Nothing that we do at Galapagos Safari Camp comes without a story and we are very excited to share our latest adventure with you. It dates back to the time when Michael and I were a dreamy young couple wanting to make a small difference. We understood that invasive introduced species were a huge threat to our adopted environment and set out to start an endemic reforestation programme at our farm. We had organisations such as Conservation International supporting our initiative and one thing kept leading to the next.
In 2010 we started working with the Charles Darwin Station to lead an endemic garden project, the results of which you can now see today in the grounds of the camp, inspiring others on the Island to do the same.
One day Michael came across a cacao pod in a neighbouring farm. This pod ignited his imagination. Why not use the shade of cacao trees to further our reforestation project, and could we not fund this expensive enterprise by making the very first Galapagos chocolate bar?
Our children planted the first seedlings. Michael painstakingly nurtured the plants and built the largest private water reservoir in the archipelago so we could collect as much rain water as possible. We had our ups and downs. During one year of severe drought, we lost half the crop. The entire process was a roller-coaster ride.
As we wanted to get more locals involved, we approached a few people, including a renowned naturalist guide, Pati Stucki. Pati started her own plantation and contributes her beautiful cacao beans to this venture too.
Eventually, after 8 years in the making, we present you with our first batch of Galapagos chocolate. And yes, it is the world’s first chocolate bar made with Galapagos cacao!
According to a number of studies, we can create happier and more meaningful memories by experiencing more ‘first’s. For Michael and I, the experience has certainly been full of them. From finding the cacao tree and planting the first seedlings, to fermenting and drying the beans, and – finally! – tasting the chocolate for the first time, it’s been a hugely rewarding journey, and a project we feel deeply passionate about.
When was the last time you tasted something for the first time?
The story does not end here. Half the fun has been working with our wonderful partners, To’ak whose passion and dedication led them to create, quite literally, a work of art. Their mission? “To preserve the rarest and most prized cacao variety on earth.”
To’ak’s chocolate bars are what dreams are made of: the essence of the last remaining Ecuadorian “Nacional” cacao trees and the beauty that we want to preserve, blended in an explosion of evocative aromas through a single bite of chocolate. They are the guardians of the last Ecuadorian Nacional Cacao on earth, a variety of cacao that dates back 5,300 years. For centuries it was the most prized cacao variety in Europe because of its complex flavour profile and especially its unique floral aroma.
Decimated by the “Witches’ Broom” disease, some expert believed that Ecuadorian Nacional Cacao was already extinct, until 2009 when 11,000 cacao plants were tested in Ecuador. Only six trees were confirmed as 100% genetically pure Nacional cacao. That is just 0.05%! To’ak found another nine existing trees, dating as far back as a century and DNA proven. These figures put into perspective the extreme value and quality of Toak’s chocolate bars and the importance of supporting their project to save these extraordinary, last remaining trees.
Committed to quality and conservation rather than quantity and profit, To’ak’s philosophy and ours resonated intensely, and a marriage of true minds resulted in this evocative terroir Galapagos chocolate bar.
We apply the same principles to chocolate tasting as we do to our Safari experiences. We invite our guests to use all their senses to deepen their experience and heighten their understanding of chocolate in general. Due to the limited supply, we only offer our Galapagos chocolate to guests who participate in our To’ak Chocolate Tasting Experience.
Much like wine tasting, we begin by observing the colour of the chocolate and detecting its aromas, before allowing a piece to melt slowly on the tongue. It always surprises our guests how many characteristics and flavours they can detect in the chocolate, simply by being aware of their senses. As half the fun is in identifying the characteristics of the chocolate, I won’t share my observations here, but will say that it’s a fascinating learning experience and one I highly recommend to anyone who is curious about food, unusual ingredients and pioneering concepts.
Our Galapagos Chocolate is best paired with: Kelt Cognac, Zacapa 23 Rum, Añejo Tequila, especially Casamigos and Don Julio, Irish whiskey, Scotch from Speyside, some high-quality Bourbons, and Japanese whisky.
German chocolate expert, Sebastian Kobylak, tested our first batch of chocolate and reported the experience as follows:
a) Fragrance aromas: 16/18 points
Intense, sweet fruit notes (ripe banana, peach, citrus notes) with organoleptically appealing fermentation accents of ripe fruit, subtle notes of shortbread biscuit and gingerbread spices
b) Flavours: 45/48 points
First biscuit-nutty and creamy accents; main part marked by sweet chocolate butter biscuit character with concise nutty and creamy-butty accents and slightly floral notes subtle, harmoniously balanced notes of sweet, ripe, sweet fruits (banana, peach), subtle gingerbread spices, nutty-biscuit-like and very mild finish, aftertaste chocolate-mild, biscuit-woody and spicy with hardly any bitter tones
c) Optics: 3/3 points
d) Melt: 3/3 points
Perfect melting properties
e) Ingredients: 18/18 points
Cocoa beans (70%), cane sugar, cocoa butter (5%): very good
f) Sustainability: 4/4 points
Very good: sustainable and quality-conscious bean-to-bar chocolate production in Ecuador, rare fine cocoa from sustainable cultivation (nature reserve), fair and direct partnership with cocoa farmers
g) Overall impression 6/6
Overall points: 95/100
A world-class chocolate, which may be expensive (27.50 euros per 50 grams), but is worth every cent because of its unique taste, which is completely different and much more exciting than the characteristically flowery Ecuadorian cocoa! An unforgettable cocoa highlight in every respect, which I warmly recommend with a clear conscience to all passionate chocolate fans!
I also found the single Galapagos cocoa bean, which was in the packaging together with the chocolate bar, to be above average mild and aromatic – with nutty, biscuit and banana notes.
(Sebastian’s evaluation has been translated from German. You can read his full report, in German here).
There are only 880 bars in existence and we will probably have to wait a few years before we can tackle the next batch. This limited edition is only for sale at the camp, when enjoying a To’ak Chocolate tasting experience, and through To’ak.
The mother pod that Michael found in Galapagos, and from which our plantation derives, is almost a century old and 88% of its DNA is of the Nacional variety, …. but that is another story!
We wish you a 2020 filled with “firsts”
We also offer a similar chocolate tasting experience in Quito. Please see our tour here.
To’ak Galapagos Chocolate Tasting Experience
To’ak Quito Arts & Chocolate Tour
Stephanie Bonham-Carter is the co-founder of Galapagos Safari Camp.