Quality chocolate is hard to come by in Ecuador. The good stuff may be grown inside the country's borders, but Ecuadorians rarely get a taste—most of it is saved to be exported. In all honesty, it is pretty safe to say that most baked goods in Ecuador are not on par with my expectations from back home in the U.S. The cookies are too crumbly and the cakes fall a little flat.
I don't mean to knock Ecuadorian bakers. There's a real reason why the treats are mediocre. That familiar yellow box with the arm and the hammer? You just won't find it on shelves here. Baking soda is a controlled substance that can only be purchased from a pharmacy in small quantities.
Needless to say, after living in Ecuador's capital city, Quito, for several months, I was definitely craving sweets. When my friend mentioned there was a “Chocolate Tour” that we could take on our mini-vacation to Mindo, I had my fingers crossed that my $3 would buy some quality baked goods. As it turns out, El Quetzal makes some deliciously rich and smooth chocolate that fully satisfied my cravings—and everything is grown and made right in Mindo.
This is where it all begins. Who knew?
The “pods,” the “nibs,” and the beans. The slimy outside of the pods tasted melon-y.
The pods get taken here to ferment in boxes.
Next we went to the drying tent.
El Quetzal was drying chiles for some spicy chocolate experimentation.
Next the beans are roasted. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture—I think at this point I was mainly concerned with eating the chocolate. Which means I took a rather generous sample of this cocoa-goo that tasted awfully bitter without any sugar added.
A whole bunch of other stuff happens, and then voila! Chocolate bars. (Hey, I can’t give away all their secrets)
At the conclusion of the tour, you get to nibble on a brownie and then choose either a scoop of homemade ice cream or a hot chocolate to enjoy. Did I mention an Ecuadorian specialty is to melt cheese into hot chocolate? I will spare you the details of my stringy hot chocolate misadventure, but I would like to say that the chocolate tour in Mindo is well worth your money. If you’re like my friends and me, you’ll probably go back the next day to buy more brownies to snack on during the bus ride home. And to hoard for breakfast throughout the next week.