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Chocolates of Ecuador -- Arriba, Nacional, CCN51

There is debate about the Arriba bean and whether indeed there is any such thing any longer. Some say that Arriba is one bean in a category they would like to call Nacional, and others say it synonymous with that term. Many chocolate makers using cacao from Ecuador slap this fashionable Arriba label on their packages since this carries with it the status of the fine and flavor beans.

And so opening up a general discussion on Arriba, Nacional and Ecuador chocolate, and a place to gather links and references for further reading.

And also specifically attempting to get to the bottom of which companies are using CCN51, and which are using "Arriba" or Nacional beans that are distinguished from that clone. What I have been told so far is that of the companies producing the chocolate in Ecuador, that Plantations uses "mainly the CCN51 clone," and that Republica del Cacao uses "100% pure Nacional beans." And if that is the case, what precisely can 100% pure Nacional mean nowadays? And the other companies who are making the chocolate at source such as Pacari, Caoni, and Kallari, what is the cacao? And what about couverture Arriba from Felchlin and Callebaut? And what is the source of cacao for companies such as Dagoba, Hachez, and Chocolove, some of which do not make their own chocolate from the bean, but who use the word Arriba?

Tags: arriba, ccn51, ecuador, nacional

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I'm weighing in a bit late on this posting, because I stumbled across this site by accident while looking for info on molillo fungus.

To some of the questions regarding cacao origin for chocolates, I can tell you that Caoni uses nacional processed by Tulicorp, which gets most of its beans from the south (Los Rios and Bolivar Provinces). Kallari gets its nacional beans from the northeast (Sucumbios). Pacari uses nacional beans as well, as does Dagoba. I do not know who processes the beans for Kallari and Pacari, but as far as I know, the only Ecuadorian outfit that turns out its own, labeled gourmet chocolate is Ecuatoriana de Chocolates, which does the Caoyere line of chocolates.

As various commenters have noted here, "Arriba" is a much-abused adjective to the point where it's become almost meaningless. There was a time, I suspect when the terroir aspect gave the name a special significance as relates to origin in the reaches of the upper Guayas basin, but over time, those beans have just been mixed in with beans from everywhere else in the country. The big buyers, Kraft, Nestle, Berger are the lead culprits in this, and I shouldn't be surprised if they've thrown CCN51 stuff in with their containers of nacional, along the way.

Still, amongst the Ecuadorian labels (I won't comment on non-Ecuadorian stuff), there's a trend toward regional appelation by Ecuadorian Province. Thus, you'll see Pacari, Caoni, and Caoyere products labled from Los Rios, Manabi, Esmeraldas, Bolivar, Pichincha, and Guayas Provinces, and then by percentage cacao mass.

Some, but not all, of these same labels (including Plantations) use "Arriba" on their packaging, and to the extent that their beans legitimately come from Guayas, Bolivar or Los Rios Provinces (where the upper reaches of and tributaries to, the Guayas River extend), I suppose you could use the Arriba label. Still, in the most general sense, it's like the wild, wild west when it comes to use of adjectives like Arrible and Gran Cru, etc. on packaging; there's just no really generally accepted appelation protocol, so people say whatever they want on their wrappers.

A couple of other observations while I'm passing through: As far as I know Plantations uses only CCN51 beans. Plantations is owned by the Crespo family out of Guayaquil, and to my knowledge, these folks grow only CCN51 and have done so since the 1980's. (CCN51 is a controversial variety, particularly from a flavor standpoint, and it's gotten almost political, in my view, so much so, in fact, that someone might consider writing an article on just why that is.)

On fermentation and drying and post-harvest treatment in general, quality is erratic, to say the least. The smaller producers in particular have serious problems, but even larger outfits (that is, some cooperatives) have problems regarding humidity control, etc. Cacao and chocolate is tricky stuff, just like grapes and wine, and Ecuador's got a long way to go before it's a California or France in the chocolate sense...

Anyway, you've a really nice site here, and I look forward to coming back and reading more here in the future!
Thanks, fascinating -- another great addition to this discussion.
Sure thing, Casey, going back over my comments, I see a couple of comments (which I did way too early in the morning): Arrible is Arriba, obviously. but no so obvious and more important is a very good Ecuadorian gourmet chocolate brand, which is Cacaoyere, not what I wrote above! L

 Hello Lars;

 One of our friend  mentioned your comment about Vintage Plantations Chocolates. I am correcting your statement.

Vintage Plantations is owned by us: Allan Suarez and Pierrick Chouard. Allan is 2 nd generation Ecuadorian. Mr Crepso was never the owner of Vintage  Plantations chocolate.  he was hired to collect cocoa beans from three cooperatives nearby  whcih were rainforest alliance certiifed. he did not work out. We partnered briefly with mr. crespo , and created Vintage Plantations Ecuador. Mr Crespo was the representative in charge of managing the local business until we were proven wrong.

We currently purchase cocoa beans from small farmers from the Los rios area.  These cocoa beans are being shipped back to the USA in order to  re- establish complete control  of the process from beans to chocolate.  After our rupture with Mr. Crespo, This individual  kept on using our ressources to sell chocolates using our molds and other equipment we could not retrieve from Ecuador.  

Here is another link of interest to those following the Arriba tales..
This is portions of an article on chocolates of Ecuador from Cocoaroma magazine
I've often asked people about the attempts to plant Arriba outside of Ecuador. Some people say it can't be done. Not that the trees won't grow, but that they have failed in that the flavor profile is not the same. Speaking with a company rep at the 2008 Fancy Food Show in NY, Republica del Cacao has claimed that the ocean currents off the coast of Ecuador make a unique passage that in someway is not replicable anywhere else and therefore creates an environment that leads to this unique flavor of Ecuadorian Arriba. They actually had a binder at their booth with various photos, one of which was this diagram of global ocean currents. El Nino does create unique environmental changes along Peru and Ecuador. Could this go along one of the theories Samantha wrote in an earlier post in this discussion?

Since this was also started as a general discussion about Ecuadorian chocolate I thought it would be interesting to list the companies that produce the chocolate in Ecuador. There are quite a few and my hopes is to hear from people who have tried these chocolates and can comment on flavor profile. It's been said that the Arriba flavor profile is almost non existent, but with so many companies in Ecuador, my hope is that some small Ecuadorian company might actually have access to some very interesting beans. For example, Bouga Cacao has a 77% bar labeled Hacienda Bosque de Oro. I had this bar and think it's the most obviously floral bar I've tried. I should add that those who tried it with me didn't really agree. However, I thought it was clearly lavendar and I'm not that good at picking up floral notes. I'd like to hear what people's impressions are or know of the following companies. Granted, some of these I only know the name. Not so sure these smaller companies even have a web site and unless you go to Ecuador you probably can't get them.

Republica del Cacao
Chocolate del Castillo (not to be confused with El Castillo del Cacao of Nicaragua)
San Joaquin
Hoja Verde
Bouga Cacao
Vere (not really an Ecuadorian company but the chocolate is processed at Tulicorp)

At least five of these companies process at Tulicorp. It might also be interesting to know more about Tulicorp and where do the other companies process.
I'll add my two cents on who's processing what. I live in Ecuador and have heard of most of these bars, and can tell you some about some of them.

Vintage Plantations is produced by Ecuacocoa, and as far as I know is mostly if not 100% CCN-51 beans.

Republica del Cacao is produced locally by Confiteca, a large Ecuadorian confectionery manufacturer. Have heard but have no evidence that they do not produce their own liquor, but they do have their own collection centers.

Caoni-Made by Tulicorp, not one of my preferred products. Personally, the flavor profiles all the products I have tried from Tulicorp just do not seem to sit well with me.

Cacaoyere-Ecuatoriana de Chocolates' label, I think this is primarily sold in Europe, not the US.

Kallari-contract manufactured currently by Ecuatoriana de Chocolates, though that may be changing soon as allegedly Kallari is working to build its own plant. Though I'm not sure it's exactly necessary or the best idea from an investment standpoint... from what I know there is plenty of in-country production capacity and unless you're planning to go huge (by that I mean 50+ tons a year or more in production) over night, there's no need to invest in production facilities at this time.

Have seen a few of the other brands mentioned locally, but haven't heard of all of them.

As to the CCN-51 and Nacional issue, my local sources tell me farmers large and small are planting more and more CCN-51 variety of cacao because of its higher
yields, making the Nacional variety increasingly scarce. Anecdotally, on my recent trips to both the Quevedo/Los Rios area of the country and north to the Esmeraldas area, it's easy to spot CCN-51 and it's what you see nearly everywhere you go from the roadside. Since Nacional yields less per hectare and needs more care, it should be recognized by receiving a higher price on the market, but it rarely does. This is a big, controversial issue in
the Ecuadorian cacao industry and in the commodities trade as well, and was one of the main points brought up last year at the closing of the World Cocoa Federation's annual meeting in Guayaquil that I attended.

While both types might produce a very good quality chocolate, among
connoisseurs and chocolate lovers in-the-know Nacional definitely has a
special standing above CCN-51. There is a lot of CCN-51 and nacional being
mixed both before and after fermentation, and once it¹s mixed it¹s almost impossible to tell the difference visually-though I did talk to a few buyers on commercial patios who said they can recognize it if there¹s a high enough percent of CCN-51 in the mix of dried fermented beans. From what I know, to develop a good flavor profile with CCN-51, it needs to be fermented on its own and with different procedures from Nacional, otherwise you will get off flavors. I buy some chocolate produced locally which is a mix of CCN-51 and Nacional, and you can definitely tell the difference from a pure Nacional bar.

It might be an exaggeration to say that Nacional is already becoming scarce,
but if the alleged trend continues, this may well become true, and CCN-51 will become the primary bean Ecuador produces.

You sound very knowledgeable in Ecuadorian cacau.

Last year I was sent 3 samples from one potential supplier - a Nacional, a "Taura", and a "Cone" Arriba bean. He indicated that the Taura and Cone were attempts by the local community to produce a cacau that would help rebuild the faltering arriba reputation as of late.

Have you heard of "Taura" or "Cone"?

I look forward to your reply.

Brad Churchill
I looked into this and found that Transmar, one of the biggest purchasers of cacoa here and one of the biggest processors of semi-finished cocoa products in Ecuador (liquor, cake, etc.), and a major commodity house worldwide, is running a pilot project to provide traceability of beans in Ecuador for four european manufacturers who are unnamed. Taura and Cone are mentioned as two areas where they are sourcing beans from. For the full article text in Spanish, see here.

My educated guess is that Transmar guarantees that cacao from these areas is pure "Arriba" flavor, or more strictly speaking, pure Nacional beans that have been properly handled during post-harvest. Since they are buying the beans in the pod, they have an extra level of control over quality, origin, and fermentation.

(However, IMHO, there is a lot of mixing of CCN-51 and Nacional going on that is pretty hard to control given some of the idiosyncracies of Ecuador, and unless you have a very close relationship with your growers, it just can't be guaranteed that there is no CCN-51 in what may be called "pure" arriba/nacional beans. But another "however"-more and more commercial buyers in towns around cacao growing areas now buy cacao "en baba" or with the placenta, allowing them to control fermenting, origin, and to a much greater degree, quality. This also makes farmers happy since they get paid faster, rather than having to wait several days through the fermenting and drying process before they can sell their cacao.)

Adhering strictly to the "Arriba" definition of "upriver" the beans Transmar is gathering for this projects would seem to qualify, as at least Taura, as found on google maps, is near the Guayas river, see link here, though not necessarily "upriver". I could not locate Cone, though the article indicates it's also in the Guayas province. It should be noted that the article does not mention "Arriba" but makes the point that the beans are Nacional and fine aroma quality.
Thanks for the summary. The gentleman was in fact from Transmar, and the beans were definitely properly fermented, even in size, and were in general pretty decent - at least until I roasted and processed the samples into chocolate.

I did a very light roast, to ensure any high notes in the beans were not destroyed, and suprisingly found the resulting chocolate to be VERY flat and lack lustre in flavour - even moreso than some Ghana forasteros I've sampled in the past couple of years. In the end I was quite disappointed as I had heard so much about Ecuadorian Arriba, and the gentleman promoting the beans was very accommodating.

I'll keep looking though, and keep my fingers crossed while I do.

In the meantime, if you know of any plantations that have a good reputation, and would be interested in working one on one with a chocolate maker, by all means, have them get in touch with me, or even email me their contact info. I'd be happy to represent a good Ecuadorian cacau.

Brad Churchill.
I've been facinated by the production of cocoa beans in Ecuador. The "facts", as published within the net have left my head spinning. One recently consumed source

depict a series of numbers that make me want to move out of Brazil and into Ecuador.....

" Between 1880 and 1890 Ecuador was the prime producer of cocoa worldwide. In early 1900 Ecuador decreased the production because of different diseases as the “escoba de bruja” and “la monilla”, these devastating diseases almost destroyed all the plantations. Also World War I helped with the reduction of the exportations. In spite of that, the country kept working to keep one of its more precious treasures alive.

Today the cocoa chain is the third more relevant after the bananas and flowers. The production in the year 2004 was of 111.000 metric tons and more than 100.000 small producers where involved, making a profit of almost 150 million dollars. Ecuador is the first producer worldwide of the quality and scent cocoa (63% of the worlds production "

100,000 producers
111,000 tons produced
1.1 ton/ producer
Annual sales /producer US$ 2530
Profit $US 150M profit
Market price today US$ 2300/ton X 111,000 Gross sales US$255,300,000
Profit 65.2%
Average producer ANNUAL gross profit US$ 1650 (US$2530 X 65.2% )
Average Mo Income $ 137.00
FYI, Cone and Taura are located in the region that was known as "Abajo" back in the good old days (according to Parsons 1957). Most people ignore that there used to be a regional classification by 1920's, so you had cacao de Bahia, de Esmeraldas, Arriba, etc. Each variety had its own 'bouquet.' For example, there is one account that says that the cacao de Bahia (Bahia de Caraques, not the the Bahia from Brasil) was especial because they used to wet the beans with sea water at the port (!!). Also, I would think that we should start thinking in following Motomayor et al. 2008, which offers a really nice genetic classification of cacao by origin.


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