South Caribbean Adventures: The CHOCORART Chocolate Tour (Part 1)
Posted Feb 15 2010 12:00am
How's everybody doing today? Hope you all had a great day yesterday (Valentine's Day)! Have you been enjoying my posts about our Caribbean adventures (click here, here, here)? I hope so! I know you will like this one. Before we go into the dreamy world of cacao & chocolates... I want to remind you all about the GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse, which closes enrollment on the 22nd of Feb. and also... if you haven't... check this out!
For this post… I asked my father-in-law, Dave, if he would like to write it up because there was so much to share, but I was way too busy taking pictures to really pay attention to everything that was being said. Plus, when I did pay attention… it was hard to understand the man because of his Swiss accent. So, I am going to tell you all about it through pictures while Dave shares through words!
Speaking of pictures... I have TOO many to decide what to share with you that I've decided to do another post with just pictures and a few words here & there. I will share some here, but will be sharing more on the next post!
All I need to say about this place is… awesome, beautiful, wild and I am spoiled for life because you can't find chocolate with all that delicious buttery fat anywhere!
Oh man! I really want some right now with coconuts or cacao nibs!
WARNING: You will find yourself very hungry for some REAL, buttery fat chocolates :o)
The CHOCORART Chocolate Tour
By David Beard
A chocolate tour in Costa Rica! Believe me this is no trip to Wonka World with umpah lumpas and crazy machinery…. No, a trip to Chocorart is a step back into a mom and pop size cacao plantation and chocolate making enterprise.
Chocorart is located 4 miles from Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. A Swiss couple, Marcos and Claudia have handled the operation of the chocolate production themselves for the last 20 years. The tour is definitely an up close and personal look at how chocolate is made from tree to treat.
Marcos and Claudia at work making their chocolates.
Our little adventure started with a short bicycle ride from our cabin. A small group of about 15 of us had our choice of narration in Spanish, English, French or German. English was common to all and Marcos led us along a path through the jungle. Yes, jungle and no manicured rows of cacao trees with machines to harvest. We walked through the rain forest as Marcos gave us a history of the dreaded fungus that still attacks tress and fruit today. With his trusty machete he show us termites, carpenter ants, poison dart frogs and pointed out several species of plants (i.e. ginger, lemon grass, peppercorn) all sharing the rainforest with cacao trees.
Well, back to cacao plants. The ripened fruit, when opened, reveals 20 to 30 seeds cover with a slimy white pulp that is delicious to eat; in fact this is how the cacao plant was first used until the Mayan Indians took the seed and started making a chocolate drink. Harvest time for most cacao is from September through December. But Marcos found a few cacaos to harvest and left them beside the path to pick up later with a wheel barrel. (Pretty high tech right?!)
The Chocorart operation is all organic, using only compost to fertilize young plants and no insecticides. The forest has a mix of huge 60 foot trees providing a mixed canopy affect along with 400 or so smaller cacao trees and many other plants. The cacao plants flourish in a 50% sun 50% shade type of environment, usually at 1000 to 1500 feet above sea level and plenty of moisture.
The tall trees on the cacao plantation... over 60 feet!
Next, the secret to infusing flavor and changing the bitterness of the cacao seed comes from the fermentation process. For six days the sweet pulped laden seeds are allowed to ferment then laid in the sun to dry for about a week. Once dried the reddish brown nut is ready to be roasted or in some cases exported to other chocolate making companies.
Once roasted Marcos used a large rock to crack the seeds and separated the shells from the chocolate by letting the wind blow the shells away as the chocolate drops into a bowl. Next, the chocolate is ground up, mixed with cane sugar and cooked into a rich brown, delicious, spoonable syrup to enjoy. As it hardens, flavor can be added and then shaped into cigar size treats that Chocorart distributes locally. Marcos explains that once the bean is ground many companies extract the cocoa butter to be sold to cosmetic companies and replace it with other oils. Now that is other companies----not Chocorart --- you get the natural cacao butter and experience the rich flavor of semi sweet organic chocolate.
After the tour they served up delicious, rich hot chocolate and we left the place wearing chocolate moustaches. We also purchased plenty of chocolates to keep us happy for several weeks. We will remember this tour for a long time... how can we not?! We will never look at our standard chocolate bar the same way again.