From Monteverde we travelled through amazingly scenic green rolling hills (which reminded us of the English Lake District), across the Laguna de Arenal (a man made lake) and from there the short distance to La Fortuna. La Fortuna is located 4 km from the Arenal Volcano and like Monteverde is another mega Costa Rican hotspot for more extreme sports such as white water rafting and canyoning.
La Fortuna is fairly commercial and touristy but on the upside this means there is a good range of bars, shops and restaurants.
Rainforest Chocolate tour
Five members of our group of 12 Intrepid travellers hired a taxi which took us the short distance to the Rainforest Chocolate tour location, about 3 km outside of La Fortuna.
We began the tour with a lesson on the history of naturally produced Costa Rican chocolate with references of other chocolate locations from around the world.
We had a tour around the tropical gardens where our guide (Justin) explained the various stages of the growing cocoa plants. We also observed pink bananas growing in the gardens!
Following a presentation of the history of Costa Rican chocolate and a tour around the cocoa trees we began the long awaited practical chocolate making session 🙂
The gloopy cocoa seeds are removed from the fruit and dried in 5 stages. The gloopy slime helps to encourage fermentation (and also serves as nutrition for some rainforest creatures such as monkeys and squirrels). The whole process takes around a week, after which the beans are taken for further drying in a greenhouse.
When ready the cocoa beans are pummelled using a similar method to the rice pounding we tried while staying in the Philippine rice terraces although probably not quite as intense…
Sifting was a delicate process of shaking the pummelled cocoa beans and gently blowing through the sifted mixture as it fell into a container in order to remove the shells.
Next came the less delicate action of grinding them through a small grinding machine.
The ground beans are heated overnight in a traditional oven. Eventually some previously heated beans (reminiscent of Blue Peter’s “here’s one we prepared earlier”…) were melted and made into a chocolate drink.
We were able to taste the warm smooth chocolate drink which was rich, creamy and delicious and even more so when topped with a few marshmallows from the makeshift ‘Starbucks’ style counter!
Finally we were handed teaspoons to be filled with melted chocolate which again were finished off with a topping of choice. We sampled a ‘Justin special’ which was a teaspoon of warm melted chocolate topped with hibiscus, salt, vanilla essence and raisins which tasted divine especially when savoured slowly!
The tour and tasting session lasted for about 2 hours by which time we all agreed that those naturally occurring chocolate benefits had reached their ‘chocolate fix’ peak. All in all this was a sweet and delightful experience where we also discovered more about Costa Rican culture and the history of local chocolate making.