Rio Nuevo are a specialist chocolate company owned by the wonderful couple, Sara and Andres.
Together we share many values on supply chain ethics. Provenance, quality and traceability to name a few. Like us, they follow a Direct Trade model to sourcing which involves working directly with farmers, offering more equitable terms and full transparency.
For Christmas this year, we collaborated on a special coffee chocolate bar which involved pairing their incredible chocolate with a natural Ethiopian coffee, Demicha. We caught up recently over a coffee to discuss the collab, talk about their past as well as plans for the future.
Instagram - Rio Nuevo
FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HEARD OF RIO NUEVO, TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE BRAND?
Rio Nuevo is an expanding creative, ethical and impact driven chocolate company on a mission to change the chocolate supply chain and alleviate poverty in cacao-farming communities in Ecuador. Around one hundred thousand families depend on cacao farming in Ecuador. Our dream is to raise the bar and see a real change in how the chocolate industry can help develop sustainable livelihoods for cacao-farming communities through more ethical trade and direct supply chains.
HOW DID YOU TWO MEET AND WHERE DID THE IDEA START TO BUILD YOUR OWN CHOCOLATE COMPANY?
Andres and I (Sara) met in London 15 years ago, but our chocolate story began in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador, where we celebrated our wedding in 2014.
With a background in Economics and Sustainable Development, we’ve always been interested in working alongside communities in South America, and while we were in the Amazon celebrating our wedding we got to hear about our cacao heritage and the struggles cacao farmers faced at the time. It was then, the dream of lifting cacao farmers out of poverty and changing their world through chocolate was born.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR VALUES, AND WHAT YOU LOOK FOR WHEN SOURCING CHOCOLATE?
Quality, respect, purpose and community are the things we stand for.
We believe in people and in the power we hold to bring about change, that’s why our direct trade approach highly values the farmers and the role they play in their communities. When sourcing, we look for impact and ways in which our chocolate can empower and develop local communities.
TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESSING STEPS THAT ARE REQUIRED, BEFORE THE FINAL CHOCOLATE BAR IS READY TO BE EATEN.
The art of making speciality chocolate! There are 12 steps from bean to bar, from sorting the cacao beans to developing a roasting profile that highlights the uniqueness of the single origin cacao, to grinding it and conching it for the right amount of time in order to obtain a smooth and balanced chocolate (sometimes up to 4 days) and then tempering and moulding it before it’s finally hand wrapped ready to be eaten. Each step is done with precision and a lot of care goes into producing a fine chocolate bar.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES YOU FACE WHEN SOURCING CHOCOLATE FROM OVERSEAS?
There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to sourcing cacao from Ecuador. There isn’t a formal cacao classification system in place and the lack of transparency in the supply chain makes it very difficult to work out the logistics of buying Arriba Nacional cacao, which is an ancient variety that is in danger of disappearing. Unless we build true direct relationships with the farming communities, understand their needs and challenges and work in partnership with them we cannot know the quality of the cacao we have to work with and this requires time and patience.
YOU’VE RECENTLY CREATED A CHOCOLATE BAR FOR US THAT INCLUDES SOME OF OUR COFFEE, HOW DOES THIS PROCESS DIFFER FROM YOUR TYPICAL CHOCOLATE PRODUCTION?
When creating a coffee chocolate bar we first taste a lot of coffees! We look for flavour similarities between the chocolate we’re using and the coffee or a special contrast that will create a well balanced coffee chocolate bar. On our typical chocolate production we mainly concentrate on the chocolate flavours. Adding another ingredient is always exciting and we love working with Origin in this process. We get to discover and enjoy a variety of coffees from different countries and processes. Once we choose a coffee we add the whole coffee beans into our stone grinders together with the chocolate and it stays in the grinders for about 24 hours until the flavour is perfect and the texture is right.
YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
We intend to continue our focus on farmer’s empowerment, partnering with more cacao farming communities from different regions within Ecuador.
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