Husband and wife, Andres from Ecuador and Sara from Colombia, share an intense love for chocolate and an altruistic desire to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers. And this passion has materialised into an Ecuadorian focused craft chocolate company based in Cornwall, UK. Their craft chocolate company, Rio Nuevo was a project that begun at Andres and Sara’s Amazon rainforest wedding, when the pair were shown how to make chocolate by the local Ecuadorians, and that has now brought them to the UK.
Nacional is a highly regarded, special genotype of cacao in Ecuador, often associated with being Ecuador’s ‘national brand’; this native cacao is known for its exceptional flavour quality. The strength of the ‘Nacional’ name has encouraged Ecuador to become a leading producer of fine flavour cacao. However, when being introduced to chocolate making, Andres and Sara discovered the struggles many cacao farmers were facing and the substantial cultivation of ‘bulk cacao’ such as CCN-51, which all threatens Ecuador’s fine cacao heritage.
Rio Nuevo, which translates as “new river”, is bean to bar chocolate, handcrafted in Cornwall, made using fine-flavour Ecuadorian cacao. Andres and Sara directly source their single estate Arriba Nacional cacao through their pre-existing connections to cocoa farmers in Ecuador. Rio Nuevo currently sources its cacao from a small farm in Vinces, Ecuador, owned by Don Julian and Doña Julia. Andres and Sara are very proud to work with, and buy directly from, the cocoa farmers. The cacao is collected in a small pick-up truck, one or two sacks at a time, which then makes its way to Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador, en route to Penryn, Cornwall.
We first met the family behind Rio Nuevo at the London Coffee Festival 2018. After tasting the chocolate and listening to the story and background behind the brand, the cacao, and the family, we really didn’t need any more convincing that Rio Nuevo was perfectly suited for Cocoa Runners.
We sat down with Andres and Sara to find out a little more about Rio Nuevo:
What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
Sara studied Environment, Development & Policy at Sussex University and Andres studied Economics at the University of East London. We had always dreamed of working with communities back at home, Sara grew up in a small coffee farm in Colombia and knows first hand the struggles small scale farmers face. We always felt we had a responsibility and a role to play in creating change.
Our project was born when at our wedding (in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador) we were shown how to make chocolate by the local residents, there we learnt about the struggles cacao farmers face and the propagation of CCN-51 which is threatening our cacao heritage.
We returned to the UK wanting to do our bit, we wanted to make chocolate bars that have a positive impact on the land and its farmers as well as raising awareness of the lack and limitations of fair trade practices in the cacao industry.
When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
We started learning how to make chocolate in April 2016 and it wasn’t until December 2017 when we felt ready to launch our chocolate bars to the market. In the past few months we’ve had Diana’s (Andres’ sister) help.
What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
Our aim is to help farmers in Ecuador to improve their livelihoods, we want to do this through direct trade. Around one hundred thousand families depend on cacao crops. Our dream is to raise the bar and see a real change in how the chocolate industry can help develop sustainable livelihoods for cocoa-farming communities.
How did you source your beans?
We buy the cocoa beans directly from a farmer in Vinces-Ecuador. They own a small farm that has been in their possession for generations, their names are Don Julian and Doña Julia, their daughter and grandchildren are also involved in the day to day running of the farm. They also plant fruits and vegetables for their own use.
What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?
Our packaging motifs were inspired by the Inca patterns found in Ecuadorian textiles. We wanted our packaging to reflect something of who we are in a very strong, clean and minimal way.
What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
For the past couple of years we’ve been spoiled by our neighbours’ authentic Italian food and we love everything they make and bring us from the Bologna region, cheese, wine, prosciutto, etc.
Right now we’re enjoying Sirene Artisan Chocolate, there is so much choice out there! and it’s always nice to discover different chocolates from other makers.