I recently traveled to Costa Rica and had the opportunity to visit the Finca Köbö farm, where I had a wonderful encounter with Alex and Jutta, the owners. This little piece of paradise is situated on the Osa Peninsula, on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. In the first post I talked about the more general aspects of what I learned, and in this second post I will share my experience regarding their wonderful chocolate tour. So continue with me on this journey to Costa Rica.
I am a chocolate lover, so going back the roots of cocoa and chocolate making was just wonderful! From Alex, the owner, I learned about the process of growing cocoa, and the subsequent transformation of the pods and beans into chocolate.
The cocoa pods, which are fruits, grow on small trees and are cut by hand with machetes when they are ripe. The trees are named cocoa theobroma, which means “food for the gods”. The pods can be harvested year round but their high season is the rainy season, June to August. I learned that four trained people can harvest up to 10’000 pods a day!
There are three main varieties of cocoa: criollo, forastero and trinitario. The criollo variety is the one with the superior quality and has a natural sweetness. It makes up only 15 percent of the world production and is mainly exported to Europe. The forastero variety is the most common cocoa pod with the lowest quality and makes up 60 percent of the world production. The trinitario variety makes up the rest, and it is actually a hybrid of the other two.
After harvesting, the cocoa pods are sliced in half and the fresh beans with the pulp are scooped out. When you cut open a cocoa pod you discover the beans that are densely covered by a white pulp or flesh. At this point the beans do not yet have any taste or smell of chocolate. You can, however, suck the flesh of these beans, and it tastes delicious, like candy.
In order to make chocolate and develop the chocolate flavor, the beans will need to go through a few stages, starting with the critical process of fermentation: To this end, the scooped out beans and their pulp are now placed into wooden boxes, and fermented between 4 to 6 days. During fermentation, a by product appears, a vinegar like liquid that was once used as wine by the Mayan. Did you know that the Mayas discovered the process of making chocolate by accident, while they fermented the cocoa beans to make wine?
Alex showed us what the beans look like during fermentation. He also emphasized that he is very careful to allow homogeneous fermentation, as opposed to larger producers that basically just throw the beans on the ground and cover them with banana leaves.
The next stage is the drying of the beans: They are spread onto large trays and are left to dry naturally in the sun for about 1-2 weeks. While drying you can observe the beans getting darker and darker and the smell of chocolate is now becoming stronger and stronger.
After drying, the beans are roasted on high heat in big roasting pans, under constant stirring. The process of roasting is quick and the beans signal that they are done with a crackling noise. After roasting, the skin around the beans is discarded. At this stage, if you break them apart into small pieces, you get what is called cocoa nibs. By now the smell of chocolate is just divine, believe me!
As the next step, the roasted beans are ground through a stone grinder to obtain the so called cocoa mass or paste. Cocoa mass is the natural mixture of cocoa and cocoa butter.
Alex then puts this mass into molds and after 5-6 hours at room temperature, he obtains a block of pure 100% chocolate.
As I describe in the first post, at the end of the tour we headed back to the main building for a delicious chocolate treat, which was a perfect ending for this inspiring walk in Alex’s garden.