by Jon Jared
When Jerry Toth and Carl Schweizer founded To’ak chocolate in 2014, they were on their way to mastering the art of chocolate making, elevating it to an art form. The To’ak line of gourmet confections express the subtle flavors of the pure Nacional cacao, from the country where chocolate was born.
For chocolate connoisseurs, the bars that To’ak Chocolate produces are a balance of nuanced subtlety that takes enjoyment of a typically mass-produced chocolate to another level. When paired with the facts that the business is based from the origins of chocolate itself, and that the practice of producing the bars uses age-old traditions that support the local communities, To’ak has raised the bar and given new meaning to the term “exotic chocolate.”
When the right ingredients fall into the hands of a master chef, an ordinary meal is transformed into an experience that engages all the senses. When two passionate men happen upon an ancient grove of rare cacao trees on a reserve on the coast, chocolate becomes a delicacy. This is the story of To’ak Chocolate.
Chocolate started in Ecuador as far back as 3,300 BC, and was considered sacred by the Mayo-Chinchipe culture and used as currency by ancient Latin American people. Today, the pure strain of the flavorful bean is extremely rare: sought after by chocolate makers around the world.
This came as a surprise to Jerry Toth, co-founder of To’ak with partner Carl Schweizer. Toth moved to Ecuador in 2007 and started an Ecological Reserve in the coastal region on Manabi. Living out of a thatched-roof house with no electricity, he discovered a trove of old-growth Nacional cacao trees. He spent the next two years researching and experimenting with methods learned from forth-generation farmer, Servio Pachard, on how to bring out the subtle complex flavors of the bean.
After the launch of To’ak in 2014, Jerry toured major cities in the States holding tastings for food journalists, and met with critical success from those who attended. The pair are also introducing new chocolate bars to the gourmet market, experimenting with the aging process and producing delicious results.
Together, founder Jerry and Carl have become the dream team of chocolate, providing an experience that embraces all of the sense after the first bite. Jerry spent years learning his craft while on the coast. Carl grew up Austria, and set his sights on a well-known chocolatier in his Provence before leaving home to travel and study in South America. To perfect their process, the duo often slept in their refinery to find the right techniques that preserve the rich flavor that they were looking for.
Today, with a team of 14 local farmers, To’ak uses an elaborate set of 36 steps to produce arguably the world’s finest chocolate bar. The beans are hand-picked and selected for their unique characteristics before being fermented and roasted. Each batch produces a limited number of bars, and sold only after passing a litany of tests to ensure the quality of the final product.
The result is making waves in the chocolate community. The depth of the bar’s flavor is comparable to the complexity of fine wines and spirits. To’ak chocolate bars are delivered in handcrafted wooden boxes after being aged in a 50-year old cognac or elm casks for 18 months. The bars come with a 116 page booklet outlining the production down to each year’s rainfall, and a guide for how to taste the 80 percent dark chocolate.
Also included in the box is a pair of wooden tweezers to use when tasting, a tool meant to give you the full experience, without aromas from your hands interfering. The guide suggests pairing To’ak bars with aged spirits and wine. It also gives tips for cleansing the palate before courses to bring the sublime flavor to the forefront and give you a complete appreciation for the rich layers of the chocolate that the team has labored to preserve.
The To’ak crew are committed to fair trade. They pay local farmers what the cacao beans are worth, setting the bar higher than the market price. Since the discovery of an old-growth grove of trees on a 100 acre reserve that he started, Jerry has sought out local experts in the cultivation of the beans, and together with Carl donate 5 % to the community, and earmark 10% of their profits for the 14 cacao farmers that keep things moving.
The Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve has grown to 1,500 acres. Jerry and Carl are pro-active about planting hundreds of Nacional trees and restoring previously eroded cattle pastures with 50 species of new saplings.
For those traveling in Ecuador who would like to have an unforgettable chocolate tasting experience or visit the farm of Servio Pachard, To’ak is happy to show you around with prior notice. For more information about the chocolate, arranging a visit, and the region where chocolate was born, contact us and we will be happy to assist.