Tucked away in the lush green jungle that lines Costa Rica’s dazzlingly blue Caribbean coast, home to some of the finest cacao in the world, lives the locally-sourced, organic, fair-trade, “Costa Rican” version of Willy Wonka. They are Jeanne and Pablo, master chocolate makers and founders of bean-to-bar company CariBeans Coffee and Chocolate.
Anyone can visit their beachside chocolate forest (cacao farm) and factory, just a 15-minute walk from the eclectic backpacker’s paradise of Puerto Viejo, for one of their daily tours. The tour’s grand finale is a chocolate tasting in their open-air lounge overlooking the same vast expanse of Caribbean Sea where ships once sailed to export the region’s coveted cacao. While tasting different single-origin bars from a variety of local cacao farmers, each with distinct flavor profiles, one can see how the region has reclaimed the rewards of its own (cacao) fruits.
But for the hardcore chocolate lover, Jeanne and Pablo have developed a program that blows their already phenomenal chocolate forest tour out of the water: the Chocolate Maker’s Dream Vacation. This seven-day package is the Napa Valley tour for chocolate connoisseurs. It is designed to be both a relaxing, beautiful Costa Rican getaway and an educational, hands-on immersion into the world and business of micro-batch bean-to-bar chocolate making. We have done our research, and truthfully, no other place in the world offers an experience like this one.
Your home base is a beautiful lodge in the chocolate forest surrounded by monkeys, butterflies, and hibiscus flowers, where you’ll wake up to the sounds of beautiful songbirds and the smell of Costa Rican coffee freshly roasted and brewed just for you. You will tour the farm to learn about the entire process of chocolate-making, from selecting cacao beans to packaging the finished bars, and wrap up with a tapas and wine party overlooking the moonlit Caribbean sea. But that’s only the first day.
With the guidance of master chocolatiers, you will spend most of your days as a chocolate scientist of sorts, experimenting with different types of beans, roasting methods, spices, and herbs to create a variety of custom batches of chocolate, fine-tuned to your liking. At the end of it all, you’ll fly home with a pretty unique souvenir – 5 pounds of chocolate handmade by you.
Exploring Costa Rica
While your chocolate is refining and conching (you’ll learn what these terms mean), you’ll have ample time to explore Costa Rica’s cloud forests and waterfalls, spot jungle wildlife, and, if you’re up for the adventure, even raft the rapids of the Pacuare River, touted by National Geographic as one of the greatest rivers in the world. If you prefer to spend your free time surfing or tanning on pristine beaches, you can take a bike along the coastal path right in front of CariBeans in either direction, and you’ll encounter miles upon miles of turquoise and coral beaches, each one slightly different than the last. In the evenings, head into town for a taste of Puerto Viejo’s top-rated local and international cuisine and vibrant nightlife.
Starting a Chocolate Farm
CariBeans began about ten years ago when a friend of Jeanne and Pablo’s asked if they would like to be the caretakers of his farm and allowed them to build a small coffee shop in front of it. One day while exploring the land, they discovered acres upon acres of cacao plants. As serendipity would have it, the forest had handed them the opportunity to turn their humble coffee shop into so much more. Having spent years learning about everything from the region’s chocolate history to raising high quality cacao plants to perfecting their chocolate-making methods, Jeanne and Pablo grew their coffee shop into an award-winning specialty chocolate business that is now woven into the fabric of the region’s thriving cacao culture.
For more information, to order some of their chocolate, or to register for their one-of-a-kind Chocolate Maker’s Dream vacation, visit Jeanne and Pablo at www.caribeanscr.com.