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Arriba Chocolate-What you Need to Know

In a previous post, I discussed the definition of “Arriba” chocolate and beans-


while there’s no legal definition, Arriba can be used to denominate either beans
of the Nacional variety from the “Arriba” or upriver area of the Guayas River
Basin in the lowlands of southwestern Ecuador, or chocolate made from those beans.
So is Arriba a chocolate or a type of bean? It can be both, depending on with whom
you are speaking. Growers may call their beans Arriba variety, and chocolate
manufacturers may call their finished chocolate Arriba. Many beans in Ecuador are
labeled “Arriba” when they may not actually be, due to the blending of different
bean varieties which is a common practice in Ecuador. This is important for
several reasons.

The loss of the Arriba flavor profile is happening right now. This is due to the
bastardization of the chocolate being produced under the Arriba name, as well as
widespread abuse by marketers of the name Arriba. The loss of the Arriba flavor
profile would mean increasing homogeneity of fine chocolate, and all chocolates
for that matter. The Arriba flavor is an important one, recognized for its unique
floral aroma, deep chocolate flavor, and lack of bitterness.
Arriba Vs. CCN-51

The Nacional bean, from which Arriba chocolate originates, is decreasing in


production, while production of the more popular CCN-51 variety is increasing. Due
to the Nacional variety’s higher vulnerability to disease, particularly Monilla
and Witch’s Broom, either of which can severely affect or even destroy an entire
cocoa plantation, the cultivation of the Nacional variety of bean is decreasing in
Ecuador. The CCN-51 variety is being planted more frequently due to its disease
resistance and higher yields, at least double that of the Nacional variety on a
per hectare basis.

The CCN-51 variety does not have the same flavor profile as Nacional beans, and
while a very good quality chocolate can be made from CCN-51, it requires different
fermentation and post-harvest treatment from Nacional beans. However, CCN-51 and
Nacional beans are often mixed together either pre or post-fermentation. This
common practice in Ecuador debases both the value and flavor of the resulting
chocolate. This practice is a major, ongoing controversy in the Ecuadorian
chocolate industry.

Growers do not have any financial incentive to separate beans post-harvest, nor to
ferment and treat them differently. Nor do most buyers of beans have any incentive
to distinguish between Arriba, Nacional, or CCN-51, as most chocolate lovers have
had little, if any information, about the industry practices discussed here, and
are unaware of these issues until just recently. Furthermore, there is no
recognition such as a denomination of origin for the Arriba bean. Thus, beans from
the north coast, the Amazon, and other parts of Ecuador not recognized for the
Arriba flavor are nonetheless frequently labeled Arriba, as well as the chocolates
made from these beans, for marketing purposes.

Support for Nacional and Arriba Beans

Fortunately, ANECACAO and other governmental and non-governmental organizations


are, through education, training, and publications, encouraging both small and
large producers of cacao to practice and maintain separation of CCN-51 variety and
Nacional variety beans. However, these efforts are not enough. Because most
commodity brokers, local buyers of beans (aka “patios” in Ecuador-local cacao
merchants who buy from local farms, then consolidate large amounts of cacao for
brokers, commodity houses, and large muli-nationals such as ADM or Kraft) of cacao
in Ecuador’s cocoa growing regions, and cacao traders do not pay a premium for
Nacional beans, mixing is still a frequent and common occurrence. The current lack
of transparency and standards in Ecuador make preventing the mixing of bean
varieties difficult, if not impossible, to stop.

A recently implemented practice by some farms and cacao buyers in Ecuador is


helping to preserve the Arriba profile. Some farms are growing only the Nacional
variety of bean and selling it as such-though, because of the absence of a price
premium, these beans may be ultimately mixed with CCN-51. Other farms grow only
CCN-51 and clearly label it as such. Finally, some buyer’s patios and even
commodity houses (namely-Transmar) have recently begun to buy beans “en baba”, or
freshly harvested and unfermented, or even in the pod, allowing them to know the
variety of the bean and control the fermentation process. A newspaper piece was
recently done on this practice and is discussed here.

With this knowledge, what can you do to support Arriba chocolate? First, buy
chocolate labeled Arriba only if the manufacturer can provide traceability of both
the bean variety used in the chocolate and geographical origin for the beans used
in that chocolate. For example, a chocolate labeled “Esmeraldas” from Ecuador or
“Manabí” from Ecuador is not an Arriba chocolate. Ask your favorite Ecuadorian
chocolate companies, or those selling Ecuadorian single origin chocolates if they
are aware of the use of CCN-51 beans in the what is commonly labeled Nacional or
Arriba chocolate. Now that you know the distinctions, use your wallet to vote for
the support of Arriba beans and chocolate. Ultimately, the establishment of a
denomination of origin for Arriba beans and chocolates would benefit growers in
Ecuador by granting them a premium price for their beans, help chocolate makers by
allowing them to certify the origin and quality of their beans, and increase
choice and traceability of the final product for consumers.