To understand why To’ak Chocolate is likely the world's most expensive pure chocolate, a bit of brief history is needed.
At the turn of the 20th century, the South American nation of Ecuador was the world's largest exporter of cacao beans, the main ingredient in chocolate. Then came along a devastating fungal disease called "Witches' Broom," which swept through the nation and decimated its cacao trees. In its wake, the country was forced to plant foreign varieties, with the heirloom, native trees scattered to protective pockets. The chocolate produced, while delicious, was considered inferior to the now rare original fino y de aroma cacao.
In 2002, while helping to maintain a 1,000 rainforest preserve, former Wall Street Analyst Jerry Toth decided to pass the time by harvesting cacao from semi-wild trees and making chocolate. Enjoying the hobby, he befriended a fourth-generation grower named Servio Pachard who shared a secret with him: the location of some heirloom trees.
"Servio led us to the valley of Piedra de Plata, unconnected by roads to the rest of the country until as recently as 1990," Toth writes on his site. "The Nacional Arriba cacao trees that we found in this valley were typically very old, sometimes more than one hundred years of age—relics of Arriba cacao before disease and hybridization changed the genetic landscape of Ecuadorian cacao."
The cacao created from these trees led Toth to co-found To'ak Chocolate, which he describes as "made with the care of a vintage winemaker and the precision of a premium small-batch whiskey." Spend ten minutes on the To'ak site, and you'll understand that such a statement isn't just good marketing. Everything from how the beans are fermented, selected, split, and then turned into chocolate is explained in great detail.
“Our beans are subjected to six different phases of hand-selection—in each phase, we remove beans that are deemed too small, under-ripe or over-ripe or imperfectly fermented,” Toth told Fortune.
The end result is likely the absolute purest chocolate bar you can buy; containing only cocoa and cane sugar — both of which are organically grown.
A cocoa bean in the middle of each bar reminds people that the chocolate comes from a tree, not a factory. (Photo: To'ak)
To'ak's production process is so intensive and small, that for 2014 the company released only 574 bars. Each 50-gram bar costs $260 and comes in a wooden box made from Spanish Elm, the same local wood used to ferment the beans. Naturally, this isn't something you just want to grab and try. As To'ak informs, you must first cleanse the palate (fresh green apple and water are recommended), and then break off a piece of the chocolate, not with your hands (oils on your fingertips can "corrupt" the taste) but by either using the bar's wrapping or the included wooden tongs.
And what does it taste like? I'm too poor, but Forbes' Marissa Conrad was fortunate enough, describing it as "a rich, deep, pleasantly bitter flavor with surprisingly fruity undertones—though there’s no fruit added, the Arriba bean unleashes a natural sweetness I’ve never tasted in another chocolate."
For 2015, Toth told Fortune that he plans on doubling the harvest, with the production of 1,200 bars. To'ak will also release an aged portion of its 2014 production (about 400 bars) as part of a 2014 One-Year Reserve. As the business grows, he says the ecological values that it started with will be retained. "This venture was ultimately born from a conservation project. We’re trying to maintain that same standard with To’ak," he said.
Want one? As of this moment, there are only 243 bars from the 2014 "First Edition" release still remaining. Grab one here.
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