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?
Like the finest chocolate loved the world over, this bar is mighty in flavour; it also is leading the way in ethical sourcing, benefitting cacao farmers and supporting WE Villages communities. Like your favourite melt-in-your-mouth chocolate (dare we say better), this bar possesses a natural ability to spark happiness in the human brain; what’s more, it supports education, health and food programming where it’s needed in Ecuador.
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.
The essence of chocolate lies in the cacao bean and harvesting this chocolate pearl found in cacao pods. The history of cacao is as rich as the flavour the best beans produce. And some of the best cacao beans—celebrated by chocolate aficionados the world over—are found hanging from the trees of Ecuador.
WE has operated development projects in this South American country for close to 20 years. So when the organization wanted to improve financial opportunities for rural populations, it combined a common livelihood—farming—with one of the strongest assets communities have—cacao.
The country’s connection to cacao runs deep. Traces of cacao found on ceramics in Ecuador’s Amazon basin date back 5000 years. ME to WE decided to create a single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate product and invest in the family farms that grow this natural treasure.
But not all cacao is created equal; there is one elusive bean that is beyond compare. So WE went looking for the best bean.
Crack open the cacao pod and inside you’ll find up to 50 pieces of white fruit, each containing a bean. Taste the fruit, and you’ll understand why it makes the best quality chocolate.
Fruity, floral and nutty, this isn’t just any cacao pod. ME to WE uses cacao Fino de Aroma. The pride of Ecuador, this cacao plays a flavour range chocolatiers dream about. Most important for us, this cacao provides farmers with an opportunity to reach a high-quality chocolate market and receive better pay.
Although the pride of Ecuador, Fino de Aroma has become overshadowed by cultivated clone cacao varieties that are disease-resistant. Although not uncommon in farming, these clones don’t have the same depth of flavour. Farmers using clones get paid half the wage for the same amount of labour. With training, farmers can grow Fino de Aroma crops, without fear of an outbreak.
ME to WE’s mission is to celebrate this traditional Ecuadorian bean that bursts with flavour and commands a fair wage to the farmer. But how?
To do this, ME to WE works with farmers through a cacao collection centre, which ensures an above market price.
Each fruit morsel carries the cacao currency—the bean—which needs TLC to ensure its flavours and aromas are captured during the fermentation and drying process. This happens at the collection centre. Without this kind of processing facility, the farmer can lose up to half the value in price because often the quality of flavour in the bean isn’t retained.
In order to get the best price, the fruit must be processed in a particular way… and there’s only 48 hours on the clock once you open your pod.
Farmers take the fruit from their farm to the cacao collection centre—time to drop off the goods and get paid! The collection centre is a co-op of farmers that came together in the pursuit of a fair wage. The centre pays the farmer double the standard market price for the fruit, owing to the quality of the bean.
The collection centre is a 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.
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, before being prepared to go 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. But, at this stage in the process, we’re still several steps from a taste test.
Come inside the chocolate factory. There may not be any Oompa Loompas, but the smell of melting chocolate floats through the air just like the children’s fantasy Roald Dahl imagined. My goodness!—we have arrived.
There is so much to breath in, take in. Bags of beans are being unloaded from the truck (it’s a 6-hour drive from the collection centre to the chocolate factory in Quito, Ecuador’s capital). Beans are being sorted by hand for a final quality check, before going for roasting and then being grinded into a “cacao liquor.” Finally, it’s time for “conching.” A modern process used in making chocolate, envision 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 3x 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.
Molds are filled with the liquid gold, and then 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—a true badge of honour. And, now it’s time for final packaging and shipping.
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.
Treat yourself, and make the world a little brighter at the same time. Available online now.