Rainforest Chocolate Tour in Costa Rica
Let’s take a quick break from posts about Iceland and talk about my completely spontaneous trip to Costa Rica.
When I got back from Iceland on September 16th, I told myself I was going to hang out at home for a little while. However, a few days later, my friend Iris asked me if I could join her in Costa Rica on the 29th because her travel partner had bailed and she already had her room and flights. This was one of the many times I was so grateful to be a freelancer, because I was able to make a completely spontaneous decision and fly out to Costa Rica and experience a country I have always wanted to see.
While I admit that most of the trip revolved around stuffing my face with Costa Rican food and lounging in pools or hammocks, Iris and I did venture out a couple times. One of my favorite activities was the Rainforest Chocolate Tour.
Rainforest Chocolate Tour basically means tropical Willy Wonka, right?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this tour. I was told we’d get to see cocoa pods growing on the trees and then participate in creating some chocolate, and then, more importantly, participate in eating it.
The tour was very low-key. In fact, Iris and I were the only ones there, so we had a private tour through the small rainforest. He explained that while the rainforest and its cocoa pods were very real and were used to make chocolate, this tiny patch of land was for tourism only. Turns out they don’t just let tourists clomp around acres of cocoa plants. But hey, tiny rain forests still hold quite a few beautiful things.
When I think of chocolate, I tend to think of the finished product, which means I put it into two categories: milk and dark, both of which are just brown. However, chocolate has some very colorful beginnings. Cocoa pods can be a wide variety of colors such as green, yellow, and even bright purple. The pods were slick to the touch and looked so pretty hanging from the trees.
How is chocolate made?
Our guide, Andrei, explained the process of how a cocoa pod comes to be the chocolate we all know and love. He started with cracking open a pod and having us suck on a seed. The pulp is not something anyone harvests to eat, but it’s very sweet, almost like a mango, and melts in your mouth.
Once you have the seeds separated from the pulp, they go through a 7 day drying process.
As you can see, moving counter clockwise from the bottom, the sun and insects help remove the pulp until you have a dry cocoa seed.
The seeds are then roasted, preferably in an old-fashioned wood stove, before they are crushed. We got to use the biggest pilón I’ve ever seen!
After he put us to work crushing seeds, he put them through a grinder until we had a fine cocoa paste. I was hesitant to try it, because I actually hate dark chocolate and prefer the sugary, not so good for your heart variety, but the paste was actually delicious. I only felt mildly self conscious about literally licking my palms.
From there, it was melted down and turned into a hot liquid, which we then flavored with different spices for the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
Now for the serious gluttony
Up until this point, it was a very educational experience. Once the liquid chocolate drink was turned into straight up melty chocolate which we were told to eat by the spoon, the tour just turned into me eating as much chocolate as I could before getting sick.
Each time our spoons were loaded with fresh chocolate, we could choose from a variety of spices, toppings, and flavorings to add to our spoonful of goodness. They had everything from cardamom to coffee beans and creating my own chocolate creations was awesome. I also had some fun with Andrei and convinced him to surprise me with whatever combinations of flavors he’d like. I had everything from cayenne pepper to nutmeg and loved every single one. I’d say my favorites were vanilla and orange, and vanilla with coffee beans and coconut.
Tips for the tour
If you decide to take the tour, which I highly recommend you do, there are a few things you should know. First of all, make sure you arrange for transportation. The tour was about 25 minutes away from our hotel in La Fortuna and it cost us a small fortune to get a van to take us there. While we called around for taxis and the people of the Chocolate Rainforest even called some taxis themselves, there didn’t seem to be any cheap options.
Wear bug spray and shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. You’re in a rainforest, people, so don’t get too prissy. The mosquitos will be out and hungry, and the probability of rain is high.
Fill up on the chocolate on the tour, but be skeptical of the chocolate they have for sale. As I mentioned, I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, but I loved the chocolate I had on the tour so much that I really want to take some home. The employees explained that the chocolate they had for sale all came from their cocoa pods, but was sent away to be processed. I bought several items. When I got home, I found that none of them tasted anything like I had expected. Although they were all labeled milk chocolate, they were all much too bitter for me to eat.
I love any tour that teaches me something while I eat, so I’d call this one a win.