One cannot spend their entire vacation eating fruit and swimming in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Every now and again one must venture out and have a serious chocolate experience! We knew we wanted to tour a chocolate farm while we were in Costa Rica and there were a number of options around Puerto Viejo. We spent an appropriate amount of time perusing Trip Advisor and finally settled on Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate. This was a truly local chocolate adventure.
Most of the commercially available chocolate that we encounter today is produced from hybrid beans with an inferior flavor profile. This is due to an epidemic of fungus that afflicts the cacao trees. The heirloom trees have a low resistance to the fungus and when the cacao plantations were first infected it nearly took Costa Rica off the map in respect to global chocolate production. The fungus infects the cacao pods but leaves the trees themselves unscathed. The answer was to develop hybrid cacao varieties with a resistance to the fungus. Unfortunately the quality of the resistant beans is far below that of the original cacao beans. But not these beans! They farm their own beans using indigenous methods growing only authentic heirloom cacao. Each Caribeans chocolate bar is sourced from a single farm and the bars are named after the farmers who grew the cacao beans. These are produced in a shaded grove that still produces high quality cacao pods despite the ubiquitous chocolate fungus that plagues most heirloom groves. There are many details about chocolate production to learn about on the tour but that is not all.
As we strolled through the grove to get to the beautiful hilltop tasting room we spied some bright red-eyed leaf frogs in the moist vegetation along the roadside. Seeing these tiny little frogs was on my life bucket list and I could have spent much of the afternoon clambering through the roadside ditches stalking the wildlife. Luckily the promise of chocolate is a strong motivator!
The wildlife viewing did not stop with the frogs. A sloth was slothing around in the treetops along the road and when we reached the fermenting station one of the men who tends the trees brought out a bright yellow eyelash viper that had been hanging around that week! Apparently those vipers are not aggressive beings. Very poisonous, but due to their docile nature, not very dangerous. That being said, he did keep the snake a good distance from his face.
We got to sample the chocolate straight out of the pod, fermented and dried, roasted, and processed into single source bars. I felt positively high from all the heady theobromine and verdant jungle atmosphere. I dont want to spoil the tour for anyone who reads this so I wont get into great detail but we all agreed that Caribeans Chocolate tour was a highlight of our Costa Rica adventure!