of both winemakers and whisky distilleries. Similar to wine, the flavor characteristics of dark chocolate vary according to the soil and climate in which the cacao was grown. At To’ak, the French term terroir is not just a concept. It’s the guiding principle for our entire production process. We consciously make our chocolate to express the land and weather idiosyncrasies of each specific year.
Over 95% of the world’s chocolate is produced from low-grade “bulk” cacao. These cacao trees are often grown in factory-farm monocultures, where they are fed a steady diet of irrigation and chemical fertilizers. This produces a uniform crop of cacao from year to year. In stark contrast, the small-scale family farms in Piedra de Plata are scattered in the wooded hillsides, where cacao trees are grown alongside a medley of tropical fruit trees and native hardwoods—a true polyculture.
Cacao growers in Piedra de Plata also practice “dry farming,” as it is known in the wine world. In other words, they do not irrigate their cacao trees. Their trees are dependent on the whims of rain and sun. As a result, the flavor and aroma profile of cacao from Piedra de Plata is strongly influenced by the unique soil and climate conditions of this particular valley. And it significantly varies from year to year.
In the wake of the 2017 growing season, which was the rainiest on record for To’ak, the 2018 growing season was officially the driest. Piedra de Plata received nearly half the amount of precipitation in 2018 than it received in 2017. The 2018 growing season also registered fewer sunlight hours than any previous year, dating back to our first harvest in 2014. But fortunately, the rains were consistent and somewhat front-loaded in the season.
Relatively dry weather during the post-veraison phase often has the effect of increasing the polyphenolic content of the cacao beans. We believe this is partially responsible for the strong floral aromas of this particular edition. We accentuated these floral notes by using a mild roast and minimizing the conching temperature and duration. The result is the flower-forward chocolate bar that we’ve been pursuing for a few years. We believe it captures the essence of Ecuadorian Nacional’s hallmark flavor.
2018 Weather Chart