To’ak, the World’s Most Expensive Chocolate
Villain or hero, most people love happy endings. Usually, such merry tales involve a man and woman in some intricate story arc, yet, reality doesn’t work out quite the same. This particular happy ending is about two men and the world’s most expensive chocolate (To’ak), in the middle of it all.
What makes To’ak so pricey?
Expensive, exclusive and exquisite are some of the adjectives that describe the snack but they aren’t the only ones. A bar of the plush chocolate costs a grand sum of $260 (£169) and weighs 1.5 ounces or 42.5 grams.
The history of To’ak is a long one beginning as far back as the 20th century when a tree disease known as “Witch’s Broom” ravaged the Ecuadorian cacao landscape and decimated its numbers drastically. Some upriver cacao trees known as arriba cacao were fortuitously isolated and so survived the scourge. These few trees upriver near the Ecuadorian town of Finca Sarita would later become the genesis of today’s To’ak chocolate.
When Jerry Toth, a former investment banker left his Wall Street job and relocated to Ecuador to work in a rainforest conservation organisation, little did he know what treasures fate would guide him to. Through his work in forest preservation, he discovered not just the century-old arriba cacao but made a friend and partner in Carl Schweizer, an Austrian designer who would become the company’s co-founder.
Toth had previously started the process of conserving and growing cacao trees aided by his girlfriend, an indigene. They made chocolate from these through an entirely manual process as they lacked electricity. It was from this experience that he realised Ecuador’s cacao was better than that available elsewhere in the world. Toth also learned that most of the cacao growing wild in the country were hybrids and that a certain rare specie nacional, native to Ecuador, was considered the finest in the world. Together with Schweizer and a native agroforestry expert called Servio Pachard Vera, they set off in search of the elusive nacional cacao.
That successful expedition inevitably led to the birth of the world’s most expensive chocolate, To’ak, which translates as ‘earth’ and ‘tree’, thus representing its origins. What perhaps best explains its heavy price tag more, is the production process. The beans from the cacao are subject to a rigorous 6-stage hand-selection process with the final stage taking 3 days of close inspection. Beans too small, unripe or otherwise imperfect, are removed and either used as nutrients for the soil or sold to other farmers to be utilised in making cheaper chocolate products. Only beans which meet desired specifications are used to make To’ak, no matter how few. For instance, in 2014, the company only released 574 bars of the chocolate to the public after almost one-third of the originally produced 900 bars were found to have flaws.
The actual To’ak bars are made with pure cacao and organic brown sugar; no cacao butter is added. This makes for a heavenly experience when savouring the chocolate – the taste of caramel, hazelnuts, sandalwood and orange blossom, that intensifies in the taste buds as it dissolves in the palate. According to its makers, To’ak chocolate is best experienced with a glass of whiskey, cognac or rum.
Although there are other more pricey chocolates in the world, To’ak can lay claim to being the world’s most expensive pure chocolate. This is because it is made from the remaining 5% cacao in the world and sold without any gold, diamonds or luxury additives.
Each To’ak bar is made up of roughly 81% cacao and includes a single 7-8 mm hand-measured and shelled cacao bean at its core. It comes wrapped in numbered boxes of Spanish elm, the same wood used to ferment the beans – with wooden tweezers shaped like chopsticks to pick or break the chocolate into smaller chunks. With every $260 box, you’ll also find a booklet providing a little backstory about the chocolate’s origins and pedigree.
The result of all this meticulous process is a deluxe chocolate guaranteed to give one a taste of heaven on earth.
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