highlights of a visit to Ottawa

I read in a Kostuch Media news blast this week that Judson Simpson, executive chef at the House of Commons restaurant in Ottawa is the first Canadian to earn the Certified Master Chef (CMC) designation. It made me realize that I should devote another post to Ottawa before moving on, as the Canadian capital really does have some very fine restaurants and major attractions worth checking out. We talked about some of Ottawa’s finest chocolate in the previous post.

 favourite Ottawa attractions

In this post, I’d like to show you a few Ottawa attractions in that I really enjoy. Top of the list is the Museum of Civilization. For first time visitors, spending at least an hour in the First Peoples Hall is a must. Here, you’ll see many First Nations carvings, artwork, and artifacts. This is a permanent exhibit, and the backbone of the museum. You’ll see from the photo below that the setting of the museum is stunning. A full glass wall gives you a panoramic view of the Parliament Buildings located just across the river. The museum itself is a work of art, and the design of architect Douglas Cardinal. You can take a virtual tour of the museum and learn about its design via its website.


The First Peoples Hall at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

While I was there last month, I took time to explore the temporary exhibit called Vodou, an examination of Haiti’s voodoo culture. This exhibit will be on display until February 23, 2014. Don’t miss it if you make your way to Ottawa, as it’s really quite compelling.


The Vodou exhibit at the Museum of Civilization is intriguing.

I love to visit farmers’ markets wherever I go, and Ottawa’s ByWard Market is a fine example of combining fresh produce and garden offerings with every other kind of handcrafted item you can imagine. The ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest, longest running farmers’ markets. A few years ago, I managed to visit the market in time for the weigh-in at the giant squash/pumpkin contest. They really were big enough to live in! This year, my visit was at the beginning of the growing season, so plenty of fresh flowers, herbs, and berries were the prime offering.


Ottawa’s ByWard Market is a terrific place to visit on a summer weekend.

And yes, I managed to find a terrific new restaurant to try. If you are a vegan, or into really healthy cooking featuring the utmost in creativity, I’d highly recommend a visit to Zen Kitchen, located in Ottawa’s Chinatown. We were treated to the chef’s sampling menu and were not disappointed. And yes … there was chocolate involved.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to Ottawa with me. Please join us back here the week of July 15th, for our next new post.


chocolate options in Ottawa

What I love about Chocolatouring around a city is discovering the various faces of chocolate you’ll find in any given location if you keep your ears and eyes open. While attending a recent conference in Ottawa, Ontario, I had the good fortune to make a couple of outstanding chocolate discoveries thanks to tips from local chocolate-loving residents of the Canadian capital. What’s really interesting is how opposite each of these chocolate discoveries is, proving that when you’re on a chocolate tour you will undoubtedly find something to please your palate and chocolate personality if you heed the right advice and do your research.

Let’s begin with Stubbe Chocolates, where I met Anne Stubbe, a sixth-generation chocolatier and confectioner whose German heritage and family traditions heavily influence the style and offerings at the Stubbe chocolate shop.


Anne Stubbe of Stubbe Chocolates in Ottawa

What I really loved about Stubbe is the old-world ambiance, where tradition and the history of the family business is honoured by a wall of photos reminding you of the family’s German heritage.


the historic family photos at Stubbe Chocolates

If you’ve never had German florentines, you’re missing out on a delicious offering of a thin chocolate disc topped with candied with nuts, fruits, and caramel. Stubbe also specializes in high quality chocolate novelties such as chocolate shoes, champagne bottles, gondolas, and edible boxes to hold the chocolate truffles and treats you have selected. Candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate is their most popular product. Stubbe also has a few cafe tables, where you can enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate with a slice of one of the sumptuous tortes they offer in the German tradition. If you can’t make it over to Germany, this is the next best thing, and Stubbe is located just steps from Ottawa’s Byward Market where you can buy all sorts of fresh and handcrafted delicacies and foods.


Erica Gilmour of Hummingbird Chocolate

Another terrific chocolate maker based in Ottawa is Hummingbird Chocolate, a new bean-to-bar company run by Erica and Drew Gilmour. Hummingbird offerings are small in comparison to Stubbe, but they are well worth searching out. Presently, they don’t have a shop of their own, and only offer their handmade dark chocolate bars at selected Ottawa stores and at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market held at Brewer Park, where Erica is pleased to give you a taste and explain the flavour nuances of the intense chocolate to you.

Of the four flavours of bars in the Hummingbird lineup, I loved the Patanemo bar made of Criollo cocoa beans from the coastal region of Patanemo, Venezuela—also known for its excellent surfing. Erica creates her own tasting notes for each bar, and the fruity taste of the Patanemo bar is described as featuring hints of toffee, fresh bread, and strawberries. You can bet that a trip to Venezuela is now high atop my list, as Hummingbird makes chocolate with beans from three different growing regions of Venezuela, as well as some wild beans from Bolivia which were also extraordinary and intense.

Please join us back here the week of July 1st four our next new post.


blending chocolate with travel in Chocolatour

I’ve just returned from two writers conferences and have received plenty of feedback on the manuscript for Chocolatour, with one exception: “Add an index!”

Once I began working through the likely components for the index, the extent of the reach of my work is evident. Here is a look to the index, to provide a sneak peak at what you will see within the 176 pages of the book. The index doesn’t list every chocolate company and event that is mentioned in the book as that would be a book in itself, but it works in collaboration with the preceding chapters and the A-Z Guide contained in the book. Just about every country and region on the planet is mentioned in some way.



Academy of Chocolate

Acticoa Chocolate




Amadei Tuscany


Angus Thirlwell

Antidote Chocolate


artisan/artisanal chocolate

Artisan du Chocolat


Austin Chocolate Festival



Awake Caffeinated Chocolate

Awards for Chocolate Excellence









Belgian chocolate



Beschle Chocolatier Suisse

bespoke chocolate


Big Island Chocolate Festival

BioDynamic chocolate

black pod rot



British chocolate

British Columbia


Bruno Corsini Industria Dolciaria



Burlington Chocolate Festival




cacao cuisine


Cadbury World


Café Chocolat





camel’s milk chocolate




Catinari (see Roberto Catinari)


Central America


Chantal Coady

Chicago Chocolate Tours

Chicago Fine Chocolate Show


Chocoa Festival


chocolArt International Chocolate Festival

Chocolateria Desserteria Jordino


Chocolat Frey

Chocolats d’Edouard

Chocolate Academy (see Academy of Chocolate)

Chocolate Arts

Chocolate Boutique Hotel

chocolate brownies

Chocolate Capital of the World

chocolate consumption

chocolate cookbooks

chocolate events

chocolate factory tours

chocolate festivals

Chocolate Hotel Perugia

Chocolate Jungle Lodge

chocolate liquor

chocolate makers

chocolate masters

chocolate museums

chocolate personalities

Chocolate Race

chocolate shoes

Chocolate Unwrapped

Chocolate Valley

Chocolate Week






Cioccolato Peyrano


Cocobel Chocolates


cocoa butter

cocoa mass

Cocoa Mountain Café and Chocolaterie

cocoa nibs



concept chocolate


Confiserie Sprüngli


Constance Popp Chocolates

Corsini (see Bruno Corsini)

Costa Rica




Cure Gourmande (see La Cure Gourmande)



dairy-free chocolates

Dallas Chocolate Conference

Dandelion Chocolate

Damian Allsop Chocolates

de Bondt Cioccolato Originale

de Chocoladefabriek

Demarquette Fine Chocolates


Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate

dolce Mente

Dominican Republic


Ducasse (see Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse)

Duffy’s Chocolate

Dutch chocolate

Dutch processing



eco-friendly chocolate

Eco Museo Del Cacao



Edouard Bechoux



Enric Rovira


ethical chocolate




fair trade chocolate


Festival du Chocolat

Fête De La Cocoa





Florida Festivals of Chocolate


Forté Artisan Chocolates

Fran’s Chocolates


François Pralus Maitre Chocolatier

French chocolate



Galler Pure Cocoa


Gem Chocolates

Gerard Coleman

Gerbaud (see Laurent Gerbaud)


Gertosio Pasticceria


Ghirardelli Chocolate


Giovanna Maggiolo

Glendale Chocolate Affaire

gluten free chocolate


Grenada Chocolate Company


growing regions


Guido Gobino




hand-painted chocolate


Hawaii Chocolate Festival

health benefits

Henri Le Roux Chocolatier et Caramelier


Highland Chocolatier


Hong Kong

horizontal chocolate

Hotel Chocolat

Hummingbird Chocolate




Iain Burnett






International Chocolate Awards

International Chocolate Shows



Ivory Coast



Jade Mountain



Jean Galler

Jeff Stern

Jordino (see Chocolateria Desserteria Jordino)




Katie Christoffers

Kauai Chocolate Conference

Kosher chocolate



La Cure Gourmande

Läderach Chocolatier Suisse

La Maison Des Maîtres Chocolatiers Belges

La Maison du Chocolat

Las Vegas

Laurent Gerbaud

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse

Le Nôtre


Lily O’Brien’s

Lindor (see Lindt)

Lindt & Sprüngli / Lindt Maître Chocolatier Suisse



Louvre (see Musée du Louvre)






Maestrani Passion Chocolat Suisse



Marcolini (see Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier)




Matcha Chocolat

Max Brenner

melting chocolate


Merkur Chocolaterie


Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show

Michel Cluizel Chocolaterie



Minor Chocolates



Musée du Louvre

Museu de la Xocolata

Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate





Netherlands (See Holland)



New Brunswick

New York

New Zealand


Norman Love

North America

North Dakota

Northwest Chocolate Festival

Nova Scotia






Oregon Chocolate Festival

organic chocolate

Original Beans

Origin Chocolate Event

Oriol Balageur






Papau New Guinea


Pascal Caffet

Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates

Paul Wayne Gregory




Perugina Chocolate Company / Perugina Chocolate Museum

Peyrano (see Cioccolato Peyrano)

Philipp Kaufmann


Pierre Hermé

Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier




point-of-origin chocolate


Pompadour Chocolaterie Patisserie




Puyricard Artisan Chocolatier en Provence








raw chocolate


Red Star Chocolate Ltd.

Roberto Catinari Arte del Cioccolato

Rococo Chocolates



Roselen Chocolatier



Saint Lucia / St. Lucia

Salón Chocolate

Salon du Chocolat

São Tomé e Principe

San Francisco




Scottish Chocolate Centre

Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon

sea salt caramels


Shattell Chocolate

single origin chocolate

Slitti Cioccolato e Caffé

SOMA chocolatemaker

South America

Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest

soy-free chocolate


Spanish chocolate

sustainable chocolate


Swiss chocolate

Swiss Chocolate Train




TCHO New American Chocolate


Terry’s Chocolate

Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland


The Chocolate Museum

The Chocolate Tree



Thinking Chocolate

Thomas Haas Handcrafted Chocolates



Toledo Cacao Festival

Torino (see Turin)




Truffe Schokolade and Lifestyle


Truffles Artisan Chocolates





United Arab Emirates (UAE)

United Kingdom

United States

Unlimited Delicious




Valor Chocolates

Valrhona Aux Sources Du Grand Chocolat


vegan chocolate





Virginia Chocolate Festival




Washington DC

water ganache

“Why Women Need Chocolate”

Widman’s Candy Company

William Curley Patissier Chocolatier




World Chocolate Day

World Chocolate Masters Championships

World Chocolate Weekend

World Chocolate Wonderland





Xocolatl by Giovanna Maggiolo



York’s Chocolate Story






I hope you can feel the excitement building, as we’re now down to the final three weeks until the book is printed. Please join us back here the week of June 17th when we’ll take a look at some Ontario chocolate companies.


Chocolatouring with you

It’s been a busy couple of weeks! I almost missed bringing you a post this week as we’re in the final throws of putting Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate together. It will be printed in less than four weeks. (We’re expecting a June 21, 2013 delivery.)

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll see on the pages of Chocolatour:


This is one of the gorgeous stamps that the uber-talented graphic designer, Jennifer Cook of Cats in the Bag, designed for Chocolatour.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements: Appreciation to friends, colleagues, supporters, and members of the global chocolate and travel communities who have provided the author with assistance and information


Introduction: An invitation to join the author on a sensuous, taste-tempting journey of chocolate discovery

Chapter 1 – How and Where Cacao Becomes Chocolate: A look at where and how cacao (cocoa) is grown and processed, and some important chocolate terminology and distinctions.

Chapter 2- Chocogasms and Other Health Benefits of Chocolate: A scientific and sensuous look at a woman’s biological need and desire for chocolate, and why we should all eat more pure, dark chocolate.

Chapter 3- Exploring the Various Personalities of Chocolate: How do you want it? Sophisticated, elegant, exotic, sensual, playful, adventurous, purist, traditional, innovative, intellectual—or do you have a thing for multiple personalities?

Chapter 4: The Brilliance of Belgium

Chapter 5: The Flavours of France

Chapter 6: Happiness in Holland

Chapter 7: The Impact of Italy

Chapter 8: The Sensuality of Spain

Chapter 9: Sweet Success in Switzerland

Chapter 10: Ultimate Chocolate of the UK: Join the Chocolate Revolution!

Chapter 11- Chocolate Events: A listing of selected chocolate festivals, events, museums, and attractions around the world.

Chapter 12 Pairing Sensations and Recipes: Wines and other libations to pair with your favourite chocolate, plus a few chocolate-based recipes to please your palate.

Chapter 13: Chocolatour’s Awards for Chocolate Excellence

Chapter 14: An A to Z Guide for Chocolate Lovers: Alphabetical guide to chocolate around the world.

If you’re as excited about the release of Chocolatour as I am, please subscribe to http://chocolatour.net, the official site for Chocolatour, where I’ll be posting updates about the book, launches and chocolate events, and where you’ll be able to order the book and interact with me.

Thanks for being a part of the journey over the past 3.5 years as I’ve researched and written the first volume of Chocolatour. Research is already underway for volume II and there will be a lot more chocolate travel right here to keep your taste buds tingling and your travel toes tapping.

Our next new post will be late in the week of June 3rd, as I am away for conferences and more chocolate exploration May 31-June 8th in Ontario. Stay tuned!


five reasons to visit Gimli

I’ve been going to Gimli, Manitoba ever since I was a small child, as my father’s only sister lived there with her family. Until I was an adult, this small lakeside community of roughly 6,000 people simply represented a place where I had family, and where we spent many summer days walking the pier or trying to swim in the cool waters of Lake Winnipeg after tiptoeing over the stones of the pebbled beach that lines the shore.


a muralist touches up her masterpiece on the Gimli pier

As a travel and lifestyle writer, I began to look at Gimli through a different lens. It is a proud community with a strong heritage and a vibrant arts community. As the sixth-largest freshwater lake in Canada, it is the immenseness of Lake Winnipeg as an inland ocean that draws a great number of creative individuals to the Interlake region, with Gimli as the hub. Writers, artists, musicians, performers, and photographers come to the Gimli area to congregate, live in harmony, be inspired, and enjoy the affordable standard of living. My husband and I now live just 20 minutes from Gimli and for the past six years, have called the Interlake home.

There are many reasons you may choose to put Gimli on your horizon, whether as a visitor, or as a possible future resident. I’ve listed a few, with hope we might  see you there this year.

5 reasons to visit Gimli

1. Gimli has the largest number of residents of Icelandic heritage in any community outside of Iceland. The New Iceland Heritage Museum is an excellent facility that celebrates the town’s Icelandic and Ukrainian settlers whose hard work and joint efforts helped make a good life for farming and fishing families. Tergesen’s General Store has an excellent book shop that offers many books about Iceland and Manitoba and predominantly features books authored by local writers. Tergesen’s is a big supporter of local culture and regularly  holds book launches and events to spotlight local authors at the historic A-Spire Theatre.

2. Gimli’s strong interest in film and culture makes it a perfect place for a film festival. The Gimli Film Festival runs from July 24-28 this year and will showcase more than 130 feature films, documentaries, and shorts from around the world. Where else can you sit on the beach and watch a film under the moonlight on a 35×10 -foot movie screen suspended over the water?


Gimli’s mascot is the massive Viking statue

3. The Gimli Icelandic Festival formally known as “Islendingadagurinn” has been held in Gimli since 1932 and continues to reinvent itself. We really enjoy the Viking Re-enactment Village that draws re-enactors from around the world to setup a Viking village on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli and live like the Vikings did 1,000 years ago. The Gimli Icelandic Festival always runs on the August longweekend and is scheduled for August 2-5, 2013.

4. Gimli is a beautiful sailing community and has a scenic harbour where you can dock your boat, or stroll along the pier and look at the art and the boats  harboured there.


Gimli harbour is lovely and peaceful

5. Gimli is a fair trade community. Gimli is the 1st in Manitoba and 6th community in Canada to become a certified fair trade community. To qualify, local leaders must pass resolutions to support fair trade initiatives, local retailers must offer a wide range of fair trade products, and the community must host events that promote the fair trade movement. That is happening this coming week, when The Fresh Carrot, a health and wellness store in Gimli hosts a fair trade chocolate event on May 13th at 7:30 pm. If you live in the area, call (204) 642-3737 to register. I’ll see you there!

Have you been to Gimli? What strikes you as being special, unique, or quirky about the place? Please join the conversation, and meet us back here the week of May 20th for our next new post.


exploring chocolate in Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia is one sweet city. Gorgeous views and vistas at every turn. But how does it measure up on the chocolate scale?

As someone who’s been scouring the world in search of the best chocolate for the past 3+ years, I felt compelled to thoroughly explore the chocolate scene in Vancouver am pleased to report … it’s excellent!

Vancouver is home to worldclass chocolatier, Thomas Haas, rated by some as Canada’s very best. I would definitely put this amazing chocolatier in the top tier in Canada.


Originally hailing from Germany, Thomas Haas has European training and experience to his credit, and combines his youth and creativity with traditional old-world flair to bring you an excellent assortment of European-style pastries as well as a scrumptious selection of chocolate bars, treats and truffles.

The bars have extremely creative packaging, taste fantastic and make an excellent gift grouped in six-packs for $33C. That’s just $5.50 a bar for quality that you’d pay $10/bar for at many of the finer chocolate houses around the world.

Now with two locations (the original at 128-998 Harbourside Drive in North Vancouver and a second location at 2539 West Broadway in Kitsilano) Thomas Haas Chocolate has a devout following that will beat you to the punch and snap up the delicious double-baked chocolate croissants if you’re not quick on the draw. I was stunned at the line-ups on a Saturday in May when I visited the North Van location – particularly as it’s in an industrial area where the rest of the surrounding buildings are not open on weekends.


Even if you don’t love chocolate, you will find a terrific assortment of European-style pastries at Thomas Haas Chocolates

Do call ahead or check the website when you’re visiting to be sure you’re not disappointed as Haas respects “family hours” and is not open evenings, Sundays, or Mondays in order to give his hardworking staff well-deserved time off with their families.

While you’re on the North Shore, take time to drop into two other noteworthy chocolate shops. You’ll find Cinnamon’s Chocolates at 119 East 2nd Street in North Van and Olde World Confections in the waterfront Lonsdale Quay Market, most convenient if you’re taking the seabus over to the North Shore.

Cinnamon’s has a wide array of truffles and is best known for their Martini Collection, a decadent selection of truffles spiked with flavored liquors. Olde World Confections in the Lonsdale Quay Market uses Belgian chocolate to make a variety of chocolate goodies including dark chocolate caramel pecan turtles and a lovely ginger dark chocolate bark.


Just in time for golf season – Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory brings you chocolate golf balls

You’ll find a couple noteworthy chocolate diversions in downtown Vancouver. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at 1017 Robson Street will sell you chocolate golf balls and a huge selection of chocolate-covered apples. The Sutton Place Hotel at 845 Burrard offers a Chocoholic Buffet in its restaurant every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. Reservations are recommended. Be sure to arrive hungry!

For anyone looking for excellence in both creativity and quality, both Gem Chocolates at 2029 West 41st Avenue and Chocolate Arts at 1620-West 3rd Avenue are truly amazing for handmade chocolate truffles and ganaches. Gem Chocolates is the creation of chocolatier Glenn Knowles, who created a top-notch chocolate map and unique packaging for his delicious ganaches. Chocolate Arts is the creation of Maître Chocolatier Greg Hook — definitely one of Canada’s best chocolatiers — whose talent paired with superb quality, creativity, and innovative flavours offer you a selection of fine hand-crafted chocolate not to be missed when in Vancouver.

And if you’re out exploring the farmers’ markets in and around Vancouver, be sure to be on the lookout for Paul Dincer of Levni Chocolate. We encountered Dincer at the Burnaby Market last year and loved sampling his chocolates that are visually enticing and delicious on the palate. Based on all the delicious findings I had during my week of chocolate discovery in Vancouver, I’d have to say that this city is a must for any serious chocolate traveller, and gets my award for Top Canadian Chocolate Destination.

Have you tried some of these chocolates? Yes, there are others I could have included in this post. There are indeed more noteworthy creators on the chocolate scene in Vancouver. That will be for another visit, and another post.

Please join us back here the week of May 6th for our next new post. And if you want to be sure not to miss the launch of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, please subscribe to this website as it will be the hub for book promotions, sales, and events.


creating a personalized travel guide

Thanks to Merle Rosenstein for the previous guest post on specialty coffees of Costa Rica. And thanks to everyone who has been supporting my Indiegogo campaign! The campaign will officially end on Saturday, but we’ll keep the donation lines open via our sister site at http://chocolatour.net. Any and all donations are most welcome, as the higher the total climbs, the more copies of Chocolatour that we can get printed, and the more extended our efforts in book promotion.

In this week’s post, I’d like to introduce you to Irene Ternier Gordon, an author friend of mine who did a guest post on doreenpendgracs.com about her speaking gig on Via Rail. This week, Irene shares with us how to create your own travel journal. Over to Irene …


Irene Ternier Gordon


Creating your own personalized travel guide

 by Irene Ternier Gordon

When I casually mentioned to Doreen one day that I had spent much of that day preparing a personalized travel guide for the trip my husband Don and I were planning — a combination of Caribbean cruise and 10 days at Marathon in the Florida Keys — she asked me if I would do a blog post on the topic.  My first reaction was, “Doesn’t everyone do this in the Internet Age? Why would anyone be interested in my guide?”  She convinced me that everyone was not making personalized guides and that I should write about mine.

My guides consist in material downloaded from the Internet and filed in a binder. I usually begin by checking out what Wikipedia has to say about the places we’re visiting because Wikipedia includes an overview of their history, geology, climate, flora and fauna, and culture and recreation. Next I check official websites from these places.  In many cases official sites have far too much info on hotels, restaurants and shopping and not enough info on places to visit for my taste.  Because I am a history buff and Don loves maps and geology, I also download Google maps and extra articles about the history and geology of the places we are going.

Two useful sites for Marathon, Florida (a place we were visiting) were Road Trip: Florida Keys” at travel.nationalgeographic.com and The Florida Keys: Marathon” at goflorida.about.com.  Then I downloaded more detailed  information about three places that sounded particularly interesting — the Dolphin Research Center, Curry Hammock State Park, and Crane Point Museum and Nature Center.

the guide for each destination will be distinctly different

The guide I produced for a trip to Scotland last year was much more detailed than usual because we went with three distinct purposes in mind — to visit the town where Don’s great-grandfather was born, to see the sights of Edinburgh, and to visit places connected with the books I have written about the Canadian fur trade.  Because it was not possible to book tours for many of the specific places we wanted to see, we rented a car and planned our own tour. Don is one of the few people I know who is brave enough to drive in the British Isles on the wrong side of the road.  I already had a large amount of historical material about the places connected to the fur trade, but I copied detailed physical descriptions and hiking guides so that we could tour them on our own.

Once we arrive at our destinations, we usually are able to obtain brochures and maps to supplement the information I have included in my guide.  Then on our return home, I convert the guide into a souvenir journal.  I discard material that we didn’t use, and I add brochures and maps that we collected and download more information about some of the things we saw or did.

In the top picture on the cover of my guide I am posing with a gumbo-limbo tree in Curry Hammock State Park. For those who are unfamiliar with this tree, it is nick-named the tourist tree because its red, peeling bark looks like a sunburn.  The lower picture  shows the Queen’s Steps in Nassau, Bahamas.

Thanks, Irene for this great post! I think it’s really cool how you’ve created these personalized travel guides for each of your trips. Way more economical than purchasing travel guides, also more up to date, as you pull the info off the internet right before you leave (or as you are doing your planning) vs taking it from a guidebook that may  be a year or more out of date.  How about the rest of you? Have you done something similar to what Irene does in her trip planning? Or have you come up with another unique way to prepare for your trips? Please share ideas, and then join us back here the week of April 22nd for our next new post, when we’ll delve into the chocolate scene of Vancouver. 


Cupping Specialty Coffee in Costa Rica

Hi everyone, and thanks to those of you who have helped with the crowdfunding campaign for Chocolatour.  We’re slowly making our way to our goal. There’s still time to help if you can.

This week, we have the great pleasure of welcoming  guest blogger Merle Rosenstein to the blog. I know Merle through the Professional Writers Association of Canada. We both share a love of travel, and a love for fine coffee. As Merle has just returned from Costa Rica, where she visited a number of coffee plantations, she has been generous to offer us insight into what she saw and tasted. Please welcome Merle with the same warmth we’ve come to know here on the blog.


Cupping Specialty Coffee in Costa Rica

Hello chocolate enthusiasts! I’ve been reading Doreen’s delicious accounts of her chocolate travels and wanted to share with you a guest post on coffee travel. Coffee is the number one beverage in Canada after non-bottled water and a favourite morning pick-me-up. But there’s more to coffee than most people know. For example, did you know that coffee is more complex than wine and has over 850 aromatic compounds? On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I sampled coffee cherry directly from the bush, talked with farmers and pickers about a new picking paradigm, witnessed the washing, pulping and drying processes and ‘cupped’ micro-lots of coffee alongside experts.

In February, Francisco Mena of Exclusive Coffees, a boutique coffee exporter, took me to two farms in the lush, mountainous West Valley, a key agricultural district in Costa Rica. The Helsar de Zarcero micro mill is located on a high ridge in the area of Alajuela, in the coffee areas of Zarcero and Naranjo. At the Mill I met the very gracious Ricardo Perez and his charming daughter, who walked me through the washing and drying stations.


The washing process removes the pulp surrounding the bean in preparation for drying. On a massive cement patio, white coffee beans baked in the hot sun. The beans felt smooth and dry to the touch, but were not ready yet. Fully-washed beans are patio-dried for two days and placed on African beds for eight days. I watched as a worker examined the beans resting in elevated wood frames covered in netting.

Perez drove me over to Finca Don Chepe to meet farmer Manuel Arce and his wife Lorena. Plots of coffee bushes lined a valley on the property, planted in a similar configuration to grape vines. I traversed the steep slippery slope to greet the Nicaraguan and Panamanian pickers. The workers pick coffee cherry by hand and drop them into baskets called cajuelas.


Lorena invited me to sample some fully ripe coffee cherry. The ruby red cherries were very sweet. The ripest coffee cherry make the best tasting coffee.

Then Francisco Mena took me back to his office/warehouse to cup coffee with some coffee roasters from Crema Coffee in Nashville, in Costa Rica on a buying trip. The coffee tasting or ‘cupping’ process is very intricate and involves smelling and tasting a number of different coffee samples, set up in a circle. As I walked around the table trying each sample, I could detect different tasting notes or complexity in each. Three sample coffees were selected and prepared in the espresso maker as a final test. The coffees were fragrant and full bodied, full of complex aromas.

If you are interested in specialty coffee in Canada, you can read my li paper, Specialty Coffee in Canada on Twitter @merlerosenstein. To learn more about my travels, you can subscribe to my blog www.newfreelancewriter.wordpress.com.

Thanks to Merle for this informative post. Please join us back here the week of April 8th, when Irene Gordon will share tips on how to create a customized travel journal for each of your trips.



Chocolatour Goes Indiegogo

Thanks to everyone who’s been with me on this wonderful journey of chocolate exploration over the past 3+ years. We have a lot more chocolate to discover!


This will be the backdrop for the cover of Chocolatour. Thx to Mike Adam Photography.

As most of you know, I’ve been writing the first edition of “Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate” over the past year. I had no idea at that point in time that the book would take so long to write, or the breadth and magnitude of the research I had accumulated.  I soon realized that this was much more than one book, and so the plan was transformed into a trilogy that would be published in a series of three distinct volumes that would divide the world up geographically.

The 1st edition of Chocolatour will focus on Europe and the UK. Within that region, I have spotlighted six European countries that to me, epitomize the best that Europe has to offer in the world of chocolate. I have chosen Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Holland as each of these countries has played an important role in the modern evolution of chocolate. And I’ve included the British Isles (UK) in this volume as it is my opinion that Britain is making the best chocolate on the planet, and that Scotland and Ireland aren’t far behind.

Chocolatour has selected a small number of chocolatiers, chocolate makers and chocolate companies to profile from each of these countries. My goal has been to give you some travel tidbits on each location, and then introduce you to the men and women of chocolate who are doing something special. Those who are the most innovative. Those who are worth checking out –whether you decide to plan a trip and head overseas, or whether you decide to order some fine artisanal chocolate online and open your chocolate-loving taste buds to the world.

In addition to these profiles, Chocolatour takes you to some of the world’s finest cocoa growing regions including Peru, Ecuador, and St. Lucia, where we also had the pleasure of attending the Jade Mountain Chocolate Festival. We have a full chapter on chocolate events and attractions around the world, in addition to chapters on the health benefits of chocolate, the personalities of chocolate, and a global A-Z Guide for Chocolate Lovers.

Because I am a travel writer, and visuals have always comprised a huge portion of any stories I have written, Chocolatour will contain more than 50 full colour photos in the 1st edition to help you become immersed in the stories and feel that you have truly met these masters of chocolate and cocoa farmers from around the world. But as you can imagine, producing a quality book with a magnitude of full colour images is an expensive undertaking.

I therefore am launching an Indiegogo.com crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to cover the cost of a professional editor, designer, and printer to bring this beautiful book to you. If you have been enjoying this blog over the past 3 years, please consider donating a small sum or passing word about the campaign to others. If you are involved in the world of fine chocolate, please know that you are as much a part of this book as I am, and please consider supporting it in any way you can.

If you are a strong supporter of the arts and independent publishing projects, please consider supporting my campaign with a generous donation here. And if you are a philanthropist with considerable means, please blow my mind with a contribution that is beyond my wildest dreams to help me bring Chocolatour to the world.

Together, we can make this artisanal publishing project about the world of artisanal chocolate a reality.

Thank you so much for your support. Please share this post with your world, and in the comments section for this post, please let me know where/how you’ve helped me spread the word. One lucky supporter whose contact has come thru with a contribution to the campaign will win a copy of Chocolatour when the Indiegogo campaign closes on April 13th.


when travelling, the little things can mean a lot

In this post we talked about our most memorable travel moments. It got me thinking about how it can be the smallest things about a trip that bring a smile to our lips and define that trip in our memory banks.

For example, as much as I loved everything about the wonderful resorts we stayed at in St. Lucia– and certainly standing in that infinity pool in our sanctuary at Jade Mountain was a high I’ll never forget– it was being out in the jungle with a naturalist who told us all about the local plants, the history of the island’s cocoa plantations, and introduced us to “Peppa” that really stands out in my mind.


Peppa proudly showed us how he could strip a coconut with his teeth.

No matter where my travels take me, I find it’s always the moments in which I’m closest to nature that really stand out in my memory banks. Or the moments that I connect with someone who is totally unique and epitomizes the essence of the place I am visiting.

Such is the case of our adventure in the jungles of St. Lucia with “Peppa,”  a rastafarian who was chillin’ among the palms.

Our guide, Tyson, seemed to have a good level of comfort with Peppa (which I’m sure is a mutation of ‘Pepper’) so we quickly felt in the spirit of the discourse and welcomed Peppa’s comments from among the trees. The next thing we knew, Peppa came running out of the bush with a possum for us to see!


The possum didn’t seem that interested in meeting us.

It seems Peppa had awakened the possum from his afternoon siesta, and the possum was in no mood to meet a couple of chocolate lovers from Canada. So after a bit of prodding, he hustled back into the bush.

Peppa chose to inspire us with more of his survival skills, and decided to show us how he could strip a coconut shell with his teeth! That was no easy task. We watched in awe as our rastafarian friend tore the coconut hair strip-by-strip off the coconut shell, and then cracked it open for us to drink from.

These proceedings made a lasting impression on both my travelling companion and I, giving us something to joke about and remember with fondness.

Have you had a similar adventure in your travels, when something most unexpected happened, only to take front stage in your memory banks of that particular trip?

Let’s share some travel fun, and then please join us back here the week of March 11th, when we’ll have our next new adventure.