Wednesday, April 27, 2016
On our last day in Puerto Viejo, I had to choose between spending more time at the ocean or experiencing a chocolate tour. It was a hard choice, but I am sure I made the right one. It was a pretty special experience to visit such a small scale operation, where I could see the process from the flower buds on the cacao trees to the chocolate bars just out of the mold and everything in between!
The tour started with a hike through a cacao forest that is being painstakingly restored after a fungus took its toll on the trees and their crop on this farm and many others across the country.
We learned that cacao tree leaves are "nature's plastic wrap". If you are caught in the rain near a cacao tree, you can grab a leaf and wrap up your valuables to keep them dry! You can scrunch it up and release it and it doesn't break.
This is what raw cacao looks like. I got to eat a bunch of them. The white jelly around the bean is really sweet and fruity.
After the cacao pods are split open, the beans are wrapped up in banana leaves and left in open air bins to ferment.
After the beans have fermented, they are spread out to dry in a greenhouse structure.
At this point in the tour, we took a break for a chocolate tasting at a magnificent overlook on the Caribeans property.
In addition to growing cacao on site and turning it into chocolate, Caribeans also buys beans from local farmers. The economic model they employ is one that values quality and pays a premium for it. Their mission statement involves paying living wages to local farmers who practice sustainable ecological farming practices and deliver high quality product. Amen to that!
One of the ways this company is creating a specialty product is by making single source chocolates. The recipes and process are all the same, yet the resulting chocolate varies greatly depending on whose beans they use. We tasted 4 chocolates that were linked to the farmer and the farm's location. Making chocolate from one farmer's crop allows the grower to taste what they grew. Creating this connection closes the circle (most farmers sell to co-ops and never taste the chocolate made with their beans) and increases pride in the quality of their crop.
After we tasted each chocolate as it was, we played around with flavors, mixing and matching herbs and spices with chocolate. It turns out that dark chocolate and raw garlic taste great together!
For the final leg of the tour, we saw the open-air factory where the beans are roasted, ground, sorted and then turned into chocolate bars. Since they are such a small scale operation, they've created some interesting, low cost ways of grinding and separating the cacao from the shells. It doesn't translate well to photo so you'll just have to trust me that these are some clever folks.
And, of course, we were encouraged to share the love by getting some bars and taking them home. I happily obliged!
Posted by Trinity at 7:00 AM