“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz
We have a secret. We’re kind of obsessed with chocolate.
Okay, we know—it’s not really a secret at all.
We make it a point to indulge in at least a little—or a lot of—chocolate everyday. If we are making a grocery list, we actually write chocolate down on it, like we could possibly forget to pick it up otherwise. And we always choose those desserts like “Death by Chocolate” or “Chocolate Lover’s Bliss”. (Come to think of it, I’m even sipping on a “Chocolate Dream Smoothie” right now.)
So when we strolled past a ‘learn how to make chocolate inside’ sign after our afternoon of horseback riding, we couldn’t resist the gravitational pull to find out more.
We were in for a sweet treat with Rainforest Chocolate Tours.
Less of a tour and more of a lesson, we learned how to make chocolate beneath an open-air pavilion, surrounded by cocoa plants, vanilla pods, palm trees, and the ubiquitous Arenal Volcano. But though we were physically present in this garden oasis, class would begin with a bit of time travel…all the way back to the days of the Mayans.
The Story of Cocoa
Cocoa beans have long held importance in Mesoamerica, and were actually used as a form of currency in many countries, Costa Rica included. The delight of consuming cocoa first came to us in the form of a chocolate drink. A mixture of cocoa, water, red pepper, vanilla, and other various spices, it’s said that Spanish soldiers actually took to calling the beverage ‘caca water’ (or poop water) because of its bitter taste and unappetizing appearance. Chocolati was a favorite drink among Mayan royalty though; they might have drunk up to 60 cups of the frothed beverage each day, most likely for the mood enhancing benefits. The Spanish would later adjust the chocolate drink to European tastes, adding sugar to create the chocolate we know now.
The Process of Making Chocolate
With a basic history of cocoa upon us, it was now time to learn how to make chocolate.
This was my first time holding a cocoa pod, and I was quite surprised by what I saw. Rough, leathery and yellow, a pod can hold up to 50 large cocoa beans—though keep in mind it takes up to 400 beans to create 1 pound of chocolate! It takes a week for the beans to obtain their familiar appearance, after the sweet, white pulp has liquefied and the fermentation process finished. The beans are then dried in the sun for another five or so days before they are roasted to develop their flavor. After being crushed and ground (originally by hand), the cocoa is soft and fine, ready for cooking.
The Taste Testing
Now comes our favorite part of the tour—the actual eating of the chocolate!
First up was a modern interpretation of the Mayan chocolati drink. Our guides showed mercy on us by adding a bit of sugar. We easily gulped down two or three cups, adding different spices like vanilla, chili, and pepper, each concoction surprising and enlightening our taste buds. When we had finally had enough of drinking our chocolate, we moved on to savoring its gooey form. Still hot from the stove on which the cocoa had been boiled with water and sugar, we filled our spoons up with rich, pure melted dark chocolate. In similar form to the chocolate drink, we mixed and matched different spices. My personal favorite came from adding chocolate nibs, or pieces of cocoa, to the already melted chocolate. Did I mention we can be a bit obsessed?
The chocolate concoctions kept coming until we could finally take no more. Luckily we didn’t feel guilty about our indulgence for a second—from the caffeine, phenylethylamine (love chemical), anandamide (natural high), tryptophan (serotonin), theobromine (mood elevators) and flavanoids (antioxidants), we were feeling pretty good. And with that in mind, it’s no wonder the Mayans consumed 60 mugs of cocoa a day!
Everything about our afternoon with Rainforest Chocolate Tour was fantastic—the setting, the guide, and the chocolate… we could go on and on! It was the perfect way to spoil ourselves while also learning about Costa Rican history and culture. The chocolate tour is quite affordable, ringing in at only $20 per person. Just make sure you come on an empty stomach so you can enjoy all the chocolatey-goodness your heart desires!
We were guests of Rainforest Chocolate Tours as part of our #yourRica blog trip. All thoughts and opinions remain our own. We hand-select the companies we work with to ensure we only bring you top-quality businesses and services.
Such a tasty post! I wish I did a chocolate tour like this and learnt so much about chocolate and how to make it. You might have got from my comment that I’m a chocoholic :)
Franca recently posted…Five Tips and Pics for Berlin
Haha don’t worry, we are total chocoholics too :) The day’s just not complete without a little bit of chocolate in it! You would totally love a tour like this! I bet there are lots of similar ones in Europe.
Dan, you come by that love of chocolate from a couple of generations back…Granny always kept a stash of chocolate!
Great to learn more about its origins.
Good minds think alike! ;D
Oooh, this looks like it was a lot of fun! Zab and I did a similar workshop in Lima, though we didn’t get to see, feel or smell any actual cocoa pods; we just started from the dried and fermented beans. We also tried the traditional Mayan drink, but we were given it the original way; unsweetened. It was weird. I found that adding honey didn’t make it much better – it was sort of sweet and sour and bitter all at the same time.
Sam recently posted…Travel Diary: 2013, Week #45
Hmmm… sweet, sour and bitter? Doesn’t sound as delicious as just good ol’ hot chocolate :) It was definitely cool to see the cocoa pods, but as I’m sure you would agree, the best part was just taste testing all the chocolate anyway!
“Just make sure you come on an empty stomach …” most definitely :)
Exciting chocolate tour!
Rachel M recently posted…Hybrid Solar Eclipse – Views from …
Yum! When I visited CR way back in 2003, I went to a coffee bean making farm and they had chocolate covered coffee beans, I fell in love with Costa Rica that day.
Chanel @ La Viajera Morena recently posted…Photo of the Week: A Moment in Time (Paris)
Haha sounds like true love to me! Do you remember where it was at? We also did a night coffee and jungle tour, but I know alternatively they offered a coffee and chocolate testing. It was in Monteverde :)
Wow, I totally want to do this! We went to a chocolate museum in Belgium and my daughter got to help stir the giant vat of chocolate, but it was nothing as complete as your day.
Rhonda Albom recently posted…Land Shark Spotted in Auckland (A bit of Shark Bus Humor for WW*Linky)
It was a wonderful afternoon, for sure :) But a chocolate museum sounds pretty amazing too, especially in Belgium!
That’s a cooking class I would enjoy :) Have pinned it and will add it my directory listing of cooking class reviews on website shortly! Lovely photos and I’ll need to choose one! (if that is ok of course :) )
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Of course, thanks so much for including us in the directory! I vote for the photo of Dan looking goofy ;)
Haha I had a picture of you up there first but have now changed it to the picture of Dan :) You can check it out here: http://www.roamingcooking.com/portfolio-archive/reviews-cooking-classes-central-america/
Jacqui recently posted…Is it the Guacamole making The Goats on the Road so Damn Happy?
Omg! I am going to make some hot chocolate right now. I know…it’s not the same but now you have made me crave it. Thanks for sharing and for making me chubby ;-)
P.S.- the best hot chocolate I have ever had was at Angelina’s in Paris. Best chocolate I found was in Amsterdam.
P.S.S.- Your pictures are great!!
Julie recently posted…One Of My Favorite London Brands: Jo Malone
Thank you so much! And thanks for the hot chocolate recommendation in Paris :D We are tentatively planning to be there for our three year anniversary in May, and I’m already making a list of all the best places to eat and drink. Hope you enjoyed your hot chocolate!! ;)
Who doesn’t love chocolate! Interesting about adding a touch of chili to the hot chocolate – it probably spices it up just a notch (have to try that at home :-).
Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Ode to wild African animals in photos and video
Let us know how it goes for you! The flavors actually do work so well together!
This sounds incredible! I had never really thought of all the work that went into making chocolate, I guess I just kind of thought that it grew on trees, which I guess in a way it does, but I had no idea so much extra was required to make it so delicious. Looks like you guys had a great time and now you know that so long as you only drink 59 cups of cocoa a day, you’re actually showing a lot of restraint compared to those wild Mayans!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Moreish Muar
Haha fantastic point! I definitely couldn’t believe how many cocoa beans were actually needed just to make one chocolate bar. It definitely makes you appreciate good chocolate a little bit more :) Congrats btw on your success in the Himalayas! Can’t wait to hear more about it.
I have never done a chocolate tasting tour but as a lover of chocolate I wouldn’t mind at all!
I did participate in a chocolate making class in Peru and they gave us a little bit of background in the history of cocoa use, the plantations, etc.. but it focused mainly on making the chocolate paste and bars. Still, a very good experience too! :)
Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…FOOD PORN: a year of Food Around the World
The chocolate paste and bars is definitely the best part anyway :) Sounds like Peru is a popular place to take the chocolate making classes! I would love to do that as well :)
This looks like the best tour EVER! Though I bet the caffeine/sugar rush was intense afterwards :-)
Heather recently posted…Chinese Words and Phrases for Foreigners
When it comes to chocolate, the benefits will always outweigh the consequences :-p
This tour sounds like a dream come true! I would love to go on a chocolate tasting tour sometime! We are both chocolate lovers too :)
Lauren recently posted…Caribbean Cruise – Rest of Nassau, Bahamas (Day 2)
We are suckers when it comes to chocolate :-)
Love the post and two chocolate tastings come to mind for me. 1. I went on a tour of Theo Chocolate in Seattle. That is my “go to” chocolate when I am at home. 2. A small warm liquid chocolate, served in an espresso cup that we had in Barcelona on Las Ramblas… divine!
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I just came back from a trip to Costa Rica. Close to my hotal is the Sibu Chocolates shop. The two people who own it went to France to become Master Chocolatiers. They hand make their fabulous chocolates totally from scratch starting with the pods. As much as I love and have eaten wonderful chocolates from countries in western Europe (including while being there), I was really taken with Costa Rican chocolate–it has a floral fragrance like no other. It’s hard to find in the U.S.
That’s so awesome! We love Sibu chocolates – there is a coffee shop near our house that sells them and it’s hard to resist picking up a bar just about every time I go in! ;)