Last weekend, I and one of the new Assistant Research Officers decided to go on a Chocolate Tour, just outside of Puerto Jimenez. We went into town on the Saturday and stayed overnight, enjoying the luxuries of WiFi, a fridge, and ‘air conditioning’ (giant fans, but better than nothing). On Sunday we were picked up at the leisurely hour of 9am after a very welcome lie-in (we are usually up at 4:30/5am on camp!)
It was a short drive to the Chocolate Farm, located just outside Puerto Jimenez. The farm is a family business, with around 20 hectares of land and over 200 cocoa trees, as well as many other plants from Pineapple and Banana trees to multiple herbs and spices, including one that you can use as a mosquito repellent. The farm is beautiful to walk around, with many blossoming flowers, butterflies, and one exceptionally large tree – the second oldest of its kind in the Osa Peninsular, we were told.
As we walked around the farm, we were told about the process of producing chocolate, from bean to bar. Our guide showed us the cocoa beans as they were growing on the trees – a deep purple colour when ripe – and explained how they are taken out of the pods and dried for at least 3 months before the hands-on work begins. On the farm there were also several geese, ducks, chickens, a rooster, and one very large turkey, oh…and a small Camen Crocodile in the little pond! As we walked through the farm, our guide plucked an orange from the tree, peeling it and handing it to us to eat. We were then given a fresh coconut from one of the coconut trees, enjoying the refreshing water straight from the shell with a hand fashioned bamboo straw cut on demand. It was that cliché ‘gap year’ moment, so of course we snapped a quick photo.
After the cocoa beans have been dried in the sun, they are then taken to be ground down and mixed with other ingredients to be made into the chocolate we know and love. The cocoa beans are ground by hand in a large pestle and mortar to remove the shells, which are then sifted off. At this point you have cacao nibs, rich in antioxidants and unadulterated by any other ingredient – 100% pure cacao. The cacao nibs are then ground down a few times until a rich paste is formed – cocoa butter. At this point, we were given the most delightful face mask of cocoa butter and coconut oil, made even more enjoyable by its delightful smell. Our skin was beautifully soft after washing off the face mask, and we were then able to taste the chocolate we had made, grinded with a little sugar and refrigerated to set into small blocks. They often grind it with milk powder too, but this isn’t strictly necessary.
The farm also sells chocolate bars made on the farm, and so of course we were sure to buy a few to take back to camp – it had been more than a month since I has tasted the sultry smooth taste of chocolate, and I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to stock up on some emergency supplies for the next few weeks (or days, knowing me). Pleasantly full of fruit and chocolate, we finished our tour and were taken back to Puerto Jimenez. All in all, it was a fantastic morning, and definitely one of the better tours I have been on while here in the Osa Peninsular!