The Discovery of Marañón Cacao

In 2009, the chocolate world was rocked by the announcement that a rare strain of cacao had been found growing in a remote part of Peru. It wasn’t just that that particular variety--100% pure Naçional—was thought to be extinct.
The newfound trees were growing at a much higher altitude than was believed to support cacao cultivation. What’s so special about the Naçional bean, you ask? It’s an heirloom sub-type of Forastero (the family of cacao used primarily by industrial producers) that has evolved over the centuries into something truly yummy. Originally found only in Ecuador, pure Naçional was pretty much completely replaced by a modern clone selected for its disease resistance, not its flavor. Yet, tucked into a hidden mountain valley along the Marañón River in northern Peru was a stand of perfectly pure Naçional trees. Since their discovery, very few beans have been available, and only to a handful of artisan chocolatiers. We consider ourselves lucky to have two offerings on our Wall of Bars: Ritual Chocolate (Park City, UT) and Soma Chocolatemakers (Toronto, Canada). Come in and pick up one of these special bars and savor the unique flavor of Marañón cacao: intense, persistent and floral without any bitterness.

Sustainability: The Key To World Class Chocolate

Based in Amsterdam, Original Beans is one of the most acclaimed chocolate companies in the world, and not just because of their chocolate. Founder Philipp Kauffmann is both an entrepreneur and conservationist who comes from a long line of forest explorers and environmentalists.
After leaving his job at the United Nations, Philipp drew on that experience to create an elite chocolate company that positively impacts the fragile regions where cacao is grown. “Since 2008, Original Beans has helped to plant one-million trees in regions as remote as the Amazon and challenging as Eastern Congo. Original Beans has changed the lives of 20,000 cacao-growing families, preserved some of the rarest cacaos in the world, and helped to buffer forests that harbor the last mountain gorillas and the breathtaking birds of paradise.”

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The Chocolate Life: A Long and Winding Road

In August, 2001, I had the proverbial flash of understanding. I was on a plane heading back from Europe, where I’d been working with two amazing winemakers: Angelo Gaja and Michel Chapoutier. They’d each been teaching me about the concept of terroir, the way in which a wine’s taste is shaped by the climate, slope and soil of the specific place where it’s grown. Thumbing through magazines on the plane, I came across an article about a rare chocolate grown in Hawaii and its unique flavor profile.

These were still the days of milk chocolate’s supremacy, when Hershey’s and Mars were pretty much the only options. No one was talking about the complexity of cacao (more flavor components than Burgundy!) or the nuances of terroir. Talented artisan chocolatiers were just starting to sprout up, particularly on the coasts, but you had to stumble onto them. No one was hunting out these obscure producers, bringing them together and telling their stories. No one was offering both the depth and breadth that something as complex as chocolate deserves. I couldn’t help but wonder if chocolate lovers would get excited about the same kind of discovery, learning and variety that made wine lovers so passionate. It seemed like a pretty good idea to find out!

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