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Peruvian Chocolate and the Coca Leaf

By Cocoa Runners  ·  15th November 2020  ·  The World of Chocolate

Christmas, Black Friday and the like still aren’t quite “here” (although John Lewis’s Xmas ad is just breaking ….).  So this week we are going to be exploring cocoa bars, beans and drinking chocolate from Peru.

The Peruvian jungle (along with Ecuador’s) is where Theobroma Cacao (aka the cocoa tree) is believed to have first fruited.  And Peruvian cocoa is extraordinary for the amazing diversity of different cocoa varieties and flavours.  Peru is also famous for a similarly sounding, but very different, product – the coca leaf – whose story is intertwined with Peruvian cocoa since prehistoric times.

Please see below for more on this story – and also for some great examples of local Peruvian makers (CacaoSuyo, Marana, Shattell) plus some amazing bars crafted from Peruvian Beans (Zotter, Ritual, Qantu, Georgia Ramon and more).

And as the weather is closing in, please can we also recommend some wonderful craft chocolate drinking chocolate from Peru, Original Bean’s Piura Porcelana?

Finally we are delighted to be hosting a “Craft Chocolate in Conversation” with Philipp Kauffmann, founder and CEO of Original Beans, who rediscovered the Piura Porcelana bean in this drinking chocolate (and some great bars).  You can register to join the Zoom session on the 3rd December here (it’s free), but we’d also strongly recommend you taste alongside us the selection of bars he’s curated to tell his story from “tramping and travelling” around India to the WWF and UN before launching Original Beans just over a decade ago.

PERUVIAN PUZZLES

Cocoa is believed to have first fruited in the Amazonian jungles in what is now Peru and Ecuador.  Yet whilst we can date cocoa drinking back to 4,500 BCE in Ecuador, it is far harder to trace the history of cocoa in Peru.  On the other hand, we can trace back the chewing of the coca leaf in Peru to around 6,000 BCE.

A parallel puzzle is that whilst Ecuador is deservedly famous for its distinctive Arriba Nacional (see last week’s blog post for more details), Peru has an incredible range of very different cocoa varietals.  It’s often hard to separate these cocoa varieties out from the regions they grow, so apologies to purists out there but I’m just going to highlight the extraordinary differences between beans grown in Maranon, Chuncho and Piura – see below for some bars from Maranon (Ritual and Fresco), Chuncho (Georgia Ramon and Standout) and Piura (Qantu and Original Beans).  Unlike the typical bright berry notes of Madagascan beans or Ecuador’s green and vegetal flavours, there really isn’t a single “leitmotiv” of flavours for Peru.  There are just LOTS of amazing beans and bars.

One intriguing argument to explain both the relative lack of early history and superabundance of cocoa varieties in Peru is that for a long time it was the coca leaf, rather than the cocoa plant, that indigenous people turned to for energy and seemingly some religious rituals.  Sidenote: the coca leaf was (and is) NOT used by local tribes in Peru as an intoxicant or recreational narcotic.  Instead it has many other applications including being used as an appetite suppressant, source of energy, painkiller, means to fight altitude sickness, etc. And this focus on the coca leaf may have led to the different varieties of Peruvian cocoa being left alone and allowed to flourish.  In comparison seventeenth century Ecuador (especially Guayas) was a major source of cocoa for spiralling European demand – and it may be that this is what led to more and more Arriba Nacional being grown and harvested.

Whatever the case, in more recent history local drug enforcement agencies, the UN, USAID and many other development agencies have been encouraging the farming of cocoa rather than the coca leaf in Peru.  Initially there was concern that this would lead to the replacing of heirloom cocoa trees with fast growing, but foul tasting, cocoa varietals like CCN51 (again, see last week’s blog post).  However, more recently there have been more encouraging signs with the likes of the UN financing educational programmes on fermentation so farmers can showcase the amazing potential of the beans growing throughout Peru.

CRAFT CHOCOLATE IN CONVERSATION

Please do join Philipp Kauffmann of Original Beans on the 3rd December to hear more about how he “rediscovered” Piura Porcelana beans in Northern Peru whilst enjoying interpretations of Original Beans’ Chuncho beans from Standout (Sweden) and Georgia Ramon (Germany).  And if you want to understand everything from the benefits of organic chocolate through to the addictive dangers of mass produced confectionery, please do join.

Wishing you a great weekend

Spencer, Simon, Lizzie, Harmony and James

Further reading:

The Double Life of Coca

Coca Leaves first chewed 8,000 years ago

Coca: The History and Medical Significance of an Ancient Andean Tradition

How chocolate saved a community and a protected area from the drug trade

Coca: The plant that feeds Peru

US anti-cocaine push embitters Peru chocolate makers

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