It’s been five years since I was last in Brazil. At that time I had the opportunity to attend the Sweet Brazil show as well as visit Riclan and Garoto, two fascinating Brazilian confectionery companies.

Back then, when the rest of the world was still struggling to emerge out of the 2008 global great recession, Brazil was one of the few enjoying a super-charged economy, one that fostered the growth of a larger consumer-oriented middle class.

Confectionery companies were investing heavily into automation, technology, and new product development as a means of satisfying not only more cash-rich Brazilians, but to capitalize on export opportunities abroad.

Fast forward to today, and the Brazilian economy has slowed significantly. According to Euromonitor, Brazil’s economy experienced a drastic deceleration in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, dropping from 7.5 percent in 2010 to less than 1 percent in 2014.

Through 2019, Euromonitor projects Brazil’s GDP to grow 2.1 percent, which represents the lowest GDP growth among BRIC countries (Remember them — Brazil, Russia, India and China? Out of the four, I believe India is the only one still chugging along). It’s lower than the average of developing and emerging countries and even some developed countries, such as the UK and the United States.

But enough about the sluggish Brazilian economy and the difference five years makes. What I really what to chat about is the resurgence in fine-flavored Brazilian cacao as well as the emergence of artisan tree-to-bar chocolate makers.

And that’s not a typo you’re seeing either. I’m saying tree-to-bar because the people producing the chocolate actually own the plantations. Thanks to the folks at the Brazilian Cocoa, Chocolate, Peanut, and Candies Manufacturers Association (ABICAB) and through the support of Apex Brazil, the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, Alvardo Valdez, a Peruvian journalist, and I got our fair share of exploring. We visited two cocoa plantations, dined with several cocoa farmers, chocolate makers, industry activists, and chocolate retailers, and visited two tree-to-bar chocolate makers.

I’ll have all the details about the trip in our upcoming July issue, but I’d just like to mention at least one notable tree-to-bar manufacturer in the space I have allocated: AMMA (which means, “mother”).

First, it’s hard not to immediately like Diego Badaro, the founder and ceo of AMMA (pictured above). The man has an infectious smile, an aura about him that goes beyond immediate likeability. Having visited his family’s cacao plantations during the summer as a youngster, Badaro was moved at a young age when he saw his grandmother crying one day while talking to his mother. When asked why she was shedding those tears, the matriarch turned to him and revealed that many of the neighboring cocoa farmers were cutting down their cocoa trees and abandoning their plantations.  For her, the flight — due in part to the Witches’ Broom disaster — represented an end of an era.

Deeply affected by his grandmother’s emotional response, Badaro saw his life’s work —like a cacao seedling — take root. Slowly, he started channeling his energies to reviving the family plantation while simultaneously researching the process of chocolate making.

Today, he operates a 1,500-sq-meter factory in Salvador, Brazil, using only cocoa beans selected from the Rio de Contas valley, in Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil. He produces a broad range of chocolate bars, beginning with a 100-percent cocoa content and extending to a milk chocolate variety as well as cocoa nibs and small miniboxes containing small 5-gram tablets, six to a box.

Amazingly, his best seller amongst all the varieties is the 100 percent cocoa content bar. Now I’ve had 100 percent cocoa content chocolate before, and it usually overwhelms me. In this instance, although I really preferred his 70 percent cocoa content, I could see developing an affinity for the 100 percent. Consider it akin to learning how to appreciate good Scotch.

Badaro’s retail shop in Sao Paulo reflects his persona: a shrine to cacao that’s suitable for tasting, sharing, experimenting, and enjoying. Ever had nib tea? Well, you should try, my friends. Consider it as an ethereal Earl Gray.

But what’s most exciting about Badaro and AMMA is that he’s just one of many, several of which I will highlight in our July issue.

For the longest time, Brazilian cacao has been looked at as a remnant of what once was. Having spent several days in Bahia, Sao Paulo and Rio, I’m here to tell you that’s no longer the case. Fine-flavor cacao from Brazil is a forerunner of what Brazilian cocoa and chocolate can and hopefully soon will be.