Our Chocolate

To’ak chocolate is sourced exclusively from 14 cacao growers in the valley of Piedra de Plata, Ecuador, from cacao pods that match the morphological and color profile of Nacional cacao, referenced from DNA testing. Each bar (50 grams / 1.76 ounces) is presented in a handcrafted Spanish Elm wood box that is individually engraved with the bar number;

Piedra de Plata
toak-chocolate-box

Vintage

Dark chocolate and wine are both rich with tannins and other polyphenols. These compounds, also called flavonoids, largely determine what we taste in a wine or dark chocolate and how it feels in our mouth. Over time, these compounds are chemically altered through processes such as oxidation. The result is an evolution of flavor profile.

  • Aged for 18 months in a 50-year-old French oak Cognac cask.
    Only 100 bars produced.
    Price: $345.

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  • Aged for 18 months in a Spanish Elm wood vessel.
    Only 100 bars produced.
    Price: $315.

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Piedra de Plata
toak-chocolate-box
  • Price : $270
    Number of Bars Produced : 250
    Origin : Piedra de Plata, Ecuador
    Variety : Nacional
    Cacao Percentage : 80.5%
    Harvest : February - March 2015
    Fermentation : 5 days in Spanish Elm wood
    Roast : Moderate
    Recipe : cacao mass & cane sugar
    Certifications : USDA Organic & Fair Trade TSA
    Conch : 9 hours
  • Cacao for “Dark” was harvested earlier in the season, from February 21st through March 26th. These cacao pods spent more than half of their six-month life during the dry season. They were treated to plentiful rain and only moderate sun during ripening. As a result, these cacao beans were relatively more acidic than their “Light” counterparts, calling for a higher fermentation and also lending themselves to a more structured chocolate, with strong potential for aging.

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  • Our goal with Dark was to highlight the emblematic characteristics of Nacional cacao from the Arriba growing region in Ecuador – akin to the French province of Burgundy in the wine world. The higher cacao percentage, longer fermentation time, and relatively shorter conch time have produced a strongly floral aroma that continues to intermingle with red fruits and earthy notes on the palate. To us, this is the signature flavor profile of the Nacional cacao that first enticed us to make chocolate. The relatively higher cacao percentage, combined with the fact that it was harvested earlier in the season, confers structure and a long, noble finish with memorable character.

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  • Price : $270
    Number of Bars Produced : 250
    Origin : Piedra de Plata, Ecuador
    Variety : Nacional
    Cacao Percentage : 73%
    Harvest : April - May 2015
    Fermentation : 4 days in Spanish Elm wood
    Roast : Moderate
    Recipe : cacao mass & cane sugar
    Certifications : USDA Organic & Fair Trade TSA
    Conch : 23.5 hours
  • Cacao for “Light” was harvested from April 16th through May 21st. As these cacao pods spent the majority of their lives in the rainy season, they received thirty-one percent more rainfall than their “Dark” counterparts. They were also the beneficiaries of unseasonably sunny weather during post-veraision, receiving eleven percent more sunlight hours. These two factors gave rise to cacao fruit with a higher sugar content (16.2 BRIX) and relatively lower acidity than their “Dark” counterparts, allowing for a shorter fermentation time and lending itself to a more balanced flavor profile.

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  • Having pursued the emblematic flavor of Nacional cacao with Dark, we allowed ourselves greater poetic license with Light. In our pre-production experiments, we noticed that as we extended the conch time, the flavor profile gradually shifted from the floral end of the spectrum toward a stronger presence of fruit notes. Traces of flowers remain on the nose in the form of a faint perfume, but on the palate the primary impression is a succession of fruits, with notes of citrus, raspberry, plum, and raisin all present. The later harvest and lower cacao percentage soften the tannins and allow a more subtle, nuanced expression with many tertiary layers that confer complexity.

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Piedra de Plata 2014
toak-chocolate-box
  • Price : $260
    Number of Bars Produced : 574
    Origin : Piedra de Plata, Ecuador
    Cacao Percentage : 81%
    Harvest : March - April 2014
    Fermentation : 6 days in Spanish Elm wood
    Roast : Moderate
    Recipe : cacao mass & cane sugar
    Certifications : USDA Organic & Fair Trade TSA
    Conch : 12 hours
    Variety : Nacional
  • At what should have been the peak of the rainy season, March was subject to short bursts of rain followed by long stretches of unseasonably dry and sunny weather, in what became the defining month of this harvest…

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  • Tasting Notes: "Clean and pleasant on the nose, with a warm tone of cacao decorated with fresh notes of citrus and red fruits…"

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Every single phase of the To’ak production process has been aimed at eliminating barriers to the true aroma and flavor profile of Ecuadorian Nacional cacao from the Arriba growing region—in particular the valley of Piedra de Plata. What we believe we have achieved is a faithful and refined expression of a Ecuadorian national treasure.

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“Customary Nacional tags — coffee / blackberry / nut — are clearly embedded within, & bitterness virtually absent though residual tannins stand in nicely. The latter contributed largely by elm. Yes, beyond the tongs to lift this on the tongue, elm imparts significant impact to the profile in a carryover from the fermentation cases themselves. (…) Unlike a few early-stage peers who hang a chocolate shingle & wing it, To’ak carefully plots its course & this bar shows, literally, the fruits of their labor.”

Mark Christian, Director of the HCP Fund & publisher of the C-spot™ (New York, USA)

“To’ak chocolate is firmer than other bars I’ve tasted, very intense, with notes of cherries, earth, flowers. As it melts, you find sandalwood, caramel, hazelnuts, orange blossom — and more.”

Irene Virbila, Restaurant Critic and Wine Columnist for the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, USA)

“To’ak Chocolate is the finest chocolate we’ve ever used. Jerry and Carl’s focus on terroir and locality very much resonates with us here at The Restaurant at Meadowood. We look forward to continuing to explore great usage for this incredible chocolate.”

Jessica Shelton, Culinary Liaison at The Restaurant at Meadowood, a three Michelin Star restaurant in Napa Valley (St Helena, USA)

“The result: a rich, deep, pleasantly bitter flavor with surprisingly fruity undertones—though there’s no fruit added, the Arriba bean unleashes a natural sweetness I’ve never tasted in another chocolate.”

Marissa Conrad, Forbes Magazine (New York, USA)

“This chocolate is a journey of the floral aromatics that exemplify Ecuadorian Arriba cacao, with orange blossoms and roses intermingling with notes of plum, raspberry and raisin. There is an undertone of walnut, coffee, and a hint of freshly-cut pasture grass. The acidity, invoking notes of grapefruit and lime, is fresh and seductive.”

Idaly Farfán, Chocolatier, Xocolatl (Quito, Ecuador)

“Clean and pleasant on the nose, with a warm tone of cacao decorated with fresh notes of citrus and red fruits. The texture is soft and silky. The initial attack is smooth, highlighted by notes of cherry, raisin, and fig that give way to earthy tones of wood and tobacco. The finish is long and elegant with a mild bitterness imbued with walnut, all of which is given structure by a balanced acidity that calls forth citrus and hints of orange blossom. This is a subtle and complex chocolate; in the world of wine we would say that it has noble character.”

Pablo Conselmo, Enologist, Sociedad Ecuatoriana de Catadores Profesionales (Quito, Ecuador)

The 574 bars of dark chocolate from this edition were produced from cacao harvested during the 2014 rainy season. The fruit began its life as flowers that were pollinated during the last months of the 2013 dry season, under typically overcast skies with relatively cool temperatures and minimal precipitation. With the onset of the rains and attendant heat, the fruit grew to the size of a pea pod by the end of January. In February the rains were consistent and moderate, providing good conditions for fruit growth.

At what should have been the peak of the rainy season, March was subject to short bursts of rain followed by long stretches of unseasonably dry and sunny weather, in what became the defining month of this harvest.

The brief drought-like conditions during the ripening period promoted an increase in the concentration of sugars and phenolic compounds in the fruit and simultaneously helped to stave off fungal attacks that tend to occur at this critical point in the rainy season. Light but consistent rains started to return in April, at which point the fruit was harvested and fermented.

To’ak’s Rain Harvest 2015 Edition includes two expressions of dark chocolate from Piedra de Plata, which each showcase a different spectrum of the Nacional cacao flavor profile.

(85% cacao)
Our goal with Dark was to highlight the emblematic characteristics of Nacional cacao from the Arriba growing region in Ecuador. The higher cacao percentage, longer fermentation time, and relatively shorter conch time have produced a strongly floral aroma that continues to intermingle with red fruits and earthy notes on the palate. To us, this is the signature flavor profile of the Nacional cacao that first enticed us to make chocolate. The earlier harvest combines with the relatively higher cacao percentage to confer structure and a long, noble finish with memorable character.

(73% cacao)
Having pursued the emblematic flavor of Nacional cacao with Dark, we allowed ourselves greater poetic license with Light. In our pre-production experiments, we noticed that as we extended the conch time, the flavor profile gradually shifted from the floral end of the spectrum toward a stronger presence of fruit notes. Traces of flowers remain on the nose in the form of a faint perfume, but on the palate the primary impression is a succession of fruits, with notes of citrus, raspberry, plum, and raisin all present. The later harvest and lower cacao percentage soften the tannins and allow a more subtle, nuanced expression with many tertiary layers that confer complexity.

Following a fairly typical dry season, the 2015 rainy season got off to a mild start, with only 107 mm of rainfall in January. The rains doubled in February but were tempered by decent sun exposure. For the second straight year, March was unseasonably dry and sunny, with two separate days of heavy rains (March 7th and March 13th) accounting for seventy percent of the month’s precipitation. The last heavy rain of the season came on April 4th, which was followed by two months of occasional lights rains and considerably more sun compared with the same period in 2014.



Overall, the 2015 Rain Harvest benefitted from below-average rainfall and above-average sun exposure, producing a moderate crop of cacao with high concentration of sugar and a low incidence of disease and fungal attacks. This is considered an excellent year for cacao, which we believe is reflected in the chocolate. Our 2015 harvest had lower acidity and astringency compared to our 2014 harvest.

Closer inspection of the 2015 harvest tells a more detailed story about the flavor differences between our “Dark” and “Light” bars.

Cacao for “Dark” was harvested earlier in the season, from February 21st through March 26th. These cacao pods spent more than half of their six-month life during the dry season. They were treated to plentiful rain and only moderate sun during ripening. As a result, these cacao beans were relatively more acidic than their “Light” counterparts, calling for a higher fermentation and also lending themselves to a more structured chocolate, with strong potential for aging.

Cacao for “Light” was harvested from April 16th through May 21st. As these cacao pods spent the majority of their lives in the rainy season, they received thirty-one percent more rainfall than their “Dark” counterparts. They were also the beneficiaries of unseasonably sunny weather during post-veraision, receiving eleven percent more sunlight hours. These two factors gave rise to cacao fruit with a higher sugar content (16.2 BRIX) and relatively lower acidity than their “Dark” counterparts, allowing for a shorter fermentation time and lending itself to a more balanced flavor profile.

The idea of aging our chocolate in a Cognac cask came about quite naturally. Of all the spirits that we paired To’ak with, Cognac in general was always the best partner. Aged bottles of Cognac (such as VSOP and particularly XO) have been softened enough to not overpower To’ak, and often their flavor notes prove to be delightful complements. In most cases, the progeny of the two flavors—spirit and chocolate—was an enhancement of both. In the best of cases, the combination could rightfully be described as sublime.



Through a connection with Wine Spectator, we got in touch with Nicolas Palazzi. Wine Spectator had recently run a feature on Cognac and credited Palazzi with leading the “rise of artisanal brandy in the U.S.” Raised amidst vineyards in the province of Bordeaux and trained by an artisan distiller in the province of Cognac, Palazzi is the man to speak with if you’re on the hunt for rare and unique Cognac. As it turned out, he was also the right man to find if you’re on the hunt for a fifty-year-old Cognac cask. The cask Nicolas sourced for us was made of French oak from the Limousine forest in France. The cask most recently contained an eau de vie that was distilled in the mid-1970s and emptied in 2013 for a limited edition bottling sold to private collectors. Palazzi estimated the age of the cask to be over fifty years.

The result is our highly complex 2014 Rain Harvest edition now with softened edges and delightfully infused with the aroma and flavor of cognac.

We wanted the opportunity to test our aging hypothesis without the added variable of Cognac vapor. The true test, we believed, would be aging the chocolate in a more neutral environment, such that oxygen and time would be the primary forces at work. That said, we didn’t want to entirely rule out the possibility of using storage material such as wood to subtly enhance the flavor of the aged chocolate.

After all, oak wood has long been used to enhance the flavor of wine. Why not apply this principle to dark chocolate?



In our Spanish Elm matured bar, that slight touch of astringency that we perceived in 2014 has been softened, and meanwhile the flavor has taken on a touch of spice that had never been present before—in both aroma and flavor. The fruit notes that initially presided on the palate had also shifted somewhat, the edges had been rounded—the rises rose more gradually but also fell more gradually.