The delicious journey from cacao bean to ME to WE Chocolate.
By Wanda O’Brien
Photography by Karloso Fiallos and Jamie Napier
What if we told you there was a chocolate bar that not only tastes great, but does good, too?
Voted the best chocolate in Ecuador, this bar is mighty in flavour. But it’s also ethically sourced, benefits cacao farmers and gives back to WE Villages communities—supporting education, health and food programming.
Sound like a socially conscious chocolate lover’s dream? Allow us to introduce ME to WE Chocolate, an initiative that satisfies our hunger and our hearts. Read on to find out how a little bean and a lot of love can help change the world.
WE has partnered with communities to improve access to education in this South American country for close to 20 years. Its approach to development is holistic. So, when the organization wanted to further financial opportunities for rural populations, it combined a common livelihood—farming—with one of the strongest assets communities already have—cacao, the essence of chocolate.
The history of cacao is as rich as the flavour the best beans produce, and this country’s cacao connection runs deep. Traces of cacao found on ceramics in Ecuador’s Amazon basin date back 5,000 years. Today, some of the best cacao beans—celebrated by chocolate aficionados the world over—are found hanging from the trees of Ecuador.
But not all cacao is created equal; there is one elusive bean that is beyond compare. When ME to WE decided to create a single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate product and invest in the family farm, it went hunting for the best bean: Cacao Fino de Aroma.
Fruity, floral and nutty, Fino de Aroma is the pride of Ecuador, with a flavour range chocolatiers dream about.
Although a national treasure, many farmers instead grow cultivated clone cacao varieties that are disease-resistant, but fetch half the price of the more flavourful Fino de Aroma. This means small-scale farmers are putting in all that work, but getting little reward.
The good news? With training and access to proper drying facilities, farmers can grow the high-quality Fino de Aroma crop and receive better pay.
Inside every cacao pod used to make ME to WE Chocolate are up to 50 pieces of white fruit, each containing a bean, grown on these family farms. Taste the fruit, and you’ll understand why it makes the best quality chocolate.
But once farmers crack open the cacao pod there’s only 48 hours on the clock to secure the fruit’s flavour in the bean…
ME to WE works with a Fair Trade and organic certified collection centre that was founded by a group of farmers seeking a fair wage. It’s a constant hive of activity, with farmers dropping off fresh bags of fruit for weighing, as workers pack dried beans for shipping.
The centre follows the highest standards in the fermentation and drying process, to ensure the beans’ flavours and aromas are captured. This is critical to creating delicious chocolate and for farmers to reap the monetary rewards of their harvest.
During fermentation, the white pulp of the fruit will fall away to reveal the bean, which is then laid out in large trays and dried by the sun. Once the flavour range is locked in place, the beans are packed up and shipped out to the chocolate factory.
For anyone who grew up wishing they had Willy Wonka’s job, this is where real chocolate magic—eventually ME to WE Chocolate—happens. A few steps until we’re ready for a taste test.
It’s a 6-hour drive from the collection centre to the chocolate factory in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Come inside. There may not be any Oompa Loompas, but the smell of melting chocolate drifts through the air just like the children’s fantasy Roald Dahl imagined.
Bags of beans are unloaded from the truck, before being sorted by hand for a final quality check. The heat of the roaster melds with the sound from the grinder as beans become “cacao liquor” and are ready for “conching.” Imagine a massive chocolate mixing machine that whips the flavours into shape.
We’re getting closer to holding a ME to WE Chocolate bar in our hands.
With three different flavours to choose from, you also have three times the impact choices, with profits going back to WE Villages communities in Ecuador. Milk chocolate gives education, dark chocolate gives health care and dark chocolate + goldenberries gives food.
Now to temper, before we taste.
Need we say more? (Aside from maybe mentioning that the WE team is on the ground overseeing the process each step of the way. Aren’t they lucky?)
Time for the finale. As the warm, liquid chocolate is cooled, the ME to WE molds get queued up by the conveyor belt. Filled with liquid gold, the mini-masterpieces of melted chocolate are spirited into a cooling tunnel.
Once the bars come out the other side, they are popped from their molds and loaded onto a second conveyor belt to be cloaked in their iconic blue ME to WE wrapper. And, now it’s time for final packaging, shipping, and yes, tasting.
Okay, so let’s recap: What’s the story of ME to WE Chocolate from bean to bar?
Provide a fair wage? Check.
Support sustainable cacao farms? Check.
Celebrate Ecuador’s cacao ancestry? Check.
Give proceeds back to communities in Ecuador? Check.
The boxes are ticked and the chocolate is ready; this is a bean to bar process with impact in every step.