Did you know that cacao sometimes grows right out of the trunk of the tree? No? Neither did I. Wacky.
While in Cahuita, we went on a chocolate tour at Caribeans Chocolate and Coffee in Puerto Viejo. I was excited to see how chocolate is made, but to be honest, I thought my kids would be bored. The tour was said to last 3 hours and I just didn’t think they would have the patience to make it through. Turns out, they were riveted and said this was the coolest thing we had done on our trip. The tour, while long and we forgot to bring water was super interesting. We learned about the history of cacao in the Puerto Viejo area and about the history of Caribeans, especially how the local cacao farmers are working to make their chocolate world-class. We also saw the tree to bar process in action and had the most delightful chocolate tasting in a gorgeous mountaintop setting, topped off by a toast with a chocolate ginger drink.
During our walk we heard loads frogs and managed to catch a picture of red dart frogs and a super neat little green milk frog. We also spotted a worm snake (gross) and several sloths. One of the neat things that Caribeans does is maintain the forest as close to its natural state as possible so the native animals can thrive there, rather than clear out the land for the cacao trees. We heard stories of snakes and felines. When they find a cat, they typically clear the area and let it be since it keeps the natural order of things in place, the cats eat the smaller creatures that often can ruin the cacao and so on and so forth. Circle of life in action. It’s pretty neat.
Before I forget, the other neat thing Caribeans does is pay their employees really well and they don’t use any child labor. The respect they have for the land, the trees, the people, is pretty impressive. So, you can feel super excellent buying from them. And yes, you should definitely think about the fact that a lot of the chocolate you love is coming from farms where folks are treating pretty poorly at best. If you don’t like diamonds because of the diamond industry and the abuse of workers and all that, then you probably should be careful where your chocolate comes from because it’s about the same.
So, here is the cacao. The seeds are inside this mushy yummy weird cottony sweet stuff.
My very basic understanding is that they pop those seeds onto a surface where the white stuff sort of soaks into the seed and dries up.
Once they are dried, you can crack the shell off the seed and it actually tastes like super dark unsweet chocolate. Apparently the shell is also used in some places for tea which also tastes a bit like chocolate. Then they winnow the seeds to get the shells out and then grind the seeds in a mill to get a chocolate syrupy. Add a bit of sugar and at that point it’s basically the best thing ever.
To finish off the tour we had a chocolate tasting in a hilltop gazebo. We were given a series of chocolates from different suppliers and a super yum ginger chocolate syrup. But the best part was the table laid out with little chunks of chocolate, small bowls of spices, soy sauce, wasabi, garlic, and ginger. We were invited to put a small taste of chocolate in a spoon, add our choice of spice combos, and then taste. The idea was to pair different types of chocolate with other flavors to see what that felt like. It was amazing. Lana and I agreed the best combo was a sushi kind of flavor with chocolate, ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi. Yum.
If you are ever in the area, highly recommended. More info on the tours are on the website. Necessary disclaimer, I can eat chocolate, I can’t make chocolate. Apologies if I got anything wrong 🙂