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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