What better way to follow up a coffee tour blog than to post about CHOCOLATE (another of my staple indulgences)! Palmer and I went to a cool place called Choco Tour the other day located in La Garita, Costa Rica (about 20 minutes from both Atenas and the San José airport) which offers an informative hour and a half tour about the cacao plant and fruit, how the cacao is processed to produce chocolate and the history of chocolate dating from Pre-Columbian times.
We were the only ones for the 11am tour so we enjoyed a private tour with our guide Óscar who was very informative and passionate about everything chocolate related. He showed us some of the cacao plants, explained where they grow (i.e. rainy, tropical areas such as the Arenal and Limon regions of Costa Rica), and we then tasted the sweet white pulp surrounding the seeds of a mature cacao fruit. It was delicious!
He then explained how they dry the seeds which takes about 3 weeks before they are able to remove the skin and grind the cacao into a powder which is then used to make chocolate. We learned all about how chocolate evolved in Europe from a tasty beverage to bars of chocolate after being brought to the continent from the New World in the 16th century.
We then poured our own 75% cacao mix into molds and were able to choose our own ‘extras’ of almonds, sea salt and/or chile flakes, which we later enjoyed at the end of the tour. YUM!
In the final part of the tour, Óscar explained the ancient history of cacao, what it meant to the Mayans and Aztecs, and how they used it. The word ‘chocolate‘ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’ At that time, they did not have sugar to sweeten it so it was very bitter.
The Aztecs saw the cacao seed as a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. It was served as a drink, cold, and mixed with spices such as anise, vanilla, paprika, and pepper that only the rulers, shamans, warriors and honored guests were able to enjoy. In fact, cacao became so valuable in Aztec society, more than gold or silver, that the beans were used as a form of currency.
Of course Choco Tour sells some of their own chocolate bars and specialty items so we had to buy a few Costa Rican chocolate treats to take home. The sugar-coated toasted cacao seeds are especially unique and delicious!
If you’re ever near San José or the airport and looking to fill a couple hours, check them out!