The Sweet Life

A Local Chocolatier Shares Her Favorite Hangouts Rio De Janeiro
Samantha Aquim created the Q Chocolate after digging deeper into the origin of cacao in Brazil.
Samantha Aquim
Owner & Founder, Q Chocolate

Samantha Aquim remembers the day that changed her life like it was just yesterday.

Working in her family's Rio de Janeiro catering business, Aquim Gastronomia, she was at the top of her game as a pastry chef after completing her training at the prestigious École Lenôtre cooking school. "We were winning awards for our chocolate, and I felt like a great success."

One day, a gentleman affiliated with the Brazilian cocoa growers' association showed up at Aquim Gastronomia in Rio, where Samantha's ganache and cakes were a hit with customers. "He asked me a question that changed my life," she says. "He said, 'Don't you think it is bizarre that you know everything about chocolate, but you have never seen a cocoa plantation in your life?' And he was right, I had studied everything I could about chocolate, but, at that moment I felt like a fraud."

Each Q Chocolate bar is made with cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar.
The Flavors Of The Rainforest

Aquim sources all her cacoa directly from Fazenda Leolinda, located in the heart of the Atlantic forest. She visits the plantation every year after the cocoa has been harvested. "The yield is about 400 lots per year. I taste 40 of the best lots, pre-selected for me by the owner, and decide which one I want to work with." Each Q Chocolate bar has a lot number printed on its packaging to inform customers from which harvest the cocoa was sourced. After eight years, Aquim still personally selects the cacao that will go into each Q Chocolate bar herself.

Aquim still personally selects the best of each harvest for her Q Chocolate bars.
From Bean To Bar

 A psychologist by trade, Aquim joined the family business after falling in love with cooking during a trip to Italy with her mother, Luiza, the founder of Aquim Gastronomia. Cooking and therapy didn't seem that different to the younger Aquim. "You go to therapy not to change, but to become a better version of yourself," she says. She had imparted that notion into all of her cooking, and, at the moment the depth of her knowledge was questioned, she realized she had more to learn.

She began digging deeper into the chocolate supply chain, eventually taking a trip to a cocoa plantation in Brazil's Bahia region. "As a chef, I was able to notice all these aromas, the earthiness of the forest, the scent of the fermenting cocoa, and I realized, none of that was infused into any of the chocolate I had ever tasted."

Aquim sources her cacao directly from a plantation in the heart of the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest.
Not Your Average Chocolate Bar

When Samantha began creating her chocolate bars in 2010, she consulted with her family on how best to present Q Chocolate in an innovative way. They approached the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, who the family had become acquainted with after catering his 100th birthday party. "We asked if he would design our first chocolate bar, and he agreed." His design was a unique wave shaped bar, which was sold in a special, limited edition wooden box until the architect's death in 2012.

Perhaps most meaningful to Aquim, though, is an experience she had at Fazenda Leolinda. "I remember when I returned to the plantation, I met a man who had been working in the fields for years, and I gave him one of my bars to taste. He immediately broke into a big smile, and said to me, 'This is my cocoa. This is the flavor of my life."

Local Recommendations

Discover Rio De Janeiro's Artisanal Side

Brazil's most vibrant city comes alive with sensory experiences. From architecture and art, to exciting gastronomy, and a burgeoning craft beer scene, local chocolatier Samantha Aquim reveals Rio de Janeiro's local treasures.

A Cut Above

The Best Steakhouses In Rio

Brazil is a meat-eater’s paradise, and there is no shortage of delicious churrascarias to experience in Rio. Malta Beef Club (84 Rua Saturino de Brito; +55-21-3269-4504) is one of Aquim's go-to's. Grab a table outdoors on the intimate terrace, or sit on the second floor, where floor to ceiling windows offer views of the Jardim Botânico neighborhood. No matter your seat, you can count on never-ending plates of melt in your mouth filet mignon, dry aged in house. There's also the 55-year-old mainstay Majórica (11/15 Rua Senador Vergueiro; +55-21-2205-6820) in Flamengo, famous for their picanha. A popular staple of Brazilian barbeque, tender sirloin cap is crusted with coarse salt, skewered, and roasted over an open flame.

Art & Architecture

Get In Touch With Your Creative Side

Rio is a city of visual pleasures representing a myriad of artistic schools and styles. One such example, between the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa, is Escadaria Selarón (Rua Joaquim Silva; +55-21-96437-2680), a staircase covered in thousands of pieces of colorful mosaic tile. The artist behind the project, Jorge Selarón, was born in Chile and moved to Rio in the 1980s, where he discovered the steep steps near his house. What began as a hobby in 1990 turned into a labor of love that took twenty years to complete, and in 2005, the steps were granted landmark status.

Another work of public art was awarded a Guinness World Record for the largest spray-painted mural in the world. Created by Sao Paulo native, Eduardo Kobra, it stretches along the Orla Conde boardwalk, a pathway that cuts through the port. Entitled Las Etnias (Boulevard do Porto), the mural stands a colossal 50 feet tall, and 560 feet in length. For artistry of the architectural sort, cross Guanabara Bay and head to the flying saucer-like Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Mirante da Boa Viagem; +55-21-2620-2400) designed by Oscar Neimeyer. Make your way down the snaking red walkway and through the entrance to take in the museum's permanent collection, most of which comes from the private holdings of João Sattamini, a Brazilian collector who discovered his passion for art during years spent in Europe working as international director of the Brazilian Coffee Institute. Today Sattamini has amassed one of the largest contemporary art collections in the world. As impressive as the art on display is the sweeping view across the bay from the museum's wrap-around windows.

Culture Club

Explore The Historic Port District's Forward-Looking Museums

Less than a decade ago, no one would have suggested a visit to the city's port and harbor area with its reputation for being a dangerous wasteland of abandoned buildings. But the 2016 Olympic Games changed all that. One of the most notable attractions is the Museum of Tomorrow (1 Praça Mauá; +55-21-3812-1812), a science museum, which, as the name suggests, focuses on the future of mankind and the planet. The innovative exterior—a bold design by Catalan architect, Santiago Calatrava—made the museum a major landmark almost immediately upon its opening in 2015. In stark contrast is the Centro Cultural dos Correios (20 Rua Visconde de Itaboraí; +55-11-2102-3690) one mile away. The converted former post office, built in 1922, is still run by the Brazilian postal service, but has been transformed into a museum and cultural center. Modern art and sculpture displays provide a contrast to the retro interior (an early nineteenth-century elevator still shuttles visitors between floors). Stop by on a Saturday to experience the weekly postage stamp fair.

Inside the Museum of Tomorrow. Photo courtesy of Byron Prujansky.

Perfect Pints

Craft Beer Culture Is Having A Moment

Rio is quickly gaining recognition as a place to try some really good cervejas."Cariocas love a cold beer in summer, and there are some great artisanal breweries popping up around town," says Aquim. Buda Beer (166 Rua Rocha Cardoso; +55-24-2231-3219), whose slogan is vive com alegria (live with joy), invites guests on a cicerone-led microbrewery tour to learn how beer is made, and to taste the fruits of the brewmaster’s labor. After the tour, have a bite in the BrewPub, just a few steps away, where the menu of elevated bar snacks was designed to complement Buda’s variety of ales and IPAs. Try the baked chicken drumsticks, marinated in their Hare Pilsen, and served with roasted garlic and parsley, or a meaty platter of ribs, filet mignon bites, and Capriata sausage slices.

Hocus Pocus (186 Rua Dezenove de Fevereiro; +55-21-4107-3107), launched in 2014 with a Belgian golden ale named Magic Trap. Their Botafogo gastropub is lined with taps featuring the brand's signature brews, and a variety of other locally-made suds.

The brand that perhaps best represents Rio's nascent microbrewing culture is Jeffrey, known for their selection of gourmet and specialty beers and their cartoonish logo featuring a mallard donning a three-piece suit. You'll find their red pilsen and wheat beer flavored with notes of lemon and coriander distributed at bars and restaurants around town. But at the Jeffrey Store (8 Rua Tubira; +55-21-2274-0000) you can make your way up to the beer lab on the mezzanine level to sample the brewery's latest creations, and pick up a souvenir t-shirt featuring Jeffrey the duck before you leave.

Inside Jeffrey Store. Photo courtesy of Diego Batista.

Samba Or Forro?

Learn Brazil's National Dances

Samba, the Brazilian music and dance style, is at the heart of Rio's annual Carnival, and the samba parade is one of the most anticipated events of the yearly celebration. Those looking to immerse themselves in local samba culture should head over to Lapa where there are a number of lively dance clubs. Strut your stuff at Carioca da Gema (79 Avenida Mem de Sá; +55-21-2221-0043) or to observe the pros in action, the Rio Scenarium Pavilhão da Cultura (20 Rua do Lavradio; +55-21-3147-9000) has three floors built around a central atrium for clear views of the band and dancing from just about every angle.

But samba isn't the only type of dance in town. You'll find equally passionate followers of forró , a slower couple's dance that originated in northeastern Brazil at Clube dos Democraticos (91 Rua Riachuelo; +55-21-2252-4611) . Founded over a century ago, there is never a lack of live music and samba on display, but on Wednesday nights, everyone makes way for forró.