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Central America Travel: Sights from a Family Run Organic Chocolate Farm in Alajuela Provence, Costa Rica

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In this post we share our time at Tree Chocolate, a family owned and operated chocolate farm in Upala, Alajuela Provence, Costa Rica, which is located near the slopes of the Tenorio Volcano and within driving distance from Liberia and the Papagayo Peninsula.

During their time on the farm, visitors learn about each step of the chocolate-making process from planting to the final Chocolate Tsuru or Yok, a 100% handmade chocolate.


Logistics

  • Tree Chocolate: Website
  • Address: 5 KM east of the entrance of El Salto de Bijagua, road to Santa Rosa, Chocolate Tree, Upala, CR
  • Phone & WhatsApp: +(506) 8629-5537 +(506) 8309-5826
  • Email & Bookings: info@treechocolate.com

Map of Tree Chocolate Farm in Upala, Alajula Provence, Costa Rica

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History of Chocolate

The history of chocolate spans thousands of years across cultures throughout the world. It is believed that cacao originated in the Amazon Orinoco Basin more than 4,000 years ago. From its early origins in Mesoamerica, to its refinement in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, to present day West Africa leading the world’s cocoa supply, chocolate has left its mark on the world food scene.

Chocolate in Mesoamerica

  • Mayans: Cocoa served as a sacred food, sign of prestige, social centerpiece, and cultural touchstone
  • Throughout Mesoamerica cacao drinks became associated with high status and special occasions (Smithsonian, 2022)
  • Aztec: cacao beans were considered more valuable than gold (History.com, 2022)

Chocolate in Europe

  • 1500s: Spanish royalty enjoyed chocolate, thought to have been brought to the country from Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes (there are conflicting reports about the exact time when cocoa landed in Spain)
  • Mid-1800s: Dutch processing makes chocolate more affordable
  • 1847: British chocolatiers created the first chocolate bar
  • 1876: Swiss chocolatiers added dried milk powder to chocolate to create milk chocolate; work with Nestle to bring chocolate to the mass market

Chocolate in American Colonies

  • 1641: Spanish ship brings cocoa to Florida
  • 1682: First chocolate house opened in Boston
  • By 1773, cocoa beans were a major American colony import and chocolate was enjoyed by people of all classes

Chocolate in Africa

  • Late 1800s: cacao was introduced to the continent of Africa
  • Present day: around 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, namely Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana

A Visit to Tree Chocolate Farm

Garden Tour

The tour begins with a walkthrough of a garden and features different kinds of medicinal, ornamental and aromatic plants.

Cocoa Farm

Visitors next enter the cocoa plantation. The guide overviews:

  • Cocoa plantings
  • Different varieties of cocoa
  • Grafting process
  • The difference between male and female pollinators
  • Tree growth and development
  • Anatomy of a cocoa pod
  • How to harvest cocoa

Harvesting cocoa & cocoa processing

The word “cacao” is used in reference to the plant and its beans. The tree grows throughout the world and thrives in areas situated within twenty degrees north or south of the Equator.

The word “chocolate” is used when referring to products that derive from the fruit of cacao trees. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.

Chocolate Making Process

To end the tour, return to the entry area to learn about the process to ferment, dry, roast, shell, and ground tumble with sugar.

  • Tree Chocolate uses a meat mincer as a grinding machine to process the cocoa seed into a paste
  • From the paste, artisans add in cocoa butter, sugar and milk to create chocolate – different ratios change how the chocolate tastes
  • How chocolate is packed and sold in its different presentations, bar, cocoa butter and powder

Overview of how chocolate goes from bean to its final form

Differences between chocolate types

  • Milk Chocolate – sugar, milk or milk powder, cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, lethicin and vanilla
  • White Chocolate- sugar, milk or milk powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, lethicin and vanilla
  • Plain Dark Chocolate – cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, lethicin and vanilla

Additional Reading

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