Ecuadorian Family Makes Cedar Park a Chocolate Mecca
100% cacao bars and cognac bonbons are just the beginning
Carlos and Isabel Galarza are strengthening the connection between their family's cacao plantation in Ecuador and their Cedar Park chocolate shop, one bonbon at a time. Rosalba "Rosa" Aguilera, who works with the Galarzas, helped translate our conversation as Spanish is the primary language spoken at the Ecuadorian Chocolate Factory.
This unassuming-from-the-outside, family-owned business is tucked away in a strip mall just off of Bell Boulevard, near a nail salon and several restaurants. Inside it's sparsely decorated with black leather seating and black shelving that houses a range of available products, but behind the glass, the Galarza family handmakes every one of their bars and bonbons – and Carlos is especially excited to explain the process to any visitor willing to listen: "When people visit the shop, Carlos always gives a tour. Yes, [to] every person coming here, he tells the story and shows them how we make the chocolate."
As the story goes, Carlos and Isabel were visiting Austin from the Los Ríos province of Ecuador and met Aguilera, who was driving for Uber at the time. She says they mentioned wanting to start a business here but weren't sure when or how, and with three small girls, they needed to work out a plan. The Galarzas, in the corn and soybean business back home, kept in touch, and by the next trip, they'd enlisted Aguilera's help to find a spot for their chocolate business. She said, "It was a hard time since they didn't know anyone or have family here. That's part of the journey though – good times, bad times."
As for the chocolate itself, they made treats at home in Ecuador (not for commercial sales, just for the family) using the family's cacao beans. All of the beans in the recipes for their shop, which opened just over a year ago, come from the family plantation. Their Pacific coastal farm – independently owned and operated within the family for many generations – uses no pesticides and is in the process of organic certification. Cacao, a fruit tree, has a flavor resembling mango, and as the factory's Instagram explains, "Its fleshy white pulp is crucial for the development of the flavor in the actual seed. The seeds are what make chocolate possible." They grow, harvest, toast, and peel the 100% natural grains, and after Carlos picks up the cacao nibs shipment straight from Ecuador, they're processed right there at Ecuadorian Chocolate on Bell Blvd. The short supply chain is evident in every tasty bite of the handmade chocolate.
Currently, the shop features bars with several percentages of pure cacao, as well as bonbons. All of the chocolate boasts no additives, colors, or preservatives, and it's made at a low temperature, which helps retain the naturally occurring antioxidants and minerals found in cacao. The bars are available in 100% (nothing added, pure cacao), 85% (15% sugar), 70%, 55%, and a new 90% version that might appeal to keto adherents. The pure cacao is the boldest flavor, but unlike many other brands' dark chocolate, it is surprisingly smooth with a well-balanced bitter note, a whisper of sweet earthiness, and a tiny bit of fruitiness that only happens with the farm-to-table goods.
The bonbons – currently available in coffee, cognac, mint, and raspberry – have a sweeter 55% shell, and the Galarzas also mix dried fruits (apricot, kiwi, banana, pineapple) with their 70% chocolate in other pieces. The shop features regular chocolate-making workshops for both children and adults – a great way to sample through the entire menu and decide on cacao-percentage preferences individually – plus wine pairing events. For Valentine's Day shoppers, they will have baskets, boxes, and chocolate-covered strawberries available.
The Ecuadorian Chocolate Factory251 N. Bell Blvd. #110, Cedar Park
Mon.-Sat., 10am-8pm; Sun., 10am-5pm