Hey there friends! Brooke here, today I am taking you to La Fortuna, Costa Rica. This is a beautiful little town in the middle of the country it has a great volcano called “el volcán Arenal” or the Arenal volcano. Here there’s all kinds of volcano tours that you can do there’s a beautiful lake up there by the volcano, you can drive around it, it takes about an hour. Beautiful, beautiful spot a lot of people when they think of Costa Rica they think of beaches, they think of relaxation, they think of jungle and this place is an awesome spot to put on your travel map because there’s all kinds of natural hot springs here. That’s what the hotels are famous for you’ll see all kinds of 5 star hotels here, 5 star restaurants, because people flock to this place because of the hot springs! So today, we’re in the town and we’re going to see the Rainforest Chocolate Tour. It’s an organic spot, it’s an organic tour, they show you from start to finish how to make chocolate! Oh yeah! Chocolate’s amazing, I love it, an it actually grows on trees! If you didn’t know that, you’ll learn it today. There’s a great guide that we’re going to see, his name is Gustavo. He has an assistant with him, her name is Mercedes, so let’s go ahead and take a look! In most chocolate plantations they have a variety of trees and plants, that are also in the plantation. This is because, the more plants and trees that there are on a chocolate plantation the more variety of insects and in essence pollinators that you’re going to attract. Just as a warning, this is about the 2nd time that I have gone through this recording because there are so many different animals and noises here in Central America, and Costa Rica as well. There’s birds, roosters, neighbors yelling at their kids, this is exactly the type of thing that you’re going to encounter if you come to Central America, and it’s just part of their culture and you just have to roll with it! This right here is a chocolate pod. This is actually where the chocolate comes from! These pods can grow up to the size of a football! The tiny flowers on the chocolate tree grow on the trunk and the branches of the tree. There can be hundreds if not thousands of these little tiny pink flowers on every single chocolate tree. Although there are hundreds or thousands of these little tiny flowers on each cacao tree, only about 3-4% of them will become pollinated, and become cacao pods or chocolate pods. Now the number 1 pollinator of the chocolate flower is actually a teeny tiny little fly. This tiny fly is no bigger than a little speck of dust. They’re called midges, now of course this isn’t the only pollinator of the chocolate tree, but it’s definitely the number 1 pollinator. The more plants that you plant around the plantation the more likelihood that other pollinators are going to come along and pollinate the chocolate trees as well. The chocolate tree, or often called the cacao tree, takes 3-5 years to reach maturity where it can bear fruit. It takes approximately 6 months from the time the cacao flower is pollinated to the time it actually becomes a pod. Each tree will have about 200 pods on the tree that’s incredible! Inside each of these pods, is about 25-40 fruits, which eventually, after the fermentation process, will become cacao beans. For me, the most amazing part of the tour, is actually learning about the fermentation process. Now what’s really interesting here, is that before the cacao pods can leave the country of origin, they have to be fermented and turned into fermented cacao beans before they can be exported. Why is this? Because they’ve found that the bacteria only exist in the jungles where the cacao trees are actually being grown. If you try to ship the fruit off to other countries to be processed, and made into chocolate, it won’t work, because actually right now, scientists are trying to find a way to commercialize these chocolate bacteria, but up to now, they have not found a way to do this. If you’re making wine, beer, cheese, you can buy these little packets of yeast, but they haven’t figured out a way to package these chocolate yeast, which are only found in the country of origin. The process starts by the farmers collecting all of those chocolate pods, then they break them open, they take the fruit out, and they put them into a huge box. Here on this tour you don’t exactly see the fermentation process but they have a little box that’s compartmentalized so you can have an idea of what the fermentation process is like. On day one, all of the farmers put all of these cacao fruit into one huge box its a huge huge box that they use for the harvesting. And then somehow, the bacteria from the environment or from their hands, is transferred onto these cacao beans, they’re not exactly sure how it’s done, but they put all of these little fruit pods, into a huge box and they will leave them in there for approximately 24 hours. Then they get a huge spoon or a huge stick, and they have to stir this mixture every two hours, every two hours, during the whole 6-7 day process. This is to ensure that all of the beans are included into this fermentation process, and that none are left out. During the fermentation process, the germination of the seed is actually killed, which you want in order to ferment the bean so that it can become chocolate. One the 2nd day, they move the beans from one huge box into another huge box, and they’ll keep the process going by stirring all these beans every day. Now 3 substances begin to form when these bacteria and the yeast start working with those fruits. They make acid, they make vinegar, and they make alcohol. All of these things are part of the fermentation process. Not only do the beans release these substances but they are also during the fermentation process going to absorb these same substances: the alcohol, the vinegar and the acid. This will lend more flavor eventually to the cacao bean. After the 6 or 7 day process is complete, now it’s time to dry the beans. As you can see, they put them out on big- flat-type-greenhouse-areas and the sun will come in and it takes between 2-6 weeks for the beans to dry, depending on the humidity of the environment. Now the beans won’t get 100% dry because in every single bean there’s cacao butter, so it’s not going to get 100% dry, but it will get to be about 95%. Here in the tour, we’re given tiny little chocolate fruit so we can see what they taste like. You put them in your mouth, you chew them a little bit, and you suck off the fruit that’s on there. It’s very sweet and it’s very fruit tasting, and then you actually spit it out, you don’t want to swallow the seed. After the cacao beans are dried, they’re now ready to either export to western countries, or they can be processed into chocolate in the country of origin. Here, we see the old fashioned way that the people of the area used to process the cacao. The cacao pod was actually first found in Brazil in South America. However records of the first use were made right here in Central America or extending out to Mesoamerica, by the Olmecs, the Aztecs, and the Mayans. The first actually recorded use of this was made by these peoples into a type of hot chocolate. It was called a cacahuat’l. “Caca” – meaning cacao, and “huat’l” is a Nawa word meaning water. They would put in the cacao, corn, chile, and water, and it was like an old fashioned hot chocolate way of doing it. The first part of processing the dried cacao beans is to roast them. This can either be done in the western countries or the other countries that they are exported to, or in the country of origin. You roast the beans for about a half an hour, this will give it not only aroma, but it will enhance the flavor of the chocolate. After the roasting process is done, they put these roasted beans into a huge wooden-type-structure that’s called a “peeling” (unsure spelling). A peeling is a big wooden structure with a hole in it, and it actually comes from the peelong tree, which is a hard wood. As you can see Mercedes is using a wooden instrument to break up these cacao beans. You are going to separate the cacao from the cacao husk. Once this process is done, the next process is called “winnowing”. Winnowing, means that you’re blowing an air current through the broken up cacao beans, in order to separate the cacao husk from the cacao nibs. Historically speaking this process was always done by women. Interesting huh? This is what a cacao bean would look like without the shell. After the winnowing process is done, you end up with these cacao nibs, these are made of 100% chocolate, and also the chocolate butter. Now, when the cacao beans are sent off, most of the times to western countries, what the western countries will do at this point, is to grind them up, the next process is to grind them, and it makes a cacao liquor. That’s what this ground up paste is called “cocoa liquor”. In the western countries, the most common thing to do is to put them into a hydraulic press, the hydraulic press will squeeze that cacao liquor, and all of that cocoa butter, or the cacao oil, that’s inside of that bean, will be separated from the cacao powder. Why is this? Because cocoa butter is very important for cosmetics. It will be sold to cosmetic companies, they’ll put it in shampoos, conditioners, makeups, lotions, you name it. Now how do you get the oil back into the cacao powder? Well, many times they use palm oil, they’ll also add things like soy lecithin, and all of these products, take away from the original cacao flavor. At this point it’s no longer pure chocolate, because there’s all these additives. If you really want to get a high quality chocolate the next time you’re at the store, 1.) No palm oil 2.) No soy lecithin 3.) Look for ingredients like “cacao liquor” or “organic cacao” (organic chocolate). These will ensure that none of the cocoa butter has been taken out and you will definitely taste the difference! The next process is to grind the cacao nibs. Historically speaking they would put them into a handmill like this, and then watch as those beautiful nibs turn into cacao paste. In this case, Mercedes has added some sugar, so these ground up beans, or cacao paste, is actually chocolate, cacao butter, and sugar. It’s about a 70% cacao to sugar ratio. The first thing we taste is actually a hot chocolate. They have used this cacao paste with the sugar, and they’ve added some hot water so we can try it just like the Mesoamerican people of the day. used to do when they first discovered chocolate. So you can get these little hot chocolates with whatever you want I added a little bit of “chile” which is chile, cinnamon, and he recommended some vanilla and sugar. It tastes delicious! Like pure chocolate- WOW. It doesn’t taste like any Swiss Miss hot chocolate I’ve ever had. On this tour, another thing that we got to try was 100% pure chocolate. In this case, the cacao liquor is actually mixed in with a little bit of sugar, they melt it down, and it’s pure pure 100% chocolate. There’s no additives, there’s no cream, there’s no outside oils or butters, it’s just cacao butter, cacao, and then the sugar, and it is AMAZING! Listen to what Gustavo says: “You can eat all of the chocolate that you want…” “What???!!!” “No limit of spoons…” “What?!” Don’t worry about it, so you eat the chocolate that you can eat, that was absolutely the best part of the tour. I only went back about 4-5 times because I didn’t want to be too out there, but just something to keep in mind, you can get as much as you want to! And there’s all kinds of toppings that you can put on top, They have sprinkles, marshmellows, nuts, in my case, I put on a little bit of chile, and a little bit of sea salt, because that’s what Gustavo recommended, and it was absolutely wonderful. So I hope you guys liked that chocolate tour, I know I definitely did! If you’re in the La Fortuna area, and you’re interested, I definitely recommend the Rainforest Chocolate Tour, it’s definitely worth going, you can see the process from start to finish, you can try some homemade organic cacao, which is nothing like anything you’ll find in a supermarket. Coming up next, I’m showing you guys a coffee tour, which is very similar to the chocolate tour, it’s very interesting as well, and we’ll see some other places as well in La Fortuna like some amazing natural hot springs, I think you guys will be super interested. All right, see you soon!