About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
- Care for a Drink with your Film? (or a Film with your Drink?)
- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
Rio's New Wave in Chocolate
If you're a chocaholic, and a fan of Modernism, and happen to be in Rio de Janeiro, you're in for a sweet treat. Rio's best – and swankiest – chocolate boutique, Aquim, has just rolled out an elegantly wave-shaped chocolate bar designed by the architectural king of curves himself, Oscar Niemeyer.
The idea for the designer bar came from Samantha Aquim, who heads up the chocolate division of the family-run Aquim empire, which embraces a caterer, a gourmet boutique, and café - the latter two are located along a stretch of Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, the main drag of Rio's swish Zona Sul bairro of Leblon.
Aquim's initiation into the joys of chocolate began as a child when her father plied her with squares of imported Lindt chocolate, but on the condition that she let them melt in her mouth instead of biting into them. It was only years later that she was inspired to take her love for chocolate from the personal to the professional realm. During a course at Paris' Le Nôtre cooking school with renowned chocolatier Thierry Alain, Aquim was so impressed by the loving care with which the maître manipulated his melted chocolate that she returned to Brazil determined to make her own chocolate using top quality cocoa – specifically, Brazilian cocoa.
With this mission in mind, Aquim headed to the cocoa plantations of southern Bahia in pursuit of the finest beans in Brazil. Historically, Brazil had been the world's top producer of cocoa, and over 95 percent of the crops were grown in the region surrounding the colonial city of Ilhéus. Piquant accounts of the region's fabulously rich and powerful "cocoa barons" can be found in the novels of Jorge Amado – (most notably in The Violent Land and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) – the famous Brazilian author who was born and raised in the area surrounding Ilhéus.
Interestingly, the cultivation of cocoa requires that trees grow under a protective canopy of shade (the original Bahian cacaueiros (cacau trees) were imported from the Brazilian Amazon). As a result, the cocoa barons wisely insisted upon the preservation of the dense, tropical Mata Atlântica (native Atlantic rain forest) that once carpeted the entire Brazilian coastline, and which today only survives in small patches (in southern Bahia, it's nicknamed the "Chocolate Forest").
Unfortunately, at the end of the 1980s, a series of catastrophes befell Bahia's cocoa industry. Plunging global prices, increased competition, and periods of torrential rains followed by severe drought were all bad enough, but truly disastrous was the arrival of a plague-like fungus whose omious name vassoura de bruxa (witch's broom) says it all. By the 1990s, crops had been severely ravaged and production had fallen by over 60 percent.
Only in the last few years, with new growing methods and defenses against the killer fungus, has Bahian cocoa begun to make a comeback. Moreover, a handful of inspired growers is now experimenting with fusions of different cacau varieties and investing in fine, organic cocoa. It was these cocoa vanguardists that Aquim visited when she decided to create her own exclusive blend, and brand, of Brazilian chocolate (the Bahia beans are subsequently processed by Nugali, one of Brazil's sole manufacturers of fine chocolates, located in the southern state of Santa Catarina).
The resulting 77-percent cocoa confections are as sublime melting on your tongue as they are to gaze at. Miniature works of art, they are displayed like precious baubles in a fancy jewelry store or, in the case of the Niemeyer bar, like a sacred (albeit highly edible) icon – for as Samantha Aquim confesses, having the 103-year-old architect develop a signature sweet was like "asking God to design you a chocolate bar."