Jeffrey Stern Talks Ecuador Cacao

 

Like most of the rest of the world I had no idea Ecuador was the world’s largest producer of fine flavor cacao. Then my family and I decided to move to Ecuador and start our chocolate business and a world of fine cacao and chocolate appeared. Strict definitions of fine flavor cacao, versus bulk cacao, don’t really exist. But generally fine flavor cacaos are those of the Trinitario, Criollo, or Ecuador’s Nacional variety. They make up less than 10% of the world’s total cacao production. Ecuador has the privilege of producing over 60% of the world’s total production of fine flavor cacao, which makes it the world´s largest producer of top quality beans. Now that I’m here, I realize what a serendipitous choice it was, and along with a select few, I’m working to help Ecuador’s cacao get the recognition it deserves. My chocolate experience in Ecuador began really as a chocolate experiment. I originally lived in Ecuador in the mid 1990s doing international development work, and knew nothing about chocolate.  I met my wife during that time here. We left after getting married and spent ten years living in the US, Nicaragua, and South Africa. I changed careers in 2001 and went to culinary school and caught the chocolate bug.  When we visited Ecuador every year, we would make chocolates and sell them via word of mouth during our holiday visits and sales were so good we figured there could be a business somewhere in all this. But we were still totally ignorant about Ecuador’s cacao and chocolate industry.

In 2007 we returned to live in Ecuador with two kids in tow, and dedicated ourselves 100% to the chocolate business. While sales were not as good as I expected and we struggled to make ends meet on little income and some savings the first few years, I was fortuitously forced to look elsewhere for opportunity. I met cacao growers, processors, exporters, academics; basically everyone who’s anyone in the cacao and chocolate industry here.

It’s a small chocolate world, but vast in what there is to know and learn about. I’ve managed to carve out a niche for myself as not only the “gringo” in Ecuador who makes chocolate, but as a tour leader for chocolate tours, informal press liaison for travel writers and bloggers looking for information on Ecuador’s chocolate industry, cacao exporter, and supplier of chocolates to some of Quito and Guayaquil’s most exclusive shops, caterers, and hotels. I´m now working closely with several partners to develop a farm-to-confection product line for both the local and US markets. Our goal is to make some of the finest chocolate available and share the story and flavors of Ecuador´s fine cacao with the world.

Posted by: Jeffrey Stern 3/23/12
If you’d like to learn more about Jeffrey’s life in Ecuador, head over to his Professional Chocolate Blog.