Chocolate Tour: Mindo, Ecuador

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Not chocolate. This is a coffee tree.

If you need a break from long hikes, or if you are having bad weather, or you just really like chocolate, a chocolate tour in Mindo is a good idea. I highly recommend the El Quetzal tour. It was $10 each, but we got a load of chocolate afterwards. The tour includes a little walking around the property, and viewing the process of making chocolate products. Afterwards, the guide reiterates what you’ve learned by sampling chocolate and experiencing how it changes throughout the roasting process.

El Quetzal is one of the more expensive tours but you get more for your dollar. It’s also only $1 or $2 more so it’s not like you’re saving a whole bunch.

So, how is high-end artisanal chocolate made?

Step 1: The plant

Mindo is actually not a great climate for growing chocolate. Most of the plants for El Quetzal are grown elsewhere.

The pods take 6 months to ripen and grow on the trunk of the tree and the branches. The trees will live for 60-70 years, but take 35 years until they are really good at producing cocoa pods.

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Two cocoa pods on the same tree. Once ripe, they turn yellow.

Step 2: Harvest and Ferment Seeds

Inside of the pods are cocoa seeds. We tried the raw seeds and they have an intensely sweet and tart flavor, nothing like chocolate. When in your mouth, the seeds have a slightly slimy texture.

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These seeds are removed from the pods and fermented for 5 days inside of a wooden box lined with banana leafs. The seeds are “aired” every 24 hours by moving them to a new box with fresh leafs. This fermenting process is critical to reducing the bitterness of the dark chocolate.

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Step 3: Dry Out the Fermented Seeds

Next the seeds must be dried. This can take 24 hours or longer depending on the climate. In Mindo it actually takes a few days.

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Step 4: Roast the Beans

The beans are now ready to be processed. The beans only need to be roasted for 30min because of the oil that is in the bean. This is about half the time that coffee needs to be roasted. The roaster doesn’t need to be a fancy machine either. Quetzal uses a metal barrel over a gas-powered fire.

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Step 5: Time to Grind

After the beans are roasted, they need to be ground. This breaks the whole bean into “nibs.”

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Because they nibs also have shells, they need to be put into a wind tunnel that blows the shells away, leaving behind the chocolate “nibs.”

The shells are used for cocoa tea and compost.

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Step 6: Smush the Nibs

Everything else was behind glass so didn’t lend itself well to being photographed.

The nibs are then smashed between two heavy plates that uses friction to turn the nibs into chocolate paste.

There are now three options of what to do with the chocolate paste:

  1. Use it for baking.
  2. Press the chocolate paste to separate it into chocolate powder and cocoa butter.
    1. Quetzal uses a repurposed car hydraulic valve to press the chocolate paste hard enough to produce cocoa butter and chocolate powder.
    2. Cocoa butter is a clear oil and can be used in cosmetics or for white chocolate.
  3. Add sugar to the paste for chocolate bars. Quetzal never adds more than 33% sugar.

Step 7: Add flavor

If you are creating a chocolate bar, you can add flavors to the chocolate by taking the melted chocolate paste and pouring it on a marble slab. As it tempers, you can mix in the flavors. The flavors Quetzal uses are: ginger, chili, coffee, and macadamia nut.

Put the tempered chocolate in to molds, vibrate them for 30 secs to eliminate air bubbles, and refrigerate for 15 minutes and you have a chocolate bar!

Tasting the Chocolate

After seeing the process of how chocolate is made, we were able to try all sorts of chocolatey goodness.

We tried:

  • Chocolate nibs
    • crunchy, not much flavor
  • Cocoa tea
    • tasted like tea. Taylor liked it a lot, I personally think tea is a betrayal to the senses because it smells amazing then tastes like nothing.
  • Chocolate with 100% cocoa
    • I usually don’t like this, but with Quetzal it was quite good. Not bitter or acidic like some can be.
  • Chocolate with 75% cocoa
  • Chocolate with 66% cocoa
    • To me, this tasted like a milk chocolate bar. Taylor disagreed, but even with less sugar it was very tasty.
  • Chocolate with Ginger
    • My personal favorite
  • Chocolate with Coffee
  • Chocolate with Macadamia nuts
  • Chocolate with Chili
  • Chocolate Brownie
    • Extremely rich but so so good.
  • Chocolate Salad Dressing
    • It was like a sweet balsamic, it was really fricking good. Apparently you can also marinate meat in it which is making my mouth water just thinking about.
  • Chocolate paste
  • Supplements: Ginger simple syrup and simple syrup

Our guide led some “experiments” with us during part of the tasting. We would try the chocolate paste first. This was a chalky consistency that would stick to your teeth and gums. Then we would try chocolate paste again, but with a teaspoon of simple syrup. The simple syrup would prevent the chocolate from sticking to your mouth.

He then left us alone to consume our decadent chocolate brownies together. He left us with the chocolate salad dressing and ginger syrup to dip pieces of the brownie in. Heavenly.

It was a great activity for a lazy afternoon. Afterwards Taylor and I shared a coffee and a carrot cake. We watched the birds and enjoyed the sun setting at their beautiful restaurant and hotel.

 

 

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