Temperatures in the low 40s F did not deter us. My husband, George, and I had planned for several weeks to attend Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s 10th Annual International Chocolate Festival on Sunday, January 24, 2016. We went despite the frigid weather.
Before we left, though, George took the dog out for a walk and returned shivering. I made him a cup of Starbucks Hot Cocoa, a recent discovery that we like because it contains no corn sweetener as do many other U.S. domestic brands.
Colombia was the featured country at the 2016 festival. George was delighted when he learned this, because he had traveled last December to Medellín, where he partook of Colombian hot chocolate as part of his hotel’s breakfast buffet. “It’s very rich, sweet, and tasty,” he reported. Although North Americans tend to treat hot chocolate as a cold-weather beverage, Colombians – though blessed with a uniformly mild tropical climate – nonetheless start their day with hot chocolate throughout the year.
We were told that most Colombian chocolate is consumed within Colombia, while exports go mostly to Europe, so that finding it on retail sale in the U.S. would be an unlikely prospect. Thus, we looked forward eagerly to sampling it at the festival.
A pleasant surprise
The sampling took place under a canopy, on a table in front of a big Colombian flag. A nice lady handed out tiny cups of Corona, a “cacao prepared beverage with added sugar” that George savored knowingly. “It’s very different from what we have here in the U.S.,” he reaffirmed.
Corona comes in dry tablets that you dissolve in hot milk or water (or almond or coconut milk if you have dairy-product issues), and then mix with a blender, electric mixer, or egg-beater. It’s made by Bogotá-based Compañía Nacional de Chocolates S.A.S. On the table were packages for sale of Corona and a similar competing product, Sol, made by another Bogotá firm, CasaLuker S.A.
We read their labels. Corona and Sol are both distributed in the U.S. by Goya Foods, Inc., and Dinas Distribution Corp. In addition, Corona has two Miami-area distributors: Iberia World Foods and Grace Kennedy Foods USA LLC. Look for these products in local Miami-Dade County Hispanic supermarket chains and neighborhood bodegas.
A good neighbor
Also under the canopy was a display of products from a next-door neighbor, Quito, Ecuador-based Pacari Chocolate. Ecuador was the featured country at the 2015 chocolate festival, Pacari a prominent participant. At the 2016 festival, Pacari’s Palm Beach, FL-based U.S. distributor, Francisco Moreno, lectured on “The Flavors of Colombia” and led an educational tasting.
Although individual chocolate plantations and regions may have distinctive characteristics, just as individual vineyards and wine-growing regions do, Moreno emphasizes that “cacao knows no national borders. What makes chocolate from South America different is the growing conditions in the Andes Mountains, and ethical production methods that focus on quality rather than quantity.” By contrast, he says, African and Asian nations produce “bulk cacao” of lesser quality and don’t treat the land or workers in a sustainable manner.
Although most of Pacari’s products contain only Ecuadorian chocolate, the firm sells bars of Lacumbia 70% duo region fine chocolate, Ecuador and Colombia. Pacari also sells packages of dried fruits, both “naked” and covered with dark chocolate. One fruit offered both ways is golden berry (Physalis peruviana), a tropical species that grows high in the Andes.
Golden berry’s flavor profile begins with an elegant sweetness that progresses to a refreshingly tart kick at the end. George tasted fresh golden berries at a farmers’ market near Medellín. He was delighted to find them on sale in dried form at the festival, and says the drying process seems to heighten the intensity of the fruit’s flavor.