Monday, April 18, 2016

Chocolate Forest Tour

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica was isolated from the rest of Costa Rica until recently, the home of cocoa, banana, and mango groves planted by American Indians and other Caribbean immigrants who came by boat from Panama and other islands. English adventurers (the Spanish called them pirates) also hid among the islands and raided the cocoa shipments from the Spanish, who wanted to keep control of the chocolate trade.
I'm sure that Thompsons with their shrewd business sense and love of chocolate numbered among these adventurers so we decided to follow in their footsteps and see where chocolate comes from.

Chocolate in this area grows in the shade of giant mango trees. In fact this chocolate forest that we explored is called "Mango Walk." If you click on the picture and look closely, you can see the tiny blossoms that grow into the cocoa pods you can see on the trees. They are pollinated by tiny "no see-ums," the pests of many Florida beaches. You now know that they have one useful function besides annoying beach combers.

When the pods are ripe, they are opened and the slimy beans are fermented for several days then dried in the sun.
The beans are then roasted, the shells are cracked then "winnowed" (blown away by a vacuum cleaner powered wind) and the bean is ground into a pure chocolate cream that is then sweetened, special flavors are added and it is cooled and molded in a special way to make a gourmet chocolate bar.
Spencer is demonstrating what the pure unsweetened chocolate cream tastes like before it is sweetened and made into a bar.
Our guide explained that just like craft breweries and vineyards, each chocolate plantation has its own special taste for its product. Here we are testing out how discriminating our tongues are. Spencer seemed to be best at differentiating the chocolate from the various nearby chocolate plantations for such things as fruitiness, earthiness, tartness, and the like.
Since chocolate in this purer state is so healthy for everyone, we had a chance to make our chocolate even healthier by combining it with various herbs and spices, such as basil, vanilla, garlic, ginger, thyme, oregano, mint, and sea salt. I can't remember all the choices, but each spoon held a different one for us to try out in our tasting party where we got to make our own combinations. Garlic with chocolate and mint was surprisingly delicious.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Were you able to get any other pictures (ie- where you stayed etc?) It sounds like a really cool trip.