Wednesday, January 13, 2016

1/13/16 entry continued

After lunch, we loaded into the bus and headed off to a tour of a chocolate plantation. Sounds fun right? You have no idea. None. So, Costa Rica is home to several indigenous tribes, the owners of this plantation were called the Bribri (pronounced bree-bree). The peppy gentleman giving us our tour never actually took us to see the cocoa trees, though we did see a few. Instead he basically lead us through the jungle/his back yard and showed us indigenous medicine. On our first stop, at a table lined in bowls made from gourds, he showed us seed instruments (which as a former flute player and aspiring pan-pipe player I could play. Kind of.). He then asked for a volunteer without nail-polish on (in Spanish as he spoke no English but perfect Bribri. We spoke the second so our professor translated.) and I stepped forward. Apparently I had volunteered to be the guinea pig for pretty much all his demonstrations so I was immediately rewarded a necklace as compensation. He had me pick a dyed-plant fiber cord and then quickly whittled a seed into the shape of a dolphin and strung it. I wear it still, I love it. Then we moved on to the next thing where he quickly dug up a root, skinned the end, grabbed my hand with enough enthusiasm to make me very wary and colored my pointer fingernail bright yellow with the root. Apparently turmeric is indigenous to Central America. Next we were given the berries that change sour to sweet. I didn't get to try it as I felt I had already had my turn to volunteer (not that I didn't want to try, I did.). Apparently it really works. Fun! Next was the seed pod he dragged off a tree, crushed the soft seeds with my pointer finger griped tight in his firm grip and then told me to use the nearby mirror (strategically placed) to paint my lips bright red. Thankfully I and the others who joined me didn't end up looking like clowns but our translating professor dyed his nose when we tried to insist he paint his lips too to placate us. It worked. Our guide pulled a giant spider out of an epiphyte, showed us the rubber tree, gave us welts with a plant that is used as the medical equivalent of stamping on your foot to take your mind off your headache, showed us up at archery, pointed out a random cocoa tree and finally lead us back around to the main buildings where two women waited to show us the second part of the tour.

This was when we got to the chocolate part of the tour. A bowl of dried cocoa seeds were dumped into a pan over the fire where we stirred them constantly for twenty minutes, when they started to pop like popcorn. As we waited, a ripe cocoa pod was passed around for us to try. Not the seeds like you might think, but the pulp surrounding them. It tastes like a cross between mango and pineapple and is delicious. I respect chocolate even more than I did before (which was a whole lot). Once cooked, we gave the seeds an initial grinding with rocks before tossing the chaff off them and putting them through an industrial grinder, much like a coffee grinder. What came out of that grinder can only be described as cocoa butter. If you have ever seen fresh ground nut butter, it looked like that, but less oily. We were encouraged to dip our fingers in and try it. I did so with trepidation, no sugar had been added after all. It tasted like chocolate and the open fire and so wonderful I didn't know if I could ever enjoy regular chocolate again (I can, I checked.). Then part of our chocolate paste was placed in a pot of heated water that had been sitting over the stove along with a lot of sugar and we had hot chocolate. Again, it was absolutely delicious. Dark and smoky with a warm sweetness infusing it. I was in love. They added sugar to the remaining chocolate next but honestly, I preferred the unsweetened, it was less rich (or I had just had way too much chocolate. I suppose it is possible. For some. Probably.). We took a photo with our tour guide and chef before we climbed back into the bus and headed back home for an hour before going to a slightly redundant dinner. I slept like a log despite all the caffeine I had ingested. I don't know about everyone else, but that day was the highlight of our week traveling.

Below are photos of the chocolate making process and me in my ridiculous paint. Laugh if you like, I did. (In no way are these photos to be shared, copied or otherwise reproduced and/or distributed)

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