In Ecuador, cocoa harvesting takes place two times per year. Harvests runs between February and April, and then again begin again between August and October. This dual harvest system means that cocoa plantations are often busy, as are chocolate makers. However, there are still seasons of the year when the cacao farms are between harvests and things are a bit slower. This naturally begs the question of what to do in the off season for chocolate?
One of the things we always recommend to visitors in the off season for chocolate is touring chocolate grower facilities. Though there isn't the buzz and hustle of harvest, growers and guides have more time to show you behind-the-scenes elements of cocoa production and the business of being a grower. Since planters are less focused on getting their cacao pods harvested, they can focus on being good hosts to visitors. This means more time for visiting multiple farms, seeing traders' patios and meeting cacao traders, and tasting and observing different cacaos.
Both the area around Quito and the coastal cacao growing areas are worth visiting in the middle season between April and August. It's a cooler time of year in Ecuador, which can be a welcome relief for anyone suffering through a North Hemisphere's summer heat. Driving some of Ecuador's famous cacao routes or trekking to remote farms is easier without the humidity and baking heat, though it's rarely truly cold despite this season being Ecuador's winter equivalent. If you do come to visit Ecuador for a cacao tour, it's worthwhile to visit the areas around Quevedo and El Empalme several hours southwest of Quito, the Amazon, and/or the Esmeraldas region. It all depends on your time and budget!
Another element of life between harvests is focusing on the newer details of chocolate production, fresh contracts, and items for the workshop. Visitors to Quito will want to stop in and taste the chocolates we've been making all month, as well as get a chance to see in the workshop before we close to visitors in August in anticipation of the harvest and harvest trade fair events.
Keeping up with local demand is also a part of life between harvests. Near the end of the April to August break, Ecuadorian schools have their graduations and end-of-year ceremonies. This means nice family dinners out with fine chocolate desserts, coffee and chocolate chat dates for friends, and special chocolate gifts for the freshly graduated. In the October to February break, you have the chocolate holiday of Christmas, followed by the games and festivities of Valentine's Day and Ecuadorian Carnival. We see a lot of chocolates leave the shop in these “off” seasons, together with their happy new owners.
All in all, while the cacao harvests in Ecuador are a dominant part of the chocolate life here, they are not the only part of the chocolate cycle to enjoy. Even the off seasons have something to offer visitors and chocolate lovers here in Ecuador!