Chocolate: Going to the source

Ecuador has been famous since at least the 19th century for its “fine aroma” cacao from the Arriba strain of beans. Only about 5 percent of the world’s cacao production meets the “fine aroma” standards as an enhancer of more plebian beans in fine chocolates. Nearly two-thirds of those “fine aroma” beans come from Ecuador.

The 8-year-old República de Cacao company aims to highlight the qualities of the Arriba bean with a line of single-origin dark chocolates from different growing areas within the country. The bars are available in Ecuador and are beginning to show up in the U.S. (We discovered them in the Guayaquil airport when we were en route to a Galápagos Islands cruise, but more about that later….)

It was enlightening to taste the chocolates side by side and get a feel for how terroir can affect the expression of a single cacao variety. If you run across these fine chocolates, here’s a guide to what to expect.

El Oro: Made as a 67% cacao dark chocolate, El Oro is the lightest of the Républica group, with nicely rounded almost blueberry overtones and a lightly toasted quality. It hails from the southern part of the country in a banana-growing zone adjacent to Peru. Good with a late-harvest white wine.

Los Rios: This 75% cacao dark chocolate is brassier than the other Républica offerings, starting with pronounced sweet spice overtones and finishing with a slightly more alkaline harshness than the others. The region lies in the heart of coastal Ecuador, but removed from the coast. Perfectly balanced by a glass of port.

Manabi: Also produced as a 75% cacao dark chocolate, this is the most complex of the Républica chocolates, starting soft and fruity and deepening to a rich mocha flavor. More acidic than the others, it has has strong floral notes. Manabi province, in northwest Ecuador, is also a large producer of coffee and bananas. Amontillado sherry makes the perfect complement.

Las Esmeraldas: The least distinctive, this 75% cacao dark chocolate is perhaps the best eating chocolate of the group because it is rich in chocolate flavors with a good balance of fruity and spicy notes. Like all the Républica de Cacao chocolates, it is “dry,” and benefits from letting it melt in the front of your mouth. We like it in the afternoon with a cup of rooibos herbal tea.

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