The trip was fantastic! I met a bunch of great people, including a few other chocolate makers. We know a lot about our own process but it was interesting to hear how other people approach some of the same challenges. We compared notes on machinery, roasting profiles, bean sourcing, permits, packaging, problems, etc.
Julio was an amazing guide to all things historical and natural, including this guy:
It was also great to pepper Steve with questions constantly about all kinds of topics (e.g. growing cacao, fermentation, drying, roasting, refining, bean genetics, monilia). Steve was extraordinarily generous, putting up with everything we threw at him without complaint.
I learned a bunch on the trip, particularly about how to select the best beans and what happens before they show up at our door. One of my favorite things we covered was the cut test using a device call a magra:
By cutting 50 beans all at once, we can inspect for ripeness, fermentation level, average size, and contamination and get a sense of the average quality of the beans in the bag being tested. We can then use that data to compare beans from a number of different growers and identify the best beans.
We also visited a number of different places cacao is grown in Costa Rica, including a large, well-run plantation (Finmac), a native Bribri settlement, and a “permaculture” facility. It was very interesting comparing the different techniques and results used by each group. Here’s the head of workers at Finmac showing a split open, ripe cacao pod:
It didn’t take long for people on the trip to figure out I’m a dog lover, as I’d stop to photograph many of the strays that seem to litter Costa Rica. They were often very thin and showed the scars of a tough life, but they were, for the most part, people friendly:
If you want to see more photos from my trip, I’ve posted the rest of them on Flickr.