Packing up chocolates and sharing a laugh with the Amazillia ladies
On March 16, I left for my seventh trip to Costa Rica! It had been a year since I last saw my cacao growing friends. The first night I met with Hugo and Hubertien Hemerlink, and Julio and George of Sibu Chocolates, as well as Elsa from Debelis in Belgium. We were all excited to be seeing each other again and the conversation and laughter flowed.
A farm tour courtesy of my friend Cola
After a bit more visiting, it was off to Finmac: Hugo’s organic cacao farm. There I met with some of the women of Asociacion de Mujeres Amazillia, who live on and near the finca. They make chocolates to sell in San Jose. We shared the latest news and talked about our current projects. I offered some of my parlines and salted caramels, they returned the favor with their latest: a solid morsel with a washed and dried cacao bean inside. Delicious!
Cola, one of the farm workers, gave me a tour of the farm. It was great to be walking among the trees. The farm was finishing a harvest, so I was able to see the trees just after pruning, which happens a week or two after the pods are harvested. The leaves and opened pods are left under the trees to decompose, adding organic matter to the soil. The processing facility was not operating the day I visited, but they were conching a batch of chocolate. Conching is grinding the cocoa liquor with sugar until it gets finer and finer. The sugar shears against the cocoa to become nice and smooth.
Walking amidst the just-pruned trees after the harvest
On to Thermales del Bosque! This is one of my favorite places to stay and soak in the thermal pools in the forest and relax. From here, if you are lucky and it is a clear day, you can see the Arenal Volcano. This was my lucky trip: every time in the past I have visited it has been under the clouds, but on this day I was able to see the volcano in all its conical glory.
Next, I traveled to Upala. I presented a workshop demonstrating how to use the tempering machine I donated to the Cooperative located here. The Cooperative is hoping to make artisanal chocolate from their own beans. The instruction went well with the help of two botany students from Paris (who just happened to be studying in Upala). The students helped me with my Spanish, translating when I had gaps. Everyone had the opportunity to fill one of the molds I brought and use the tools. They were excited and eager students.
The view of the Arenal volcano from the Thermales del Bosque pools
Afterward, we visited a sustainable agro-tourism farm. Two years ago I visited the same farm, as it was just getting established. Ernesto, the owner, has since built two cabins, a gathering pavilion, a cookhouse and dining area, and added so many gardens, animals and cacao trees, all with a beautiful stream running through the farm. It is absolutely gorgeous!
Demonstrating how to use a tempering machine during a Upala workshop
The last leg of the trip was a short travel to the Guanacaste area on the Pacific Coast. I relaxed on the beach, swam, watched howler monkeys in the trees and got my groove back. I couldn’t have dreamed a better trip, I only wish I had longer to explore, relax and laugh with my Costa Rican friends.