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.

Notes:

[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.

MEXICAN MOCHACHINO

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

TOFFEE EGG NOG

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.

TAN WHISKEY ORANGE

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.

BASIC RECIPE FOR CACAO-INFUSED VODKA

(SHORT VERSION)

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!

Notes:

[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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