I don’t say this to polarize—I say it because it’s the truth: y’all don’t know real chocolate!! Good news: The Don Olivo Chocolate Tour will change that.
While we were in La Fortuna, we had to deal with a lot of rain (we were there toward the beginning of rainy season). So we prayed we’d at least be able to do a chocolate tour during our three days there. Tours like this are very common in La Fortuna, so choose wisely!
Through some Google search results, we eventually stumbled upon The Don Olivo Chocolate Tour. Even though it was literally off the beaten path, we could not have made a better choice!! With three generations of creating handcrafted chocolate, they promised on their website that it’d be “The Most Delicious tour of your life,” as well as “A Great Cultural Adventure.” Well, sign us up, then!!
The patriarch of the farm, Don Otto, picked us up at the grocery store across the street from our AirBnB. Don Otto arrived in a beat-up yet cozy stick shift SUV that was running dangerously low on fuel. As I sat in the front (Daniella and her mom sat in the back), I kept glancing at the gas needle being on ‘E’ while concentrating hard on the Spanish conversation taking place between Don Otto and Daniella’s mom.
Of course, the edge-of-your-seat, running-out-of-gas approach didn’t phase this third generation chocolate farmer. His grandpa had owned and cultivated the land originally, and it was Don Otto’s dad, Don Olivo, who started doing chocolate tours the generation prior. Hence the name!
Right before arriving at the farm, the drive suddenly felt like we were on a Safari adventure. So many serious potholes covered the dirt road. Eventually, Don Otto parked by some impressive coconut and avocado trees.
As we marveled at these trees, out of nowhere, a young man opened the car doors and greeted us with a charming ear-to-ear smile.
Don Otto informed us the young man was his son. The resemblance between the two was perfect, except that, Josue was the V8 version of his father—taller, skinnier—you get the picture!!
Josue politely asked if we preferred the tour to be conducted en español or in English. We opted for English, and he was not frazzled. He conveyed every topic he touched on confidently and clearly. His passion for this land and the significance of it to his family was readily apparent. What a beautiful thing when young people embrace the legacy of previous generations!
As the tour continued, we did not see cacao right away. Instead, we first enjoyed a rejuvenating drink of squeezed sugar cane, fresh cut papaya (I usually can’t stand papaya, but these samples were heavenly), and, of course, pineapple.
While Josue did the talking, Don Otto would occasionally show up with a white bowl filled to the top with juicy tropical fruits. All of the fruit samples changed my life. We’ll never consider pineapple at the grocery store the same way.
To this day, we dream about the sugar cane drink and the process involved in extracting its goodness. The 100-year-old, hand-cranked machine used to squeeze the sugar cane. The amount of sweetness and natural juices a single sugar cane yields. The authentic flavor of raw, just cut sugar cane. And yet, this isn’t why we took a CHOCOLATE TOUR, is it??
If everything had ended with that sugar cane drink, it would have been well worth it…but the show must go on, and after we all had downed our agua dulces, we went back into the trees.
Along the way, we witnessed several mamon chino trees, which Josue effortlessly showed us how to open by hand. Plus some citrus trees, and even some REAL vanilla bean. When we finally encountered our first cacao tree, Josue really hit his stride and flicked on his Cacao Expert Mode.
We learned, to open cacao, you have to smash it against a tree trunk.
We learned you can suck on the cacao seeds inside, and that they’re actually more sour than they are sweet. Hence why most chocolate we buy in the United States contains laughable amounts of cacao, and so much sugar.
We learned that at one point chocolate was essentially a currency. For all the crypto enthusiasts out there: Cacaocoin, anyone??
We learned of the airborne disease that kills certain cacao as they grow on the tree. You can tell they’ve caught this disease by the color they become.
These diseased cacaos must be thrown on the ground, or they’ll continue to poison the others nearby. But it’s not wasteful to throw them to the ground. They become part of the forest again.
We learned that cacao seeds must first be FERMENTED for two days or up to two weeks before they can be enjoyed in a commercial sense. The labor of LOVE continues with roasting the beans (just as you roast coffee beans), to further develop the complex flavors and drive off the acidic flavor mentioned above!
The final step is cracking and winnowing post-roast to get rid of the shells. If done correctly, this can be done just by blowing on them. Josue made it seem like magic with his shell peeling skills.
All of this work yields about 30 kilograms of cacao per week. That’s quite a lot of chocolate if you ask us!
The Don Olivo Chocolate Tour was capped off with a final treat that tasted like no other. All the yummy things we tried culminated in the “Drink of the God’s.”
Basically it is fresh-roasted and deshelled cacao ground down to a thick powder-like consistency. The chocolate powder gets mixed in with some boiling milk. It then gets poured out into a glass to enjoy along with Maria galletas. This concoction can be sweetened to your liking with honey or sugar, which they keep on the table. To each their own!
Besides the “Drink of the God’s,” we had the chance to try little chocolate chunks prepared with just two ingredients: 90% cacao and 10% sugar cane. Since our taste buds are more accustomed to the bars we get here in the US, these little chunks were a breath of fresh air. We actually bought a small container of them before leaving the farm. We enjoyed those treats every day for the rest of our trip in Costa Rica!
While didn’t stay here, we got to step inside the Shrek-inspired cacao bungalow located right on the farm. It’s really cozy and cute, with good airflow and plenty of room too. If you’re keen on immersing yourself on the farm for a “muy autentico” experience, rather than a typical AirBnB, you may consider this option! Read more about the Shrek Bungalow on their AirBnB listing.
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