Cocoa-Scented Dreams: A Chocolate Tour In Costa Rica

If your happy place involves rich dark chocolate in every form imaginable, then this post is going to tick all your boxes…

If the sentence above made you cringe, then I’m not sure we can be friends.  And also, this post may be your nightmare.  Because So. Much. Chocolate.

Chocolate truffles we made at La Iguana cocoa farm

When I knew another Costa Rica trip was in the cards for me, finding a way to do a chocolate tour quickly skyrocketed to the top of the itinerary list.  It was something @sjems5 and I wanted to do when we were in Costa Rica last time, but we couldn’t find any tour options near us (because apparently we’re bad at Googling, or possibly La Iguana wasn’t offering tours at the time).

Surprisingly I only found a few options for chocolate tours in Costa Rica—I expected many more!  But while I found a few options for this trip, it quickly became apparent that La Iguana was by far the best choice.

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So we got it booked and headed up there on our first morning in the country.  We were driving from Manuel Antonio, and quickly realized that the roads up to La Iguana aren’t for the faint of heart…particularly after the insane amount of rain they’d had recently.  I won’t make you motion-sick by embedding the video here, but suffice to say we were thoroughly jolted when we arrived.

crazy costa rica muddy roads

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We also ended up with a flat tire, because we took a much longer way (hoping that it was a nicer road…spoiler alert: it wasn’t) and BOY the roads were rough.  The scenery *was* gorgeous to be fair, and we were truly out in the midst of “real life” Costa Rica.  But I wish we’d taken the other way 🙂

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But we finally arrived!  La Iguana is a lush little farm up on a mountain, run by a small family.  Mariana greeted us warmly and then we got started on the tour.

La Iguana chocolate cocoa farm

Besides a few different varieties of cacao, they grow lots of other things on the farm, including many of the flavorings that go into the chocolate (ginger, chilis, etc.).

cacao bean we saw on our chocolate tour in Costa Rica

Mariana started out with a history of growing cacao in Costa Rica and her family’s history with the cacao farm specifically.  Then we briefly walked through the process of growing, harvesting, and processing the cacao beans to make chocolate.

She sliced one of thee big pods off the tree and broke it open to see the slimy beans in there.  You don’t really want to eat those, they don’t taste great.  Instead, first they’re fermented, then dried and roasted.

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Then we put them through a machine that ground them up roughly (not superfine).

Learning to grind the cocoa beans on the tour

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As you can see, there are still all sorts of shell bits and such in there, so we then go really high-tech and use a blow dryer to get those out and leave just the cocoa bean pieces 🙂

ground cocoa beans

Now we’re talkin’!

There are two different ways of really grinding up the cacao beans from here…one is a machine that makes it into a rich creamy paste (this still has the cocoa butter in there, so it’s really lovely).  The other way is super traditional, they have this rock slab that’s super old and you basically grind it into a fine powder/paste by hand.   We all got to try, and it was a super satisfying feeling!

Learning to grind the cocoa beans into powder on our chocolate tour

This is where a chocolate farm tour gets REALLY good!  The next part of the tour is getting to try the chocolate in a few different forms.

First, Mariana made hot chocolate, which is just basically the cocoa powder/paste and hot water.  She added a tiny bit of chili as well, and I added a little sugar to mine.  We ate them with delicious chocolate chip cookies (made from freshly-ground sugar cane…more on that in a minute!!) and rich melted chocolate.

Freshly made hot chocolate on our chocolate tour in Costa Rica

Then we got to make chocolate truffles the traditional way.  We took the rich chocolate paste/powder and added some freshly-ground sugar cane to it.  This stuff is AMAZING!!!  I could just eat it by itself.  It’s still got that molasses-y flavor like turbinado sugar does, but there’s also a fruitiness to it and it’s really moist.  If I could get my hands on this in the U.S., it would be game-over for me.

As a group, we got to decide on a couple different flavors of truffle to make.  We went with vanilla sea salt, and then ginger orange.  We just added the fresh ingredients here and started mushing it together (technical term…).

making chocolate truffles by hand on a chocolate tour in Costa Rica

Then we donned our plastic gloves and got to work filling the little truffle molds.  These are traditional shapes, vs. the round truffles we often think of.

Once they were all made, we topped with some melted chocolate and devoured them.  Honestly I was starting to feel a little ill from all the chocolate at this point.  But I persevered, because I’m not a quitter 🙂

Handmade chocolate truffles from our chocolate tour in Costa Rica

chocolate truffles with chocolate sauce

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Finally we had some sustenance to settle all that chocolate.  One of the options with the chocolate farm tour is to have a traditional lunch, prepared by Mariana’s mother.

The group sat down to rice, beans, tortillas, casava patties, some kind of jackfruit mixture, guacamole, and delicious fresh fruit juice.  It was all so good!  The casava patties in particular were my favorite, and it was all just so fresh and healthy.

fresh typical Costa Rican lunch

At this point we had to pay the piper on our tire, but I’d say it was totally worth it.

And now I can say I truly know how all of my favoritest things are made!  I’ve done wine, coffee, and chocolate tours, and now I’m in-the-know.  It was really interesting how similar the processes are for processing coffee and chocolate—in many ways they’re almost identical!

Have I convinced you to brave the trek up to La Iguana??  If so, here are some tips for making your trip awesome.

Tips for booking a chocolate tour in Costa Rica

  • We visited the farm La Iguana, (you can see the TripAdvisor reviews here).
  • Tours are $30, and the optional lunch (I believe) is $10.
  • Tours are at 10am Monday through Saturday, and last around 2.5 hours but can be longer.  Ours was longer because people arrived at different times (and then there was lunch), so it was 2pm by the time we were rolling out of there.
  • You will need to email them to book, and don’t leave it til the last minute—there can be delays in response because they are a working farm and there aren’t many of them.  In a pinch, leave a note on their Facebook wall or shoot them a Facebook message.
  • Make sure you leave PLENTY of time to make the drive up there, so you can go slowly and protect your tires.
  • I can’t remember if she takes credit cards (maybe not?), but I’d bring some cash in case you want to purchase chocolate to take with you, or other souvenirs.  I got some cocoa powder, a couple small chocolate bars, and a pretty coffee mug.

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