Tag Archives: Nibs

Searching for Chocolate in Costa Rica: Day 1 – “Raw” Cacao Beans

Playa Chiquita

Playa Chiquita has a string of sandy resting spots partly shaded by jungle trees and spotted with lagoons - some for swimming, some for beach combing among the coral (foreground).

After two days of travel, we have finally settled into the small Costa Rican town of Puerto Viejo, ready for some RR&C (rest, relaxation and chocolate) [1].  It’s an ideal location, a combination of surfer’s beaches, quiet palm-lined lagoons, dusty beach-side restaurants, eco-tourism and cacao farms.  On the Caribbean side of Central America, Puerto Viejo (“vee-ay-ho”) and neighboring Cocles (“coke-lez”) have a laid-back afro-carribean vibe that attracts a younger, more adventurous crowd.

It’s been ten years since my wife and I first visited Costa Rica – that adventure was on the Pacific side in Jaco – and this time we have two kids in tow and unchartered territory to explore.  I’d like to share with you some of my chocolate experiences during this trip as well as a few travel notes.

Organic Raw Cacao Beans from Costa Rica

Organic Raw Cacao Beans from Costa Rica

On the first day we focused on the search for life’s essentials: a grocery store and the beach.  Chocolate is nearly essential to life, so I grabbed the first thing resembling chocolate – a small sack of organic raw cacao beans at the grocery store for about 2000 Colones [3].  The encouraging instructions on the package say “crack open and eat!”  So I did.

Raw Cacao Beans

It's easy to crack the shell (left) off the beans by hand revealing the "meat" or nibs (right).

What’s inside is essentially the equivalent to cacao nibs, but these, in my opinion, were over-roasted and way too dark.  Super bitter with some cacao fruit and acid showing through, the only reason I could see to eat these was to get the purported health benefits, but that’s the same reason people eat cod liver oil and I’ve never felt compelled to do that.   When I fed a bit to my almost-3-year-old, he ate it – twice – and didn’t complain, leaving me to wonder how bad could they be?  But, he appears to eat almost anything especially if I tell him it’s chocolate.  On the plus side, the aroma was wonderful – all sweet, nutty and toasty.  I could see cracking these open and putting into your morning cereal, but I can’t see eating them straight.  I have to say I’d pass on these since I can get nibs already cracked out of the bean and ready to go such as Taza’s organic roasted nibs that are roasted at a low temperature for a kinder, fruitier flavor.

As of this writing, I’m a few days into the trip and with the help of persistent warmth and the lush jungle that surrounds our bungalow, I’m trying to maintain a non-judgemental, zen-like attitude towards every moment and life in general.  So, I won’t say the raw cacao bean experience was a failure, neither good nor bad, just part of the adventure.

For the next adventure I will sample some local chocolate from a very small producer.  Also, I’ll provide some travel information and tips as we go, so see the more recent posts for more detail.


[1] It shouldn’t have taken two days, but after delayed flights and one minor disaster after another, we arrived to our bungalow, in the dark, but just in time for dinner.

[2] I paid for this chocolate myself.

[3] Costa Rica stopped using cacao beans as currency a long time ago and now use Colones, available at the ATM in town with an exchange rate of about 450-500 Colones to the dollar.  You can also get US Dollars from the ATM.

[4] I won’t try to explain what raw means in this case since many producers don’t provide any information at all.  Clearly they are roasted, but not processed any further than that.  This means they would see less heat than a finished chocolate bar, but the maximum temperture of processing is unknown.

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Chocolate Cocktails Made with Real Cacao

Hot Chocolate de Caraibe

Hot Chocolate de Caraibe

I’m talking about using cacao-infused vodka to make some unique, if not quirky, cocktails that will delight and mystify your taste buds.  Last winter I showed you a simple recipe to infuse vodka with roasted cacao nibs, the meat of the cocoa bean before it’s turned into chocolate.  You can easily mix that vodka up into a fine organic chocolate martini, but honestly, that drink will probably only appeal to the most die-hard chocolate fans like me – with its dryiness and authentic, raw cacao flavor.  Once you’ve experimented with that one, it’s time to explore these other chocolate libations.

I wanted to give you a few more ideas that blend real cacao-infused vodka with with well-matched ingredients so that the vodka becomes an accent rather than center stage.  The results of this alchemy are drinks that will warm your spirit through the winter.  After that dry chocolate martini, let’s move on to a few sweeter drinks and then finally back to something more crisp.

Hot Chocolate de Caraibe


  • 1 oz cacao infused vodka (see basic recipe or short version at bottom of page)
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 6oz hot chocolate. Use a high quality cocoa such as Dagoba, Grenada Chocolate Company’s or Rapunzel (all are certified organic.  None are alkalized [2]).  Use sweetened cocoa or sweeten to taste.
  • 1 tbs chocolate shavings (we like to use Grenada Chocolate Chocolate Company’s 60% cacao bar).
  • Whipped Cream

Stir ingredients in a clear mug.  Top with a blast of whipped cream then garnish with chocolate shavings. Sit back, sip and dream of a warm Caribbean breeze blowing through cacao trees.

Kir Cacao
Kir Cacao

Kir Cacao

A Blend of Champagne, Chocolate and Cherry

Use this drink as an aperitif or “surprise beginning” to any festivity that goes beyond predictable.
  • 1/2 oz cacao-infused vodka (see basic recipe or short version at bottom of page)
  • 1 oz cherry liqueur. We used Heering Cherry Liqueur since it’s made completely from all natural ingredients.
  • Champagne
  • Ice

Pour the  vodka and cherry liqueur into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until the outside of the shaker is very cold.   Pour into a champagne flute without the ice, of course.  Fill the rest of the glass with champagne up to 1-2″ from the top of the rim.  Add one more inch or so  by pouring the champagne over the back of spoon and into the glass to make some foam.  This drink will grow on you…trust me.


This one is a slightly less potent twist on the mochachino martini I made last time.   Stir together over ice in a tumber:

  • 1  oz. organic cacao-infused vodka (see basic recipe or short version at bottom of page)
  • 1/2 oz. Kahlua
  • 1 1/2 oz. Bailey’s


Traditional rum egg nog is great, but when you’re tired of the same old same old then move onto this smooth concoction.  Sipping egg nog is sort of like drinking ice cream, so it’s not such a stretch to top it off with a bit of coffee and chocolate. Yum!

  • 1/2  oz. organic cacao-infused vodka (see basic recipe or short version at bottom of page)
  • 1 oz. Coffee Liqueur such as Kahlua
  • 4 oz. egg nog
  • Nutmeg

Mix together with ice and garnish with freshly ground nutmeg.


If you want something a little drier, but not completely arid, try this:

  • 1/2  oz. organic cacao-infused vodka (see basic recipe or short version at bottom of page)
  • 1 1/2 oz. Scotch Whiskey
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • Orange peel

Mix liquids in a tumbler over ice.  Rub the orange peel all around the rim of the glass to give fragrant orange aroma.  Sip slowly.



Here’s the short verisoin of the basic recipe:  Combine 1 cup  roasted cacao nibs with 1 liter of vodka (remove enough vodka to fit the nibs into the bottle.  Let it infuse for 2-4 days, then strain.  For the details, see this post.

Please drink responsibly and in moderation so you can always enjoy fine drinks.  Cheers!


[1] I paid for all the materials used for this post myself.

[2] Alkalized or dutched cocoa has been chemically converted to make it easier to mix and more mild in flavor.  Besides my general aversion to unnecessary chemicals, we don’t want mild flavor, we want to taste the chocolate!

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Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs in Dark Chocolate

Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs Dark Chocolate

Each piece has a healthy amount of nibs. I ate this much and more for the worthy cause of this review.

Madecasse Chocolate

Madecasse [1] chocolate has come a long way since I first reviewed their 67% and 75% bars more than a year ago.  Since then, they’ve added three bars to their line and revamped their package design twice.  Before we dive into the tasting, here’s a little reminder of what Madecasse is all about.

They’re making tree-to-bar chocolate on the island nation of Madagascar.  To my knowledge, there is only other company making tree-to-bar chocolate, where the cacao is grown and transformed into chocolate within the same country – The Grenada Chocolate Company.  This breaks from the long-established commodity model of importing cacao beans to Europe where they are made into chocolate.   The point of the tree-to-bar approach is that more of the economic value is kept in the cacao-growing country where it can benefit the local economies.  Not only is a fair price paid for the premium cacao, but locals are employed to make the chocolate all the way down to the finished, packaged bar.

Located much further south from the equator than most cocoa growing countries Madagascar is blessed with a unique climate and growing conditions. These conditions provide for exquisite, fresh local ingredients for their chocolate.   While Madecasse has not paid for organic certification, organic farming methods are used, a no-brainer in a country that has a long heritage of small-scale farming that uses only natural mulch and composts for fertilizer.

The company was started by two former Peace Corps volunteers, Tim McCollum and Brett Beach, who work closely with farming cooperatives to provide access to training and equipment as well as encourage sustainable agriculture.  As a result, they are expanding the market for rural farmers and providing the local economy with 4x the impact of fair trade cocoa — an important mission considering the immense beauty of the Madagascan eco-system and that this is one of the poorest nations in the world.

Of the three new bars (Sea Salt and Nibs, 80% Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate),  I decided to taste the one I felt was the most intriguing – the Sea Salt and Nibs bar.  Cocoa nibs are added to dark chocolate then it’s all finished off with a sprinkling of  sea salt.

Tasting and Review:  Sea Salt and Nibs in Dark Chocolate

Madecasse Salt and Nibs in New Packaging with their "trademark" Natural Raffia Tie

Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs bar in the new packaging.

WHAT:  Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs Dark Chocolate,  63% Cacao. 75g bar.  Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa

butter, cocoa nibs, sea salt, soy lecithin, vanilla.  Where to buy Madecasse Sea Salt & Nibs Dark Chocolate.

WHEN:  July 31, 2010


AROMA:  Plum, cantaloupe, vanilla, pancakes, caramel.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Cantaloupe and blueberry.  Light salt. Celery.  Approaches you with more dimension — having a savory food quality more like an hors d’oeuvre than a confection.

MIDDLE TASTE:  The main act is all buttered croissant.   Pear, cantaloupe, citrus, watermelon, almonds, candied yams and a faint hint of strawberry.  Very little fruit acid that you usually get from nibs and not much woodiness until later.

FINISH:  The finish is long, pleasant and low-lying with none of the dry pulpiness that is typical of nibs.  Milk, light herbals, almond milk, light wood.

TEXTURE:  You get the occasional crunch of nibs surrounded by smooth chocolate.

LAST BITE – For dark chocolate fans who are  ready for more adventure but not yet keen to pound down straight  nibs, this bar is a great choice.  It’s surprisingly unaggressive and smooth with almost no pulpy woodiness that I fully expected to find on the finish.  Madecasse brings us a bar that’s balanced, subtle and round.  My preference is for something  with more assertive fruit even at the expense of chewing on pulp at the very end of the finish, but  I need to

Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs in Dark Chocolate - the bottom of the bar shows off these crunchy bits of nibs

Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs in Dark Chocolate - the bottom of the bar shows off these crunchy bits of nibs

give them a lot of credit for the care that went into achieving balance with this bar.  Don’t get me wrong – there are fruit notes here, but they are more subtle melon than berry.  Even the use of salt was judicious and understated.  What it lacks in pronounced fruit, it makes up for in approachable buttered croissant and almond notes that go long into the finish.  This buttered croissant character and the watermelon notes are uncommon in my experience and well worth exploring.

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[1] Pronounced mah-DAY-cas

[2] Disclosures: I paid for this chocolate myself.

Chocolate – The Breakfast of Champions

Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank 50 small cups of cocoa a day as an aphrodisiac and to boost his energy.  I figure at least some of this had to be consumed at breakfast.  Of course, that was 500 years ago and cocoa was so expensive that only kings could afford this excess.  When chocolate was first introduced to Europe it was mainly consumed in the evening as a decadent after-dinner drink.  Still, there were eventually signs of more creative use of chocolate like this:

“When you have breakfasted well and fully, if you will drink a big cup of chocolate at the end you will have digested the whole perfectly three hours later, and you will still be able to dine..Because of my scientific enthusiasm and the sheer force of my eloquence I have persuaded a number of ladies to try this, although they were convinced it would kill them; they have always found themselves in fine shape indeed, and have not forgotten to give the Professor his rightful due.”
Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)
The Physiology of Taste (1825)

We’ve come a long way since then and today chocolate is relatively inexpensive and accessable to all.  So the time has come to enjoy organic chocolate at breakfast and I’m not just talking about hot chocolate.

Organic cocoa nibs on granola

Organic cocoa nibs on granola

Here are some ideas for the creative use of cocoa nibs at breakfast.  If you recall, cocoa nibs are the coarsely – ground bits of roasted cacao beans that are bitter, nutty and full of true minimally processed cocoa flavor.  I tasted some organic chocolate covered nibs from Pacari earlier this year and loved them, but you don’t want to use coated nibs [1].  You want to use uncoated nibs like the Taza organic cocoa nibs I used to make an organic chocolate martini.

Organic Cocoa Nibs on Granola

This is real simple:

Toss the nibs around with the granola, add milk or soy milk and enjoy.  Most pre-boxed granolas have enough sugar in them to balance out the astringent bitterness of the nibs, and you will enjoy a real lively contrast to the run of the mill granola (I think that was a pun).  I found the nutty texture and the cocoa aroma that came up from the bowl rather pleasing.  Of course you can get decent granola at any good market or mix your own to avoid the added sugar.  The website MixMyGranola.com lets you design your own mixtures or order premixed cereals.

Oatmeal with Organic Cocoa Nibs

Organic cocoa nibs on oatmeal

The breakfast of champions - Organic cocoa nibs on oatmeal

Another civilized and healthy way to get your organic chocolate in the morning is to mix it  with oatmeal.  I stopped adding dark chocolate chips to my oatmeal (a tradition introduced by my own mother, no less) when my wife insisted that I was setting a bad example for the kids, but in my mind this discussion is not over.  At any rate, if you put a small cocoa nib into a child’s mouth, they will soon spit it out, so there is no worry that they will be begging for nibs every morning.   This will make two servings:

  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-4 tablespoons organic cocoa nibs
  • Butter to taste (optional)
  • Brown sugar to taste (recommended)

Mix in the nibs after the oatmeal is cooked.  I like the granola, but I liked this even better.  The nibs are subdued and coated by the oatmeal and the contrast between the soft oatmeal and the nibs is much more dramatic than with oatmeal.  Something about the warmth of the oatmeal and the aromatic nuttiness of the organic nibs makes this an exotic comfort food.

So break out of your morning routine and add some excitement with chocolate – the breakfast of champions.

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Notes: [1] Actually, you can try it if you want.  I haven’t tried it with coated nibs, but the coating would certainly melt away in oatmeal, so it seems like a waste, right? [2] I paid for all of the ingredients myself.

How to Make a Fine Organic Chocolate Martini

The 100% Organic Chocolate Martini

The 100% Organic Chocolate Martini. Cheers!

As we get ready for New Years, I decided to prepare a unique concoction – a chocolate martini.  Well, not just a chocolate martini, but one made from 100% organic ingredients.  There are plenty of chocolate martini’s out there, but most are made with some sweet liqueur such as Creme de Cacao or Godiva Chocolate Liqueur.  I have nothing against these drinks, but they are really more of a cocktail than a martini.  A martini is inherently dry (and technically made from Gin, but we’re in the vodka camp here).  So, how do you to make a chocolate martini that’s essentially void of sugar?  It’s not hard, but will take a little preparation.  Start about 3 days or more before New Years.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A bottle of high-quality organic vodka
  • 1/2 cup organic cacao nibs
  • A large clean bowl
  • A funnel (not pictured)
  • A cocktail shaker
  • A cocktail strainer
  • Some cheesecloth (not pictured)
  • A sieve
  • Organic cocoa powder for rimming (optional)
  • Organic chocolate to shave as a garnish (recommended)
What you'll need

What you'll need to make an organic vodka martini. (L to R): cocktail strainer, cocktain shaker, organic vodka, jigger, metal sieve, large clean bowl, and organic cacao nibs

I used Crop Organic Artisanal Vodka simply because it was on sale ($25 before discount for 750mL). By itself it tastes clean up front with a smooth, round buttered-corn note on the finish.  I’m not an expert on vodka, but this one seemed well above average.   Other organic vodkas include Rain Vodka, Vodka 14Organic Nation ON Vodka and TRU Vodka.  Some might dispute the value of organic vodka[1], but many of these companies are also employing green business practices and organic farming is generally better for the earth.  That’s enough to sway me.

Cacao nibs

Organic Cocoa Nibs Ready to Add to Vodka

For cacao nibs, I used Taza organic roasted nibs.   Taza Chocolate roasts their nibs “low and slow” to preserve the natural fruity flavor of the bean.  After using them for this recipe, I was delighted to find plenty left over in the can to mix into oatmeal or over ice cream.  By the way, don’t use chocolate-coated nibs.  They are great as a snack, but won’t work for this recipe.

Thirty hours into the extraction the organic vodka is turning a reddish amber.

Thirty hours into the extraction the organic vodka is turning a reddish amber.

Now, simply pour out about a half cup of vodka from the bottle and replace it with a half cup of nibs.  If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize quickly that the half cup of vodka that you poured out of the bottle now has no home.  I sat and thought about this for a while until I started sipping away at it, still trying to find a solution to this storage problem, but coming up dry.  Oh well, if you all have some ideas, please post it in the comments section.  Now, back to the recipe.  Let the mixture steep for 2-4 days shaking the bottle lightly once per day.  I extracted the nibs for three days, but I believe two days should be adequate and after four days, you are probably reachng the point of diminishing returns.  I tasted the nibs that came out of the bottle on Day 3, and they were almost tasteless with little left to give.

After three days, the vodka is a deeper red and ready to filter.

After three days, the vodka is a deeper red and ready to filter.

After three days, filter out the nibs by pouring the contents of the bottle through some cheese cloth placed inside a metal sieve.  Collect the vodka in a very clean bowl.  After rinsing out the bottle, return the contents to the bottle using a funnel.  Now you will have some 100% organic chocolate vodka ready to mix.  Mine turned out a nice amber-red color, but it will depend upon the nibs you use and how long they are extracted.

The 100% Organic Chocolate Martini

OK, here’s the easy part.  Lightly wet the rim of a chilled martini glass with water and run it through a pile of organic cocoa.  I found it hard to get a nice uniform cocoa line on the rim, but decided I didn’t care.  Shake the organic chocolate vodka in a cocktail shaker filled with ice until the outside feels super-cold.  Strain into the glass and take a sip.  Wait! Get any thoughts of sweetness out of your head before you raise the glass to your lips!  This is a real dry martini and the chocolate flavor, really be more accurately described as a cocoa flavor, is an aquired taste.  Unique, aromatic, somewhat pungent. Give it a few slow sips before passing judgement.  If you still crave some sweetness, try this variation:

Orange Chocolate Martini:

The orange chocolate martini garnished with shaved organic chocolate

The orange chocolate martini garnished with shaved organic chocolate

  • 2 oz. organic chocolate vodka (follow recipe above)
  • 1/2 oz orange liqueur such as Cointreau.  No more than 1/2 and ounce or you will overwhelm the cocoa.

I don’t know of any organic orange liquers, but if you do, let us know.  Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker until the outside of the shaker is super-cold.  Garnish with shavings of organic chocolate.  I recommend going to the extreme of 100% raw chocolate from Pacari.  A sweeter option would be Grenada Chocolate company’s 71% cacao bar.  You can use a cheese grater to create the shavings, but don’t use a micro-zester.

From here let your creativity run away.  If you want to go sweeter with the orange, OK, but keep in mind the chocolate flavor will start to get lost.  What’s nice is the contrast of chocolate shavings agaist white, so you can try:

Mochachino Martini

  • 1 1/2 oz. organic chocolate vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Kahlua
  • 1 oz. Bailey’s

Mocha Martini

  • Same as above, but with no Bailey’s

Where to buy the ingredients:

  • Organic vodka – Rain and Crop are available nationally.  The others maybe too, but I have not seen them as abundantly in my area.
  • Taza organic roasted cacao nibs at NewLeaf Chocolates. – click here.

Cheers and happy holidays!

For more drink recipes using cacao-infused vodka, see this new post.

Notes:  [1]Some people doubt the value of “organic” when it comes to vodka since producers are simply starting with organic grain and, in the end, it might just be a marketing ploy.  I have to admit that I have not researched this technically at all, but my simple assessment is that if there are residual pesticides in the grain or potatoes and they are volatile enough, then there is no reason why traces can’t make it through the whole process all the way past distillation and into the bottle.  Arguably, distillation is a purification process and other steps are taken to purify vodka, but it doesn’t mean that all the bad stuff is gone. You might consider vodka to be bad stuff too, so let’s put it all in context.  After all, if you drink too much vodka, too often, then you will have bigger problems than potential traces of pesticides.

Furthermore, if you focus only on the health issues for the consumer, you’re missing the full picture.  Pesticides and other chemicals can be harmful for the environment and for the farm workers who apply them to the fields.  For me, this is the strongest case for organic vodka.   I made an organic vodka martini because I thought it would be fun, but I don’t know if it’s any better for my health than good old fashioned vodka.  Either way, please drink responsibly.

[2] I paid for all ingredients myself.

Pacari Dark Chocolate Covered Nibs


Roasted cocoa beans (left) are cracked and winnowed to get at the nibs (center).

Roasted cocoa beans (left) are cracked and winnowed to get at the nibs (center).

Part way through the chocolate making process, after the beans are roasted, cracked and then winnowed to remove the shells,  you’ve got nibs.  Nibs are the meat of the bean and normally ground to make cocoa liqueur which continues on to become chocolate.  You could eat nibs alone at this point and enjoy a fresh, minimally-processed food that’s high in antioxidants, but they would be too bitter for most of us (except as a topping on other foods).  Coat them with chocolate, and voila – the best of both worlds – a fresh, raw center contrasting with a smooth, sweeter shell.

Pacari Chocolate produces an amazing array of bars and coated product from single-origin organic chocolate from Ecuador.

Although I’ve already reviewed some bars with nibs added, this is the first review of straight chocolate-covered nibs.  Since nibs can’t really be compared to bars, I’m not going to offer a rating, but just keep it light and offer some impressions.

WHAT:  Pacari Organic Dark Chocolate Covered Nibs.  Cocoa origin: Ecuador from Arriba National cacao.  2oz (57g) Price range: $$$

WHEN: 7 August, 2009

Pacari Organic Dark Chocolate Covered Nibs. Note the red-brown color.

Pacari Organic Dark Chocolate Covered Nibs. Note the red-brown color.

AROMA: Inviting vanilla, toast, tobacco.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Apple, pear, citrus, honey.

MIDDLE TASTE: Blueberry, strawberry, fresh melon, almond, tea.

FINISH: Pistachio, cedar, burlap, tobacco.  There is a period where all the sweetness and fruit disappears and you have some astringency and bitterness, but it was surprisingly mild and not unpleasant.

TEXTURE:  Not as crunchy as you might expect. Remember cocoa beans are fermented, roasted, and ground making them softer and developing flavors along the way.  Towards the finish there is a somewhat fibrous sensation for a while, but this goes away pretty fast and the nibs completely disappear.  Nothing unpleasant.

LAST BITE: I’m not going to assign a numerical rating, but would highly recommend that you try these nibs.  The intensity of the fruit notes rivaled any bar that I’ve tasted.  You won’t have the kind of balance of creaminess, sweetness, fruitiness that you’ll find in a bar and certainly there is nothing smooth about the texture, but you will find a very interesting, assertive flavor profile that brings you closer to the raw bean.

You might also want to take a look at this more recent review on some of Pacari’s bars.

Disclosures:  I paid for this chocolate myself.