As a commodity, chocolate is pure gold. According to Deutsche Bank, which ranked the trading prices of 20 different commodities in comparison to their 2000-2014 average prices, cocoa is 34 per cent more expensive this year compared to its long-term average price. By comparison, gold was 23 per cent more expensive. If you want to put your money where you mouth is, it appears that chocolate is a safe investment.
While some mass chocolate producers have had to rethink their chocolate recipes, replacing expensive cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable oils, others are producing the most pure chocolate ever — with the price tag to match.
Quite possibly, and literally, the richest chocolate you’ll ever taste is To’ak, which is sourced exclusively from 14 cacao growers in the valley of Piedra de Plata, Ecuador. Made from only two ingredients, cacao mass and cane sugar, the 2015 Rain Harvest Edition (US$270 per bar) comes in two offerings, Dark (80.5-per cent cacao) and Light (73-per cent cacao). Each 50 gram bar is presented in a handcrafted Spanish Elm wood box (the same wood used to ferment To’ak’s cacao beans) that is individually engraved with the bar number. In the middle of each bar is a single roasted cacao bean that has been personally measured and hand-selected by To’ak co-founders Carl Schweizer and Jerry Toth. The box includes tasting utensils and a 116-page information booklet that tells the story behind the sourcing of the beans and provides a guide to the ritual of dark chocolate tasting.
Along with being decadent, it is guilt-free. To’ak cacao is USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified, and the farmers who grow it are guaranteed the highest price per pound in the country. They also share in To’ak’s profits. Five percent of the profits are donated to Third Millennium Alliance, a conservation foundation dedicated to protecting the remnants of Pacific Forest in coastal Ecuador.
The chocolate’s box includes tasting utensils and a 116-page information booklet
The company didn’t set out to make the world’s most expensive chocolate, explains Schweizer. Rather, the cost is reflective of what goes into each bar. “The meticulous craftsmanship that goes into our chocolate bars and packaging, and our vision to keep production as low as possible in order to maintain 100 per cent control over every step from earth to bar, influences our pricing,” he says. Schweizer also points to the preservation efforts that are factored into their spending, which they consider essential to their project, as is their fair trade agreement with the growers.
To’ak was born from a rainforest conservation project that started in 2007. It was here that Toth began cultivating cacao trees and making chocolate in a thatched bamboo house secluded in the middle of a forest. The house didn’t have electricity, so initially the entire process was done by hand. They roasted the cacao beans in a big iron pot over a wood fire and then de-husked the beans by hand, one by one. Toth would then use an old hand grinder to grind the beans. The powerful aroma that wafted from that grinder was his first cue that Ecuadorian cacao was unlike any other. After honing their skills, Toth and Schweizer linked up with fourth-generation Ecuadorian cacao grower Servio Pachard and To’ak was born. Customers come from all corners of the globe, many of them connoisseurs of fine wines and whiskeys who are now looking for similar experiences from chocolate.
In 2015, To’ak produced 500 bars and the founders have some delicious plans ahead. They are currently experimenting with a vintage chocolate, aged for 18 months in a 50-year-old cognac barrel, as well as a chocolate made exclusively from old cacao trees. “Our next step is to focus on the importance of preservation of an heirloom variety on the brink of extinction,” says Schweizer.