Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla & Spices. We went on these food tours during our visit to Costa Rica.
Coffee Tour -
On the same day we landed in Costa Rica, we visited Doka Estate in the afternoon for a Coffee Tour.
Its beautiful, family owned and one of the oldest estates in the country. Probably gets a lot of visitors to tour and buy coffee and related products. It was raining a bit on the day we visited.
We started off by looking at the coffee plantation and the saplings. Among other things, our tour guide explained the process of picking the ripe red berries which is a very laborious process. The pickers are very quick but make only around $4 per basket they pick.
We tasted the inside of the berries, the pulp that covers the beans. This sweet part is used to make coffee liquor, some of which we brought back.
We then went to see the mill where the berries are washed, sorted and dried in the sun.
This is where the good, bigger berries are separated from the smaller not so good ones.
The sorted and dried berries are then bagged. Most of the coffee is exported. The estate shop does roast and sell some as well.
Our guide explained the different roasts and what it means in terms of taste and caffeine content. How decaffeinated coffee is made. And about Peaberry – regular coffee berries have 2 beans inside them, but sometimes only one bean is formed. These peaberries are tastier as the flavor is concentrated in one single bean instead of two.
We are not coffee drinkers, but I enjoyed the tour and learning about the whole process and the different types of beans and roasts. And I did taste the different roasts and could see the difference in taste. It was a good tour.
Chocolate Tour –
At Tirimbina where we stayed, we went on a chocolate tour inside the forest. We had to cross the longest and tallest hanging bridge to get to the other side of the forest and then a short hike with our guide.
Once we got to the area where the Cacao trees grew, we could see the flowers, and the tiny little pods that grow from them and then the big ripe Cacao pods.
We also saw some small animals and birds which come for the sweet Cacao fruit.
We then got a demo of the process of making Chocolate. My little monkey was given the job of breaking open a Cacao pod just like monkeys would, by hitting it on a hard surface
Inside the pod, there are cacao beans covered by sweet pulpy fruit. Way back the indigenous people ate the fruit and threw away the seeds. Until at some time it must have fallen in fire and roasted and given out the sweet aroma, and hence came about chocolate.
These seeds are fermented and dried. Traditional way is to sun dry them. At this stage they don’t really taste good.
The seeds are then roasted and the skin is removed. These have a nutty taste and start tasting like chocolate.
The cocoa nibs are ground in a stone grinder using a hot stone. We got to try this.
Some raw sugar and cinnamon were mixed in and then ground to a finer powder. Kids had fun doing this. Tasted yummy!
Our cocoa expert then mixed it with hot water to make Cocoa drink. And then froth was created by churning the mixture.
We got to taste this with different spices such as pepper, nutmeg, chili, vanilla, etc (optional). Kids didn’t really like this drink At this stage it is pure 100% cacao and they don’t add milk.
Next the chocolate was melted to make yummy melted chocolate. My little one must have had atleast 6-7 spoonfuls.
Finally, they had made some dark and milk chocolates for us to taste.
We also were given bags of cocoa beans to take home. I should try roasting them and follow the whole process
I love chocolate, especially good quality dark chocolates. And these were one of the best if not the best that I’ve eaten. Straight from the source!! This was the best food tour during this trip for me. I like our little hike, the interactive element, and of course tasting all that chocolate!!
Vanilla & Spices Tour -
On our last day of traveling in Costa Rica, we decided to go to Villa Vanilla Rainforest Spice tour at Manual Antonio. It is a self sustained farm that grows several spices – Vanilla, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cardamom, Cocoa, etc.
As we went there, the Vanilla beans and Cocoa beans were being dried in the sun.
Our guide at the farm gave us some details about the Vanilla and on the process of growing it, drying it, using the bean and the extract. A good extract has alcohol in it to preserve. So next time you buy, look for it. Also Vanilla ages well and does not go bad for years and decades at room temperature.
She also talked about all the different spices grown at the farm.
There was this guy at the farm taking the bark out of the branches, it was cinnamon. We got to taste the wet bark which had a very strong taste of cinnamon. They are then dried and packed for sale.
We took a short walk through the farm where we saw the Vanilla plants/vines and Vanilla beans, Cacao trees, Pepper plants, Chili plants, Cinnamon trees etc.
Finally we went to a resting area that overlooked the beautiful green hills and enjoyed the several desserts they served made with different spices. Cinnamon Tea, Vanilla Bean Cheese Cake, Cardamom Ice Cream with Chocolate Brownie, and Hot Cocoa drink.
And of course I bought some of the overpriced spices.
Personally I felt that this spice tour was overpriced and not really worth it. I did enjoy all the treats!