2 Mouthwatering Destinations for Chocoholics
If, like us, you’re looking forward to a bit (or a lot!) of chocolate indulgence over the Easter weekend then you’re going to love the following two, seriously chocolatey, destinations. Easter time is a good time to visit too!
Whether you’re a Cadbury’s fan or a single-estate cocoa aficionado, unwrap an Easter egg and come with us to discover two fantastic, cocoa growing destinations.
Ecuador: Home to some of the best cacao beans in the world
St Lucia: The Caribbean Destination for Chocolate Lovers
Cacao trees are native to Central and South America so this is the region where chocolate’s 5000 year history begins. Archaeologists recently discovered evidence that cacao was used by the ancient Mayo-Chinchipe culture as far back as 5,300 years ago. Living in what is now southeast Ecuador, the Mayo-Chinchipe people enjoyed both the seeds and the sweet pulp of the cacao pod and consumed it for not only ceremonies and rituals but everyday nourishment.
Over the next several centuries, cacao was likely traded or transported northward from Ecuador into Colombia and Panama before reaching Mexico. There is evidence that the Olmec, regarded as the first major civilisation of the Americas, fermented, toasted, and ground cacao beans and consumed it as a drink. Its popularity grew over the centuries with both the Mayans and Aztecs believing the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties.
It wasn’t until many centuries later that chocolate arrived in Europe via Spain in the 1500’s. Here they added sugar and soon, chocolate mania spread throughout Europe. To satisfy this growing demand Spanish friars began to grow cacao commercially in Ecuador around 1635. The French introduced cacao to Martinique and St Lucia, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil around 1700. England started growing it in Jamaica and the Dutch in Curaçao. Demand exploded again in the 1800’s and cacao plantations arrived in West Africa which is now the world’s largest cacao producing area.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Where Chocolate History Began
Ecuador is often just passed through on route to the celebrated Galapagos Islands but: Did you know Ecuador is home to some of the best cacao beans in the world?
Only approximately 5% of cacao in the world is labeled as “Fine Aroma,” and Ecuador produces nearly 63% of it. How so? Ecuadorian Arriba Cacao. Arriba Cacao was originally found in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and got its name because natives and explorers could smell its scent down the river, in Spanish, “de río arriba.”
Until recently, Ecuador focused their efforts on exporting their cacao, but in the last few years, they have turned to producing their own chocolate. Ecuador’s diverse terrain and equatorial location gives chocolate from Ecuador a distinct flavour profile that is unmatched by any other country and it is sustainably produced too, yielding better returns for the cacao farmers.
One brand, Pacari, has won dozens of international awards in recent years, beating traditional European chocolate makers. Pacari is a family-owned Ecuadorian company with a simple mission: to produce the highest quality organic dark chocolate in the world in the most ethical and sustainable way possible.
To’ak Chocolate is another of Ecuador’s most interesting chocolate companies, and also part of the growing ‘tree to bar’ chocolate movement. They tracked down the oldest and rarest variety of cacao on earth in Piedra de Plata and have exclusively sourced their cacao from this valley ever since. They built a relationship with fourteen cacao growers in Piedra de Plata to use this 100% pure Nacional cacao for their chocolate making, an aromatic variety once thought extinct that traces its lineage back to those first domesticated cacao trees. This limited supply is why To’ak chocolate is the most expensive in the world although with this dedication to detail, perhaps ‘the world’s most valuable chocolate’ is a better description.
Ecuador’s compact size, welcoming people and magnificent scenery make it a joy to travel around. Self drive tours are possible and it is a great place to experience the Andes, the Ecuadorian Amazon – (home to some of the Amazon’s most recognised eco-lodges with excellent set up, guides and wildlife spotting opportunities), and the Galapagos Islands in one truly iconic trip of a lifetime.
Be sure to allow time to linger longer in Ecudaor’s capital, Quito. A UNESCO world heritage site on account of the fine well preserved architecture of the Colonial Quarter, it is also one of the highest capital cities in the world (2850m above sea level) located right on the Andes mountain range making for spectacular views. Quito’s location lies on the equator which allows travellers to experience two hemispheres at the same time.
As a chocolate lover you won’t want to miss the Pacari Chocolate tasting experience held at their new tasting room in Quito’s trendy, bohemian La Floresta neighbourhood, home to top restaurants and boutique hotels.. Here you will get to understand why Ecuador is one of the best countries in the world to grow fine cacao and learn about cacao history before having the opportunity to taste the difference for yourself and to make your own truffles.
You can also take a drive out to to Archidona (2h44min from Quito), where the community of Santa Rita and the Pacari Cacao Agrotourism Project are located. Learn about the natural process of sowing, harvesting, fermenting and drying the best Cacao in the world to take your chocolate knowledge to a whole new level.
Rather oddly for a nation with the best chocolate, chocolate con queso — hot chocolate with cheese — is the most popular way for Ecuadorians to consume cacao!
Pure Chocolate Heaven with Hotel Chocolat
You can’t go far in Saint Lucia without stumbling upon a chocolate plantation. Cocoa history in Saint Lucia dates back to the early 1700’s when it was a leading producer. While cocoa has long been an important part of the country’s history, it took a backseat to the banana industry in the nation’s modern economy.
But changes to trade agreements between the United Kingdom and Saint Lucia in the early 1990s brought about the demise of the banana industry so farmers shifted their focus back to the island’s chocolate roots.
Playing an exciting part in this resurgence is the luxury British chocolate brand, Hotel Chocolat.
Having started as an online chocolate company before joining the High Street, Hotel Chocolat decided that more than being just chocolatiers, they wanted to get right back to the cacao roots – literally! – by buying and restoring the Rabot Estate, an organic, sustainable 140-acre cacao farm on the island of Saint Lucia dating back to 1745. This has given rise to their ‘roots to wrapper’ chocolate philosophy.
And the great news is you can see for yourself exactly what this philosophy is all about because Hotel Chocolat has an actual hotel right here on this beautiful estate!
Created to sit perfectly in the stunning natural beauty of its rainforest surroundings, accommodation at Rabot Hotel is a unique blend of Saint Lucian charm and sleek contemporary style. All rooms are positioned to catch the cooling breeze and are furnished with premium luxury and comfort in mind – and the views of the Pitons are to die for.
Inspired by the rare cacao growing on Rabot Estate, the pioneering menu showcases this ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. Sometimes it is used as a light and subtle spice, sometimes as a delicate infusion, but always in a natural, healthy and exciting harmony. And how good does a fresh Cacao Bellini at sundown sound?
You can be as active or as laid back as you wish during your stay. Unwind with a chocolate infused treatment at the spa (unique cacao based lotions and potions are handmade on the estate) or simply relax by the pool. Enjoy self-guided strolls through the cacao groves and exciting sea adventures or really indulge your chocolate passion with the unique Tree-to-Bar experience. The experience starts with a walk through the estate’s cacao groves, selecting ripe cacao pods to harvest from the tree and ends with making your own chocolate bar.
You’re guaranteed to return with an even deeper love for chocolate you didn’t know was possible.
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