Costa Rica has a great cocoa and coffee production. So, of course, I had to visit both. I already wrote a piece about the coffee plantation I went to, you can read all about it here. The cocoa plantation I went to was a small scale and biological farm. I learned a lot about their methods and most importantly I tried a lot of cocoa and chocolate and everything in between. The plantation also has a website, check it out here.
First, we got introduced to all the plants they have on the farm. The farm owners believe in the benefits of biodiversity in the farm. I could only identify a banana tree and a cinnamon tree. I’m not very good at identifying trees apparently, because there were many more that I didn’t recognize. Plants can benefit from biodiversity because the plants are less susceptible to disease and different plants have various effects on the ground. Some plants bind nitrogen to the earth, whereas other plants need that nitrogen to grow.
Cocoa plantations can harvest all year round, the trees never take a break from flowering. The flowers on the tree are super tiny compared to the huge beans that are produced. The size of a flower is comparable to a fingertip and the bean is the size of a milk carton. I don’t know if that’s a common descriptor where you’re from, but it is in my country. This means that I was able to see flowers and beans and everything in between on the same tree, which is cool.
The tour guides started their story by telling us about the method for fermentation of the cocoa beans. Once the cocoa is picked from the tree, it is cut open and the beans with the white stuff are pulled out. The beans with the white are then left on some sort of tray with a jute fabric on top. The fabric is coarse enough so small flies can get through. The flies bring the bacteria to the beans so the fermentation can start. The beans are left on the tray for seven days, every day they get stirred around for a bit.
After those seven days, the beans need to dry. This farm uses a greenhouse for the drying. The cocoa beans are well spread over a plate. The beans are turned every now and then so the air can go all around the beans. Drying of the beans takes a couple of days, after which the beans are roasted. Roasting makes the skin easy to remove. I wasn’t familiar with this, but in Costa Rica and Peru I have seen and tasted tea made with the skin of cocoa beans. Cocoa skin tea tastes quite interesting, it has a hint of chocolate flavor.
In this tour we got to taste so much chocolate, the tasting started with the white stuff around the cocoa bean. Apparently, you shouldn’t swallow it, unless you want to spend a day on the toilet. The taste of the white stuff is quite special, I cannot say I’m a fan. Luckily, because it’s not possible to buy or find it back home.
We also tasted the fermented cocoa bean. This bean still misses some flavor, I think. Then we finally got to taste the roasted cocoa bean, with and without the skin. Our tour guide was a big fan of the cocoa bean with the skin still on, but most people, including me, preferred the skin off.
For traditional Inca chocolate drinks, the cocoa needs to be ground. I helped with the grinding, and as a thank you I got some chocolate grounds. The tour guides prepared the drink with water, honey, chili, vanilla, and the chocolate grounds. Obviously, this chocolate drink is way different from the chocolate milk I’m used to, but I kind of like it.
Have you tried a traditional chocolate drink?