The Science Behind To'ak, The Most Exclusive Chocolate Bars on Earth

Chicagoan Jerry Toth helped found the Ecuadorian chocolate that sells for up to $450 for 50g

toak chocolate
Safe to say they're not doing this at the Hershey's factory
To'ak
By Thomas Connors / February 7, 2020 7:20 am

To’ak, the Ecuador-based chocolate producer, might not be the most expensive chocolate maker on earth, but it’s certainly the most expensive one the average consumer has ever come across.

The offshoot of a rainforest conservation project, the company was founded by Chicagoan Jerry Toth and Austrian native Carl Schweizer.  “Company” doesn’t do this outfit justice: with its small-batch, handmade product selling for up to $450 for 50 grams, To’ak is as much a work of culinary art as it is a buyable, sellable good.

Here’s what makes To’ak one of the most expensive chocolates in the world — and what you should be looking for in your own purchases this Valentine’s Day.

1. It’s all about the bean


Nacional cacao is considered by many experts to be the oldest and rarest variety on the planet. Valued for its fruity, flora notes, it was once nearly extinct thanks to disease and the introduction of foreign cacao seeds. To’ak (which is a paring of ancient Ecuadorian words for “earth” and “tree”) sprang from one of the last surviving groves of 100% pure Nacional cacao in the valley of Piedra de Plata.

The pinot noir of cacao beans (To’ak)

“Imagine that all of the pinot noir vines in the world were lost to disease and hybridization, except in one or two forgotten valleys in Burgundy,” says To’ak CEO James Le Compte. “That’s basically the situation that Nacional cacao finds itself in today.”

2. We’re talking farm-to-table


Or rather, tree-to-bar. While most high-end chocolate bars are usually made from cacao sourced a world away, To’ak is a truly single-source product, from managing its trees to harvesting to production to packaging.

3. It’s a lot of work


“Today To’ak counts 16 stages of hand selection, production or packaging to achieve the final product,” notes Le Compte. “This includes harvesting the cacao ourselves alongside the farmers, fermenting in our own fermentation facility, sun-drying the beans, manually sorting them by hand before roasting them, hand-peeling individual beans to include in the center of our 50g bars, handcrafting our wooden presentation boxes, hand folding our wrapping paper and hand-packaging each individual bar.”

4. Less is more


Nearly all To’ak product is made of only two ingredients: organic cacao and organic cane sugar. “Vintage” editions — aged in sherry, whiskey and cognac barrels — make for a complex, superbly sophisticated sensory experience.

Spanish elm, individually numbered: not your average chocolate wrapper (To’ak)

5. Presentation is everything


The final product is adorned with a single bean, carefully wrapped, then placed in a box handcrafted from Spanish Elm with the individual bar number engraved on the back. Included are a tiny wooden utensil and a comprehensive guide to getting the most enjoyment out of the chocolate.