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. Please join us back here the week of April 6th, when 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, and then please join us back here the week of March 23rd, when it’s time to leave this Central American paradise and move on …
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. Join us the week of March 9th for the next post, when 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, and please join us back here the week of February 9th for our next new post. In honour of Valentine’s Day, it’s 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. And join us back here the week of January 25th for our next new offering, when 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.
I promised readers Alison and Anita I would share my experience at the Pure Jungle Spa of Puerto Viejo here, as it was truly one of pure chocolate ecstasy!
I learned about the Pure Jungle Spa while at the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival. Owner Andrea Turcios enticed us with her presentation featuring a delectable bowl of warm, molten chocolate that is used to slather the body in the chocolate papaya wraps, facials, and chocolate massages offered at her spa.
Andrea’s assistant Ro seduced our senses, giving festival participants the opportunity to inhale the intoxicating aroma of the pure organic chocolate used in the various treatments.
Who could resist? Within minutes, I was at the spa, my swollen (sprained) ankle soaking in warm water adorned with fresh flower petals, while enticing my taste buds with fresh locally made chocolate.
The Chocolate Decadence treatment began with a lemongrass scrub followed by a coconut oil full body massage to get my senses tingling. The pièce de résistance was being slathered with warm, molten chocolate–to every conceivable coordinate on my body.
This truly sensual treatment can be provided to couples who really want to experience the wild side of chocolate! But I was flying solo on this trip, so was happy to chat with my very capable masseuse, Ro, who kept me entertained with the story of her life as she applied the aromatic chocolate that had my nasal passages jumping with joy!
The laughing continued as I tried to scrub the chocolate off in the privacy of the jungle shower in the lush garden out back.
My visit to the Pure Jungle Spa was definitely a highlight of my visit to Puerto Viejo and will be covered in volume II of Chocolatour. But there’s lots more to come from my visit to Costa Rica. Please be sure to drop by the week of December 29th for our next new post.
And if you’ve been to the Pure Jungle Spa, or another spa that offers some form of chocolate treatment, let us know! Pleasure is only fully appreciated when shared.
The folks who organized the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Fest in Costa Rica really know how to throw a party! The festival runs for four days and offers a wonderful variety of events to enjoy throughout the laid-back beach resort community.
I had been invited to be a judge at this year’s festival, so had the pleasure of judging the single origin chocolate and the flavour infused chocolate truffles. It was tough tasting 11 single origin samples, but we judges persevered!
Judging focused on five categories: the aroma, mouthfeel, flavour, and finish (lingering flavours on the tongue), as well as the judge’s overall impression of each chocolate. Quite a tasty task, although I admit to not liking one of the truffles.
The chocolate judging was followed by a fabulous dinner at Stash’s featuring an excellent chicken molé and talapia fish encrusted with locally grown macadamia nuts. A truly delicious meal in a lovely setting. The walls at Stash’s are adorned with local art, and the tropical gardens on the grounds are a welcoming touch.
Day two of the festival was the largest public event, at which chocolate makers and chocolate lovers gathered to indulge in all sorts of chocolate flavours, entertainment, and craziness, including aerial dancers and the hypnotic dance of the cacao in which we were all invited to join in.
Day three of the festival was one of my favourites. There were several interesting presentations, including one by American chocolate maker Steve Devries, who was visiting from Colorado.
Later, we indulged in a series of delicious chocolate pairings at Chili Rojo, one of the finest restaurants in Puerto Viejo. Each chocolate maker had the opportunity to offer samples of their finest chocolate paired with the libation of their choice. We had Talamanca Chocolate’s Allspice bar with Single Malt Scotch, Tawny Port paired with 70% Pinca from Xocolat Chocolate, Carmenère wine from Chile paired with Bread & Chocolate’s Macadamia and Hazelnut Truffle, along with a Spumante paired with an orange truffle. Is your mouth watering yet?
Next up was Samaritan Chocolate, who paired their Pumpkin Pie Spice Chocolate with a Chocolate Stout. Caribeans Chocolate paired their espresso-infused 72% dark chocolate and their Three Kings Chocolate with several aged rums. Wow! And Talamanca Organica paired their 70% dark chocolate with an Organic Shiraz red wine from Italy. What a night!
The following day we did the “Chocolate Crawl,” where we visited various eating and drinking establishments for some form of chocolate offering. The various savoury chocolate dipping sauces served at Koki Beach (pictured below) were amazing. Who’d have thought that a cocoa-based sauce would pair so nicely with plantain and corn chips?
You can see a video of the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Fest made made by Henrik Bodholdt on my YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YCSaQpYgHg&sns=tw. You can also order Costa Rican chocolate bars via Henrik’s site at http://www.chocolate-craft.com.
Next years’s Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival is scheduled to begin Halloween night! Mark your calendars for October 31-November 3, 2015, and plan to be in Costa Rica to meet some amazing people and eat some mighty fine chocolate.
Please join us back here the week of December 15th, when I’ll introduce you to some of the chocolate makers mentioned in this post.
If you’re like me, you look for unique and local flavours from places you visit and seek out gifts and souvenirs that highlight those flavours. No surprise, my primary focus is on the chocolate of any given place, and I’m always thrilled when a chocolate shop I visit has travellers in mind.
Such is definitely the case with Caribeans Organic Artisan Chocolate in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It was thanks to Paul Johnson of Caribeans that I was able to make my way to Puerto Viejo and be a judge at this year’s chocolate fest. We met online (I believe it was via Twitter) and a post by one of Paul’s colleagues on the facebook page of the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival alerted me to the fact that there was a major chocolate event happening in a country I was anxious to explore. I’m thrilled that it all worked out, and even more thrilled with the stash of chocolate, cacao (cocoa beans and nibs), and coffee I brought home with me from Caribeans. The coffee and cocoa beans and nibs are packaged in durable plastic that easily survives a journey around the world.
And what about the chocolate? Well, it’s not for sissies. Caribeans chocolate is conched for only 24-36 hours, so it not the silky smooth chocolate you may have tried in other places. It is pure, and quite intense. All bars are made from 72% cacao except the milk chocolate. It’s nice and thin, and has a good snap to it. I like to call it authentic chocolate, as it only contains cacao, some cane sugar, and whatever natural flavourings may be included to create a special bar. Like the “Tequila Shot” bar that contains the leaves of Johnson’s own lime tree and some granulated sea salt. I love it, and will have to try it with a shot of tequila!
Paul and his wife Jeanne are excellent marketers, and give you the option of purchasing tiny 25-gram bars in a multitude of flavours (also available online), or the 150-gram larger “Special Reserve” bars featuring the finest cacao beans Caribeans has to offer.
It’s really worth taking the Caribeans Chocolate Forest Experience Chocolate Tour that shows you how Caribeans grows its cacao and makes its chocolate. The price is just $26USD for a three-hour tour that includes a fabulous guided tasting experience featuring this view!
If you really want to go all out and experience the world of Caribeans Chocolate and The Mango Walk guesthouse I profiled in the previous post, I recommend indulging in the “Chocolate Makers Dream” vacation. I guarantee you will leave a changed person, having learned all about this amazing chocolate destination of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Please join us back here the week of December 1st, when we’re continue our journey of chocolate discovery through Puerto Viejo.