Ecuador September 2018: Visiting the Source
This past September, I journeyed to Ecuador, the "cradle of cacao", for a first-hand look at how our chocolate is produced. I traveled as the guest of one of our partners - Republica del Cacao, a Latin American chocolate company dedicated to the sustainable production of fine cacao at its source. Republica del Cacao works directly with local producers of milk, sugar and cacao to strengthen traceability and to promote the preservation of traditional techniques.
With this background in mind, I was excited to go behind the scenes and into the heart of this process. Here is a glimpse of my adventure! - xoxo Maggie
Sunday, Sept. 16. ATX > MIA > Guayaquil, Ecuador
Long day of travel to the largest city in Ecuador. This is my first trip to South America and the first time I will visit the source of our Ecuadorian chocolate. I've read all about the process over the years but being able to see the farms, equipment and methods first-hand is a dream come true. I am beyond excited for what lies ahead.
Tomorrow, the fun begins!
Monday, Sept. 17. Guayaquil > Vinces, Ecuador
An early morning drive from the city to the jungle took us through rice paddies, mango tree farms, banana plantations and finally, to the cacao. Trading a bus for a scooter, we journeyed into the thick of one of the farms that supplies cacao beans to Republica del Cacao.
The farmer took us through the trees on foot and as we explored, it was clear how much pride he and his family take in their work. The heat was oppressive and bugs were out in full force, but to see cacao pods growing up the trunks of trees in their natural habitat was mesmerizing.
When cacao pods are ready to be harvested, farmers cut them down and crack them open. They scoop out the seeds and deliver them to a nearby collection center in Vinces. The next steps are up to Mother Nature. The precious beans are fermented, then spread out in the sun and raked hourly. The process is slow, measured and guided by centuries of experience.
Evening flight to Quito and a late night drive to a town near Turucucho. Tomorrow, we are exploring the Andes.
Tuesday, Sept. 18. Turucucho, Ecuador
Before sunrise, we drove into the mountains to a small farming community named Turucucho. 56 families make up this community and 70% of community participants are head of household women. I got to milk a cow for a brief second until she ran away from me, clearly disinterested in working with a stranger.
We watched the families as they brought their milk to the collection center to be weighed, and drank hot tea as the morning chill turned into mid-day sunshine. I even had a sip of raw milk! The snow-capped mountains were breathtaking and the insights incredible.
Pacto Panela, Ecuador
Wednesday, Sept. 19 Pacto Panela, Ecuador
A gorgeous early morning drive took us high into the Andean Bioregion of Choco to observe the creation of unrefined organic sugar. From sugar cane harvesting to processing, this work is hands-on and labor-intensive.
For a few minutes I swung a machete, chopping down sugar cane and realizing very quickly that this is the world’s best workout. The dedication of the farmers shows in the final product, which is included in the 65% dark chocolate that we use in our Austin kitchen.
Thurs. Sept. 20. Quito, Ecuador
We visited the Republic del Cacao factory in Quito. We watched as the painstakingly harvested cacao beans were crushed and then mixed with milk and sugar. These ingredients, so lovingly tended and carefully sourced, soon transformed into the smooth, flavorful chocolate decadence that we all know and love.
We had time in the afternoon to explore the historic center of Quito. The Spanish-style architecture is beautiful and the streets are filled with color, laughter and festivities. I can’t wait to bring my family to visit this city one day.
Fri. Sept 21 Red-eye from Quito > Miami > Austin
I’m back in Texas, bearing gifts for my kids, stories to share, and chocolate for the team at Maggie Louise!
Did this whirlwind trip even happen? Here are a few favorite pictures from my Ecuador adventure.