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Jerry Toth Cultivates One of Rarest Chocolates on Earth … And It’s Now Available at Saxbys

a man holding a banana tree

Jerry Toth talks about chocolate like others talk about wine. He points out subtle notes of flavor, how different regions and growing processes affect taste, and how wooden-barrel aging enhances the final creation. 

Jerry spent years working on environmental conservation projects in the Pacific Equatorial Forest in coastal Ecuador. After learning that cacao grew on the land, Jerry and his team began harvesting, hand-grinding, and roasting the chocolate. And they were shocked by just how delicious and unique it tasted. This discovery led him to launch To’ak, a premium chocolate company that makes some of the world’s most delicious bars and drinking chocolate.

Now, Jerry is partnering with Saxbys to debut their house-made, plant-powered Heirloom Cacao Ball of Energy. The perfect pick-me-ups feature To'ak's 100% organic, single origin cacao powder and can be found by the pastry case at select Saxbys cafes. Each is packed with pepitas, dates, chia seeds, and cacao nibs for crunch. 

To’ak chocolate is 100% Nacional cacao — one of the rarest types in the world — and the premium price it garners allows To’ak to pay cacao farmers better wages and replenish the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve with new Nacional cacao trees.

We spoke to Jerry while he was in Ecuador. He graciously traveled from the wifi-free house he built deep in the forest to a cafe in town to chat with us about his love of chocolate, his mission to replenish the world with Nacional cacao trees, and his aim to pay cacao farmers a fair wage for their products.

a man sitting in a tree a person lying in the dirt

(All images courtesy of To'ak)

How does the chocolate you produce differ from the chocolate you ate as a kid?

I thought I loved chocolate like any other kid but it was really just the mass-produced kind. It wasn't until I moved to Ecuador in 2006 that I really got introduced to chocolate. We were camping there and we started eating a lot of cacao fruit itself. Soon, we started processing the cacao, making chocolate in a rustic way. What we created was totally different from the commoditized chocolate I ate as a kid. The aroma was so powerful. The flavors were so rich. The fact that we were growing it was miraculous. 

You harvest a rare type, 100% Nacional cacao. Tell us about it.

It’s like the “old vine” style of winemaking. The older vines give less production but there is more flavor in the fruit. We started looking for the oldest trees in Ecuador because their cacao has more flavor. I spoke to a cacao geneticist and asked him to test it. He tested 11,000 other trees in Ecuador and didn’t get a match. But he tested our trees and sure enough, we had pure Nacional trees. Since they’re at the end of their lifespan, we’re planting more of them in the same valley to try to preserve that variety of cacao and chocolate.

Cacao farmers are notoriously paid poorly. How are you changing that paradigm?

Cacao farmers get paid terribly. So we go directly to the farmer. We cut at least one to three steps of intermediaries out. We go directly to the farms. Since we don’t pay intermediaries, more money goes to the farmers themselves. Our farmers get paid more than any other cacao farmers in the world.

a man standing in front of a tree a man standing next to a banana tree

Why do you compare chocolate and wine?

We borrow wine terms to drive home the fact that growing cacao trees is as noble and meticulous an art form as making an amazing bottle of wine. We talk about flavor notes and process. If you think it’s something a factory is churning out you’ll pay lower price. If you know there are people lovingly caring for the trees, it changes the narrative quite a bit. 

Why partner with Saxbys?

To'ak is very much a mission-driven company, and so is Saxbys. That's the kind of company we like to work with. It's a good fit for both of us.

Where do you want to see To’ak in five years?

We’re about six years into To’ak. First, it was about doing something that had never been done in chocolate. We’ve elevated it to highest, most extravagant expression. There are benefits to that for sure but in the next five years I would like to see To’ak have a much broader reach. We want our chocolate available to people that take sourcing seriously, are passionate about eating it — but it can’t just be for the 1%. I would like us to reach more people. Through our partnership with Saxbys, more people will be able to enjoy our chocolate, and I’m really proud of that.

a man posing for a picture