Searching for Chocolate in Costa Rica: Day 2 – Echo Books and Chocolate Lounge

Echo Books Cocles, Costa Rica

Echo Books Cocles, Costa Rica

At the end of the dirt road where we are staying, within walking distance, is a small bookshop and “lounge” called Echo Books.  It’s got a decent collection of new and used books such as travel guides, Costa Rica guides, fiction and magazines.  They also have a trade-in deal where you get store credit when you bring in your finished beach reads.  Beyond books, there’s  free WiFi, coffee, hot chocolate and handmade chocolate.

After trying a sample in the store, I was convinced to buy a large bar of dark chocolate.  They handed me a bar just pulled out of the fridge, the only reasonable thing to do in a tropical jungle environment despite the air conditioning, and after chatting with the owner a bit, I ran back to the bungalow to give it a taste.
Echo Books Dark Chocolate Bar 70%

Echo Books is clearly working in small batch to make this single origin dark chocolate. The packaging tells it all without telling much.

By the time I got back here, there was plenty of condensation on the wrapper and the bar had already started to soften into a glorious mess, but what do you expect for 85F+  and high humidity.  It didn’t matter because the stuff is quite impressive for such a small operation.  Now,  I’m eating slices off the end of my jackknife, not because I’m standing deep in the jungle, but because I’m enjoying this chocolate too much to get off the porch,  walk into the bungalow and get a proper knife.  Besides, we can sit here and watch birds and giant blue butterflies fly through the yard 10 feet away.

Here are some impressions on what I’m tasting.

WHAT:  Echo Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao. About 75g.  Ingredients: Since the label contains no information, I’m guessing organic dark chocolate (cacao beans / cacao solids / cacao liquor) sugar, cacao butter, cocoa.  From the texture and flavor, I don’t believe there was any soy lecithin nor vanilla.

Echo Books 70% Dark Chocolate Bar Open
I’m neither surprised nor disturbed to see bloom on this bar that was starting to soften in a bath of tropical air. The aroma was a potent mix of coffee, leather and florals, intensified by the heat.

WHEN:  February 18, 2011

OVERALL RATING:  81.

AROMA:  This is obviously fresh stuff with intense coffee, leather, and espresso notes mixed with more subtle lavender and rose.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Buttered toast, brown sugar.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Blueberry, butter, almonds, lavender.

FINISH:  Brown sugar, molasses, nuts, cappuccino, and finally – bread & butter.  No bitter or off notes.

TEXTURE:  Smooth with moderately fine grain.  There is no way I can talk about snap or whether it was well-tempered or not since it quickly became soft and pliable in the heat.

Where to buy:  for now they are only available in the shop – Echo Books, Cocles, Costa Rica.  Pass through the town of Puerto Viejo, heading south.  About 1 mile after you leave the busiest stretch of Puerto Viejo,  turn right down the unpaved road just before  Om Yoga.  There is a small sign directing you to Echo Books.  Hours:  11- dark Wednesday to Sunday.  Accessable by car, bike, scooter, or foot.

The Covered Patio at Echo Books
Grab a coffee, sit outside on their patio under a thatch roof and check your email.

LAST BITE – Eating this bar was proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  An impressive effort aided in part by freshness  – I have to give a strong thumbs up to these guys.

The owner told me the cacao comes from a farm inland that is organic and almost has their fair-trade certification.  It’s great to see not only the cacao industry in Costa Rica bouncing back after a fungus devastated the trees in the late 70’s , but it’s also catching right up to the modern day with organic and fair trade operations.

How to get there: to Puerto Viejo and neighboring Cocles and Playa Chiquita:  Fly to San Jose International Airport.  You have a number of options to get down to Puerto Viejo:

Rent a Car:  Having a car in Puerto Viejo is not essential, but very useful since there are a variety of beaches and wildlife preserves to explore.  Your alternative is to do a lot of biking or walking and use paid tours to shuttle you around.  With a car you can make your own schedule and save your energy for the waves.

After leaving customs, you will find the rental car agencies.  We had a horrible time with Economy Rental Car.  They said they would wait for us, but they gave away our car, the last car,  by the time we arrived at midnight leaving us standing around with two tired young kids in tow.

We stayed in San Jose for one night and then negotiated with Economy on the phone the next day. After hanging up on us twice and speaking to us in a semi-belligerent manner, they said they would find us a car if we went to their city rental office.  After another taxi ride and an additional one and a half hours of negotiation with my wife and I taking turns in tag-team fashion, we got a 4-wheel drive for nearly 50% above the original reservation price.  This is part of the adventure I’d rather skip, so pay a little more and go with a better rental company from the start.

From San Jose, head south on route 32 towards Limon.  The highway entrance is not easy to find, so get good directions from the rental agency and be prepared to stop and ask (you can find enough people who know English in the city).  I personally would not start this trip in the dark. Travel 158 KM to Limon and be prepared to drive slowly over mountain passes on often pot-holed roads.  This will take some time, so chill out.

When you are nearly to the center of Limon, you will see a sign for “Puerto Viejo” and “Cocles. ” Take this right and expect a few one-lane bridges along the way.  There is one Y-junction that is unmarked where you should bear left.  Beyond that, just keep on straight and you will know when you have reached Puerto Viejo by the abundance of well-lit restaurants, bars, shops and inns.  Puerto Viejo is something like one hour from Limon.  Maybe less.

Taxi or limo:  as you exit the airport, you will be ambushed by guys telling you that you cannot go out the door with the luggage carts, but they are happy to move your bags on their dollies.  Of course, they will move them about 30 feet to the curb and ask for a tip.  So, unless you see this as some form of charity, politely and forcefully say “no thanks.”  The official taxi drivers will move your bags for you and you are already going to tip them.   Just before the exit doors, there is a taxi window where you can arrange a cab downtown, for instance, if you arrive at night and need a place to rest before heading south.

Taking a taxi all the way to Puerto Viejo would be very expensive, but you should be able to hire a shuttle service for $100-$200 depending upon how many people are in your party (this a rough estimate – we were quoted $190 for 3 adults and two children).

Public Bus:  This is probably the least expensive route, but I can’t recommend it since it looks uncomfortable and I’m not sure if they stop much. It’s there as an option if you are travelling light.

Once you’re in Puerto Viejo, it’s possible to rent a car, bikes, scooters and maybe a 4-wheel ATV.  Bikes are a popular way to get around on the pot-hole-laden roads and not much slower than driving a car.

In a later post, I’ll give more information on where to stay and what to see in Puerto Viejo.

Notes:

[1] I paid for this chocolate myself.

[2] Day 1, 2, 3… are not necessarily calendar days, just days I found chocolate.

[3] I was unable to sort out what operations they are doing at Echo Books to “make” the chocolate, but this is not bean-to-bar.

4 responses to “Searching for Chocolate in Costa Rica: Day 2 – Echo Books and Chocolate Lounge

  1. Thanks for sharing Walter, I really enjoy your writing, have a nice stay and keep the dumbs up…
    Geert

  2. Thanks Geert! So many places to see and so little time and money. I would definitely come back to this place again.

  3. Of course, the owners had to leave the place and move back to the US after they were robbed and nearly murdered in their home by the locals.

  4. It was disappointing to see Echo Books gone when we returned in 2015. I think their situation may have been a little more complicated than some ex-pats running a book store, but I don’t know for sure so I won’t say any more. Still, no one deserves that treatment. I didn’t hesitate to bring my entire family back to Puerto Viejo and don’t consider it a dangerous place – at least relative to other unfamiliar places you might want to explore. If you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort and never leave the gates, there are better places for you. If you want some adventure and a “real” experience, Puerto Viejo rocks.

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