Neither Christine or I had previously spent time touring the sights of Miami, so what better way to get acquainted with the city than by taking a sightseeing tour? We were fortunate to have passes to get us on the Big Bus, a company offering a variety of Hop-On/Hop-Off routes to familiarize visitors with highlights of the city.
We began with the Blue Route, which pointed out the architectural highlights of the Art Deco District on Ocean Drive. Our guide Jake was extremely knowledgeable, and told us about John Collins, one of the leading developers of Miami in the late 19th century, and for whom Collins Avenue (on which we were staying) was named.
We didn’t have time to tour the Holocaust Museum, but if this powerful sculpture at the entrance to the museum is indicative of the contents of the exhibits, I have no doubt I will visit at a future time.
We learned that Miami is home to a large Jewish population, and that Temple Emanuel is the largest synagogue in the US.
On the Red Loop tour, we learned that the best Farmers’ Market in Miami is held each Saturday in Coconut Grove from 9 am until 9 pm, with a terrific selection of produce, art, and music. Our brief time in Miami didn’t allow us to visit the Farmer’s Market, but we did take a tour through Coconut Grove and were impressed by the beautiful homes and public architecture of Coral Gables that included the historic Biltmore Hotel.
The Green Line Tour is the shorter, one-hour route offered by the Big Bus Tour Company which takes you up Biscayne Blvd. to the Bayside Complex of shops and restaurants. We had a terrific lunch with a great view of the marina at the Tradewinds Waterfront Bar & Grill.
Given we didn’t have a huge amount of time, being able to ride all three routes in the Big Bus gave us a chance to see a lot, despite the fact that we’d hit a patch of cloudy wet weather for the first part of our stay. Riding the bus was much more comfortable than walking in the rain.
It was sad seeing the old Miami Herald building being demolished, but exciting to learn that a new resort will be built on that site. There is so much new growth in the works for Miami, I can’t wait to return and see more of it!
Have you been to Miami? What were some of your favourite sights?
I had the pleasure of staying at the Metropole Apartments Hotel with a friend last fall in South Beach, when business brought me to Miami. How fortunate we were to have found the South Beach Group of properties–each with its own distinct personality. Several of the properties are older, refurbished hotels with small rooms. There’s something for every budget.
We’d originally booked into the budget-minded Hotel Shelley thanks to a fabulous deal on Expedia, but were thrilled to be upgraded to a room at the Metropole, where we were offered a spacious two-bedroom suite with full kitchen and a lovely pool and tropical courtyard. Yes!
The Metropole has an ideal location, situated just around the corner from Ocean Drive and the beach. We loved both! The nostalgic art deco colours of Ocean Drive are like eye candy to those of us who appreciate the colour in life.
And South Beach is a fabulous strip of beach worth strolling–for people watching, and to get your fill of the fresh sea breeze. How I wish we’d had more time to just hang out.
But we were there for the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards (at which I won a Bronze Medal for volume I of Chocolatour) and to search out some fine Floridian chocolate (and yes, we found some!) Stay tuned for future posts on both, as well, as some of the highlights of our whirlwind trip to South Florida.
Last November I had the great pleasure of giving a chocolate talk on Chocolatour and my chocolate travels at Sugar Swan, ‘Kingston’s Best Candy Store.’ You might wonder what Chocolatour would be doing in a candy store, but I assure you. Sugar Swan has terrific handcrafted artisan chocolate provided by Ridgway Confections, as well as some darn good packaged chocolate candy as well. (I particularly enjoyed the GooGoo Cluster made by the Standard Candy Company of Nashville, Tennessee.) If you like peanut butter, this one’s a winner!
I’d never been to Kingston, Ontario, before and wasn’t sure what to expect. From what I saw, they have a lovely waterfront park–which I’m sure is most inviting spring through fall. But I happened to be (un)fortunate enough to have hit Kingston the night of a snowstorm, and so the turnout to our chocolate event was much smaller than anticipated.
The wild weather didn’t dampen our spirits! It gave me more time to get to know Ken Suitor and his wife Tanya, who are the proud owners of Sugar Swan. The big smiles of these two young chocolate lovers is reason enough to visit the store.
But for adamant chocolate connoisseurs, there’s an even better reason. Sugar Swan carries the delicious chocolate creations of Ridgway Confections, a new company headed by chocolatier Derek Ouellet and his wife Cindy Healy, who looks after marketing for the company and is also the genius when it comes to blending spices.
“I love playing with spices,” says Cindy, who created the 12-spice Madras ganache made from cardamom seeds, curry, mustard seeds, and coconut cream mixed with white chocolate and 72% dark chocolate. The Madras chocolate cream offers an unforgettable blend of flavours, a mild heat, and artful appearance. Definitely my favourite in the Ridgway product line.
Derek uses maple syrup to sweeten his chocolate and confections, and is soon planning to transition from making his chocolates out of processed cocoa nibs to making it right from whole cocoa beans. I have no doubt that will take Ridgway to a whole new level.
The creativity and artistry already found in Ridgway’s offerings include macadamia nuts covered in powered sugar, dark chocolate bars topped with sour cherries, and the aromatic Wendy Bar made from cocoa grown in Ghana–all handcrafted in a chocolate workshop attached to the 1896 house in nearby Seeley’s Bay where Derek and Cindy live.
I hope to get back to Kingston when I launch volume II of Chocolatour, as Sugar Swan and Ridgway Confections will be featured in the Ontario chapter. But for now, you’ll find Volume I of Chocolatour for sale at Sugar Swan, and with a new baby on the way in the Suitor family, it’s sure to be an exciting year for all!
Thanks to my friend and Chocolatouring companion Christine Peets of Napanee, Ontario, for introducing me to Ridgway Confections. In the next post, Christine and I will head down to Miami for some fun in South Beach and the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.
Whether you arrive in Costa Rica by air or cruise ship, you are likely to pass through the capital city of San Jose, where you will find a terrific collection of heritage buildings and national museums.
I had the great pleasure of taking a day tour of San Jose back in 2001, and then returning in 2014 for a quick visit. Here are a few of the highlights:
1. The Inter-Americana Highway was built in the 1940’s with funding from the US. There therefore is a prominent American presence in Costa Rica, and specifically in San Jose, where you will find many American expats and American brands in stores (such as Walmart and Costco), restaurants (such as Pizza Hut) and hotels (such as Holiday Inn and Best Western.)
2. The national motto of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida,” meaning pure life. You will see this on T-shirts and logos everywhere. You can indeed create a pure and simple life for yourself in Costa Rica, as I witnessed in Puerto Viejo, where nearly everyone I met was originally from the US and had left the fast lane behind to enjoy a slower and more simpler life in Costa Rica.
3. There are approximately 1,500 species of orchids in Costa Rica, making the orchid the national flower. And the iconic blue Morpho butterfly is the largest butterfly in Costa Rica, making this tiny Central American country a haven for naturalists.
4. Costa Rica is also a haven for chocolate lovers. As we learned in the past few posts, there are numerous small-batch artisanal chocolate makers in the Puerto Viejo and Upala regions of Costa Rica. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to Nahua Chocolate.
5. Nahua Chocolate is owned by Juan Pablo Buchert, an expat from Argentina married to Karla, a beautiful Costa Rican national, who were kind enough to host me during my time in San Jose. Nahua’s shade-grown cacao is grown by a cooperative of 20 families in the Upala region. The 27 varieties of Nahua chocolate bars are made at the production facility in Upala. But the bonbons and chocolate truffles are made fresh in Nahua’s chic chocolate shop located in San Jose.
If you visit San Jose, be sure to tour the city centre and the heritage buildings. But be sure to also take time and enjoy some terrific Costa Rican chocolate and local fresh-roasted coffee or hot chocolate at Nahua.
Have you been to San Jose? What was your experience like? Let’s talk about Costa Rica!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the series of posts I’ve done about my visit to Costa Rica for the 2014 Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival. I’ve already introduced you to Caribeans Chocolate in the November 17th post. In today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my other favourite Costa Rican chocolate makers.
Henrik Bodholdt is an expat European and founder of Chocolate Craft of Costa Rica. He is also a chocolate educator and chocolate maker under the name Beach Chocolate Factory. Under the Chocolate Craft banner, Henrik helps market assorted artisan chocolate makers of Costa Rica via this site. The Beach Chocolate Factory is located in Playa Potrero, on the Pacific Coast in the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica, but you’ll find Henrik at various chocolate events around the country. I loved his Lava bar, with just the right hint of heat, the Celeste bar with its fruity notes, and my favourite, the Tenorio, which is an incredibly smooth and full-flavoured chocolate.
Tao Watts is the chief chocolate maker at Samaritan Xocolata, also on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in Perez Zeledon. Tao is an expat originally from Maryland USA, and now long-time resident of Costa Rica whose chocolate creations are as beautiful to look at as they are delectable to taste. Tao is a true artisan who adds a beautiful femininity to the chocolate truffles, bonbons, barks, bars and custom confections offered in Samaritan’s line of products. Of the ones I was able to taste, I really loved the Solo Bueno! wave bar, an explosion of 70% dark organic cocoa infused with coconut nectar crystals, chia, sesame, figs, blueberries, ginseng, chili, and more. These are available for worldwide shipping via Samaritan’s site. Yay!
Another woman who is passionate about chocolate and who is growing some amazing cacao in the Puerto Viejo area is Christina Orr, an expat originally from California, USA, whose chocolate company is called Talamanca Organica Cacao and Chocolate.
A conservationist and experienced gardener who has passionately brought that knowledge to the cacao fields, Christina is dedicated to creating just the right flavour profile in her cocoa beans by experimenting in the fermentation method of her beans. Christina ferments each harvest of beans separately so that she can very precisely control the development of the flavour in her customized fermentation box. She has only recently began making chocolate from her beans and it will be interesting to see how her chocolate develops over time.
Yes, I found some talented expat Canadians who are growing cacao and making chocolate in Costa Rica, too. Pascal Blanchard from the Eastern Townships of Quebec and his wife Kari Gabriel (who grew up in British Columbia, Canada, but was actually born in Costa Rica) are making chocolate products under the name Xocolat Chocolate. They have a small farm in the Puerto Viejo area, and in addition to producing award-winning chocolate, make fabulous crisps infused with cocoa nibs that they market as Cacao Coast Crackers. I loved them! People often ask me what they can do with cocoa nibs. Dropping them into almost anything will enhance the resulting flavour. But adding fresh cocoa nibs into a tasty batter for baked crisps is a winning recipe that this dynamic duo should market on a wide scale. For now … you’ve got to go to Costa Rica to get some.
A small stock of Xocolat Chocolate bars can be found on sale at Caribeans Chocolate in Puerto Viejo. At present, Xocolat doesn’t have its own website or storefront due to the small quantity they produce. Hopefully, that will soon change.
These are just a few of the talented chocolate makers I met while in Puerto Viejo. In our next post, we’ll head to San Jose and discover Nahua Chocolate.
February is the month in which we celebrate Valentine’s Day, so chocolate is high on the minds of many people. But have you ever thought about where the cocoa comes from that is used to make our beloved chocolate? Or what it’s like to grow cacoa? Having now seen cacao growing in five distinctly different regions, I can answer that, and would like to share what I learned on my recent trip to Costa Rica.
We saw how the Chinese Rose Beetle has been devastating cacao plantations in Hawaii. We saw how rats are a problem in St. Lucia, ants are the primary culprits in Peru, and black pod rot has been a problem for cacao growers in Ecuador.
There are also many challenges when it comes to growing cacao in Costa Rica. I visited CATIE (the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) while in this lush Central American country and learned that the experts are finding ways to fight disease and help the cocoa survive and thrive. The netting that surrounds the pods in the photo above helps trap the humidity on diseased pods so that the scientists can isolate the fungus and study it.
The disease known as Frosty Pod Rot or more formally called Moniliasis Disease has long been devastating cocoa plantations in Costa Rica and 12 other countries in tropical America including Mexico. But some progress has been made to battle the disease via ongoing research.
CATIE has been studying cacao’s genetic makeup and attempting to develop hybrids of cacao that will be more resistant to disease. I was privileged to be invited to the 70th anniversary celebrations of CATIE and learned much from speaking to the cacao growers and agricultural experts who were present.
In addition to disease, the cocoa plantations battle rodents such as squirrels who like to chew at the pods in order to get to the nectar inside. By planting coconut and guava trees among the cacao, farmers are able to divert the squirrels’ attention and have them disturb other produce that is less valuable and easier for the rodents to get at. It’s not easy outsmarting the squirrels, as many of us know in attempting to divert them from our birdfeeders!
We all love to eat fine chocolate, but until I began my research, I had no idea how difficult it is to grow the cacao that ultimately becomes our beloved chocolate. No wonder artisanal chocolate is so expensive! The finest quality aromatic cocoa comes from Criollo and Trinitario cacao trees that unfortunately are the most susceptible to disease and intruders.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the challenges facing the cocoa growers of Costa Rica. In the next post, I will introduce you to some of the fine craftsmen and women who make the chocolate.
Looking at my list of places I intend to visit this year made me realize I’d omitted one important destination. The Dominican Republic was the place that planted the seed for my desire to further investigate the world of fine chocolate back in 2009 when we were enjoying an Air Transat package to Punta Cana.
That was a superb trip, and I’d love to go back and stroll that amazing beach again. But also to continue exploring the island, and visiting the cacao plantation where some of the finest cocoa in the world is grown.
I first became familiar with Dominican grown fine chocolate when tasting the bars, bonbons, and truffles from SpagNvola, an artisanal chocolate company now based in Maryland, USA, but founded and operated by a very creative couple from the Dominican Republic.
The chocolate bars from SpagNvola taste like they’ve just come out of the jungles of Punta Cana. So full of fresh fruitiness! On SpagNvola’s site you can purchase a 3-pack of 70, 75, or 80% cocoa bars that are made from beans grown right on the SPAGNVOLA Estate.
The bonbons are beautifully decorated and filled with exotic flavours such as Passion Fruit, Mango, and White Peach. And the pure chocolate truffles come in flavours that include Dominican Republic Rum & Raisin, Passion of the Sea Salt, and Jasmine Rose. All absolutely enticing!
If you are passionate about fine chocolate and love to travel, a visit to Punta Cana is sure to satisfy on every level. Just ask the folks at your resort to help find a tour that takes you to a cocoa plantation. We took the one offered by Bavaro Runners and really enjoyed it.
Have you been to the Dominican Republic? Did your visit include a stay in Punta Cana? Did you travel with Air Transat on your journey? If so, how was it?
I’d like to thank Air Transat for sponsoring this post, but please rest assured that the information you find on this blog will always be impartial, whether it is in the form of a sponsored post, or the result of subsidized or independent travel. My job is to share my knowledge and opinion with you. Your job is to join the conversation!
Cheers! Our next new post in honour of Valentine’s Day, is sure to be a sweet one!
As I continue the research for the second volume of Chocolatour, my chocolate travels will take me to numerous places–some planned, some spontaneous visits no doubt! Among the places I have pegged to visit in the coming year are:
1. The Okanagan Valley and Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada. We’re spending the month of January at the Spirit Ridge Wine Resort & Spa in Osoyoos and I’m keeping my eye open in Osoyoos and the surrounding area for signs of noteworthy chocolate and activities you might enjoy.
2. I will be attending the NATJA conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, from May 4-9, and will then head to Mexico City to visit the Nestlé Chocolate Museum.
3. I’ve been invited to come check out the Hershey Chocolate Resort in Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA, and will also explore Philadelphia while in the area.
4. I’ve been meaning to return to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, to visit a number of chocolatier/chocolate makers and chocolate venues. At some point during 2015, I will make it there.
5. I’ve not been to the city of New York since 2001! There are several excellent chocolate makers in the city that I absolutely must visit, so a personal Chocolatour to the Big Apple in 2015 is a must.
6. I will also be leading a group Chocolatour to the Hawaiian Islands for clients of CAA Travel in October to celebrate the state’s declaration naming October as Hawaii Grown Cacao Month. We will be visiting the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui during the last two weeks of October.
I have no doubt other destinations will come onto my radar over the next year, but these are locations I am committing to visit for the purposes of my chocolate research during 2015.
As you know, volume II of Chocolatour will focus on the Americas and the Caribbean, so the above list will greatly enhance the information I can offer you in the upcoming volume of the book. If you don’t yet have a copy of volume I, or are looking for a gift for your favourite chocolate lover, there is more info here.
Please stay tuned (subscribe using the button the right) for lots more chocolate travel posts in the months to come. In our next new post, we’ll head back to Costa Rica for more chocolate travel diversions.
This marks my final post of 2014. It has been a terrific year of chocolate travels–great fodder for the second volume of Chocolatour. Here are a few of the highlights:
1. February 22 I was a speaker at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival in Honolulu, and also did a great chocolate tour of the island of Oahu. It was fabulous staying at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, a magnificent beachside resort I’d first stayed at roughly 20 years before.
2. We ended February with a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. It was my 1st visit to the island of Hawaii, and I was not disappointed. Staying at the Fairmont Orchid made our time on the Big Island exquisite. The location and ambiance of the resort, incredible staff, and privilege of staying on the Fairmont Gold floor made our time at the resort equally as enticing as our exploration of the island.
3. Visiting the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Kailua Kona and finding this breath-taking view at the Pololu Valley Lookout were also highlights of our time on the Big Island.
4. Meeting Paul Johnson and his wife Jeanne of Caribeans Chocolate in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Paul represents why I am doing the Chocolatour project, and that is to introduce you the chocolate loving reader and traveler to the passionate people around the world who live and breath chocolate.
5. Being slathered in warm, molten chocolate at the Pure Jungle Spa in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. This photo says it all!
6. Visiting Miami, Florida, to receive my Readers’ Favorite Award for Chocolatour and to explore South Beach with my friend Christine.
It’s been a great year of travel for me along the Chocolatour. I hope you’ve had an equally great year of travel experiences, or if you don’t have the opportunity to travel, that you’ve enjoyed sharing them with me here.
Please subscribe to the blog via the tab at the right so that you won’t miss any further posts. Please share this post if you enjoyed it, and please join us back here the week of January 12th for our next new post.
Happy New Year, and thanks again for joining me on all the delicious chocolate travel journeys that I’m honoured to share with you– here, and in my book.