Hidden in a corner of La Fortuna is a small farm. Faces smile, and trees make their way slowly toward the sky. These trees bear a very special fruit. Pluck one (which looks like a long purple football) from a tree, crack it open and you will find a milky mess of seeds and pulp. Place a seed in your mouth, taste the sweet white covering. Take the seed out it in a box with the others. Your saliva has inoculated it with beneficial bacteria, helping it to ferment. The chocolate-making process has begun.
The best part about the chocolate tour for me was, oddly, a sense of community. My mother faithfully attends the tours with her guests whenever somebody comes to visit. She adores the place and it loves her back. When we arrive, one of the tour guides gives her a hug and asks about the Cacao tree she gave my mom. “Do you have photos?” she asks. “I’ll bring some next time.” I think about the little cacao tree that is growing near our front door.
We wander through the little plantation as our guide imparts to us the history and economic structures of chocolate. We learn how to avoid supporting slavery and how to find real chocolate, which still has cocoa butter.
A soft-spoken gardener teaches us to hand-pollinate the flowers, and we are treated to a first-hand demonstration of the fermenting and drying process. We also learned about the traditional Mayan drink—the first chocolate ever to be consumed by humans—and are given some to try.
What is the best part of the chocolate tour? For most, it is the end. With careful guidance from our guides, we made chocolate. And, of course, we had to taste it. Our guide gestures elegantly to a line of jars, containing spices and toppings like coffee, chili, cardamom, and vanilla. We each take a spoonful of chocolate and add our preferred toppings. I choose almonds and coconut. A friend chooses raisins and peanuts. The freshness and integrity of this home-grown chocolate does make a difference. Its taste is rich, full, and benevolent. “Come around as many times as you like,” they said. Bliss.