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Published: April 13th 2014
At this point Eric leaves me in the hands of a crooked toothed guide and a bunch of geriatric Americans.The guide proceeds to pick up a poisoned dart frog so I begin to doubt his sanity for one and ability to explain the chocolate process for another. On the way to the tour he tells a tall tale about Theobrama, some god of food who loved chocolate so much he turned the woman he loved into a cacao tree. I decide to keep my distance!
We arrive at the demo area and sit ourselves on tiered seats to watch the demonstration begin. We are shown a tiny blossom that in the space of just six months turns into a cacao fruit the size of a melon. When humans saw animals eating these fruits they decided to check it out themselves. We had a shake of the fruits and could hear and feel seeds bumping about inside. Once the fruit was broken open, by smashing it down on the table, we were all given a pulpy seed to taste. I'd describe it as a cross between mango and melon. These seeds would then have been fermented over seven days in special
trays before being dried in the sun. We had a smell of the fermented dried beans and they were now actually smelling of chocolate. Lovely. After roasting the beans in a pan over the fire we cracked open the now brittle pods and had a taste of what was inside. It was really bitter, but this is what was used to make a forerunner of hot chocolate.
When the Spanish arrived it was the clever nuns who tried adding cinnamon and brown sugar making it a much more palatable proposition. The beans, with sugar and cinnamon additions, were ground in a volcanic stone bowl using a heated volcanic pebble. Hot water was added and the mixture frothed up by pouring it from one cup to another from height. We got to taste this chocolate drink and had the option of adding nutmeg, vanilla or chillie. I went for the vanilla option which was so good I went back for more.
Once chocolate was exported to Europe a refining process was developed which included conching and tempering producing nuggets or chocolate stones. After heating, these were made into the chocolate bars we are used to today. After tasting some
more chocolate we were given little bags of cocoa beans which we could choose to use for trade as they were used in the past or keep them.
What a fab tour. Highly recommended if you're ever in Costa Rica.
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