Chocolatouring in Switzerland

I was planning to do a wrap-up post of my visit to San Francisco this week, but something bigger and potentially more exciting has taken precedence. I’ll be hosting the first-ever group Chocolatour to Switzerland March 29-April 8th, 2014, and wanted to be sure to reach as many of my contacts as possible about this, because the travel agent needs your deposit by January 20th if you’d like to join us.

UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE HAD TO POSTPONE THIS TRIP UNTIL A LATER DATE. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN A CHOCOLATOUR WITH DOREEN, SEND HER AN E-MAIL AND WE’LL PLAN SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE.

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Sampling chocolate truffles at Confiserie Sprungli in Zurich.

Many people have said to me that they’d like to join me on a chocolate excursion. This is your chance! The travel agent in Switzerland has worked closely with Journey’s Travel in Winnipeg to put together a tremendous itinerary with these highlights:

March 30 – April 2 – Lucerne – Hotel Waldstätterhof

April 2 – 4 – Lausanne – Hotel Agora Swiss Night

April 4 – 8 – Zurich – Hotel Helmhaus

Included in our Chocolatour:

  • Accommodation as mentioned above including breakfast, service charge & taxes
  • Mar 29 – Travel to Switzerland
  • Mar 30 – Private transfer from Zurich airport to Lucerne via scenic Albis pass
  • Mar 31 – Private guide for walking tour of Lucerne
  • Mar 31 – Private chocolate tasting at Max Chocolatier
  • April 1  – Private guide for full day
  • April 1 –  First class train from Lucerne to Engelberg and return
  • April 1 –  Tickets to Mount Titlis
  • April 1 –  Private visit to cheese dairy in Engelberg
  • April 1 –  Tasting at cheese dairy incl. cheese, bread and 1 glass of white wine
  • April 2 –  Private transfer from Lucerne to Lausanne
  • April 3 –  Private guide for full day
  • April 3 –  Private motor coach for excursion to Montreux and Lavaux vineyards
  • April 3 –  Private castle guide at Chillon castle
  • April 3 –  Entrance fees to Chillon castle
  • April 3 –  Private wine tasting with snacks at Domaine du Daley
  • April 4 –  Private transfer from Lausanne to Zurich via Gruyères
  • April 4 –  Entrance fees to Cailler chocolate factory in Broc
  • April 4 –  Creation of own chocolate at Cailler chocolate factory
  • April 5 –  Private motor coach for excursion to Basel
  • April 5 –  Private visit at Beschle with tour, tasting and creation of of own chocolate
  • April 6 –  Visit to the International Chocolate Salon in Zurich
  • April 7 –  Free day in Zurich and optional chocolate touring with Doreen
  • April 8 –  Private transfer from hotel to Zurich airport

Sorry, guys. This is a ladies-only tour. In the future, we may do Chocolatours for both men and women.  Let me know if you’re interested.

And ladies: Please visit this site to see the detailed itinerary and to contact Sheila Rempel to register for the tour. Deadline to place your deposit is January 20th, so please don’t wait. It is likely to sell out soon as we are deliberately making this a small group.

Join us back here the week of December 16th for our next new post.

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TCHO New American Chocolate — another great reason to visit San Francisco

I hope you’re up for some fun today! We’re visiting TCHO New American Chocolate as part of our continuing Chocolatour through San Francisco.

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TCHO Chocolate received Chocolatour’s Award for Best North American Chocolate Bars.

I first tasted TCHO chocolate about a year ago, and was equally impressed by the presentation (the look and feel of the packaging and the information provided on it) as I was by the intoxicating flavour of the chocolate itself. Whether you’re a purist, and just want to taste pure, unadulterated dark chocolate or you’re feeling playful and want to have some fun with your chocolate, TCHO has something for you.

I love TCHO’s Peruvian and Madagascar varietals, as you know from reading this blog that I am partial to the bright and fruity notes of chocolate that is on the acidic end of the taste spectrum. Both these TCHO flavours absolutely wake up all your chocolate-loving taste buds in a very vibrant fashion. TCHO’s Ecuadorian and Ghana chocolate are delicious as well, but in a smoother, more subtle way.

TCHO (pronounced CHO and a play of the first syllable of ‘chocolate’) also makes a nice milk chocolate for those of you who are not fans of dark chocolate. And I love their Mokaccino bar — a delightful marriage of locally roasted Blue Bottle coffee and TCHO’s Classic milk chocolate. But new for 2013 is the addition of three wild and crazy flavours that we had the opportunity to taste with chief chocolate maker, Brad Kintzer on September 30th during our Chocolatour of San Fran.

visiting TCHO is a fun experience 

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TCHO offers free public tours and private chocolate tours at a cost.

TCHO offers short and snappy public tours of its chocolate factory located at Pier 17 on the city’s waterfront. The tour begins with a slideshow and explanation of the cacao-growing process and how cocoa becomes chocolate. TCHO sources its beans directly from cocoa farmers in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, and Ghana, and Kintzer actually goes to each location and roasts the beans at the origin where they were grown. The roasted beans are processed into pure chocolate liquor, and in a period of between three weeks and three months (depending on where the beans are coming from ) that arrives in San Francisco by ship and is then made into chocolate for consumers and couverture for commercial chefs.

TCHO has put an emphasis on teaching the farmers how to grow the cacao, and how to properly ferment the beans in order to optimize the chocolate flavour they produce. But Kintzer doesn’t trust the roasting process to anyone else at this point in time. This man really loves chocolate and takes great pride in producing the purest and most perfect chocolate possible.

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Brad Kintzer is chief chocolate maker at TCHO.

But that doesn’t mean he’s always serious about it!  On October 1, 2013, TCHO released three new flavours that Kintzer dreamed up to appeal to the playful child in us for times when you just want to have some fun. Galactic Gelato combines 62% organic, fair trade chocolate with a mint gelato made by local favourite Gelateria Naia. Strawberry Rhubard Pie really does taste like its namesake, but is made from South American cocoa mixed with organic strawberries and chunks of organic pie crust. Sounds strange, but it really is good! And the TCHunky TCHOtella blends South American cocoa with organic roasted hazelnuts from Piedmont, Italy, and a touch of sea salt to create TCHO’s tribute to gianduja (called gianduiotto in Italy and profiled on this post.

Presently, TCHO only ships within the USA, but maybe if we non-US residents put the pressure on, they’ll begin sharing the delicious line of TCHO products with those of us north of the 49th parallel. And if you get the chance to visit San Francisco, do make yourself a reservation for the chocolate tour, and plan to purchase some of the great chocolate you’ll have the opportunity to taste.

Please join us back here the week of December 2nd for our next new post.

 

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Dandelion Chocolate is one of San Francisco’s finest chocolate makers

As much as I enjoyed touring around San Francisco and Oakland, I had to stay focused, as the primary reason for my recent trip was to meet some of the chocolate makers whose fabulous chocolate creations had impressed me to the point that they became winners of several awards in the first volume of Chocolatour. On the top of my list were TCHO New American Chocolate and Dandelion Chocolate, two bean-to-bar operations in the heart of San Francisco.

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Dandelion Chocolate single origin bars come wrapped in beautiful paper that Dandelion has custom-made for them in India.

I’ll begin with Dandelion Chocolate, a small company that only one year ago, opened the doors to its funky cafe and chocolate factory on Valencia Street in the Mission Street Neighbourhood of San Francisco. I gave Dandelion a Chocolatour Award for “Best presentation” in the chocolate bars category to acknowledge the beauty and attention to detail that goes into wrapping its exquisite chocolate bars. Everything at Dandelion is done by hand (with the assistance of simple machinery) and the result is a level of freshness and excellence in the pure and simple chocolate bars it produces.

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Todd Masonis of Dandelion Chocolate

We met with co-owner Todd Masonis and tasted the Dandelion line-up of beans, including the 70% Ambanja Madagascar bar — my favourite as well as Todd’s, who tells is that the fruity flavour of the Madagascan beans will vary from year-to-year, sometimes highlighting strawberry notes, sometimes cherry, but always highly acidic due to the aggressive drying process that occurs in the hot Madagascan sun.

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All the cocoa beans used to make Dandelion Chocolate bars are hand-sorted.

The cocoa beans are hand sorted so that the imperfect ones can re rejected as Todd says they’ve experimented and made chocolate with some imperfect and cracked beans included and you could tell the difference. So only the very best beans and pure cane sugar are used to make Dandelion Chocolate. I hope you’ll get a chance to visit Dandelion soon and try some!

The other bean-to-bar chocolate maker that really impressed me is TCHO New American Chocolate, located on Pier 17 very near Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ll profile them in the next post.

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San Francisco never disappoints

It had been many years since my last trip to San Francisco, so I was glad that there are enough terrific chocolate makers in this remarkable city to warrant a return trip. It was as beautiful as I’d remembered.

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Approaching San Francisco on the ferry.

I loved taking the ferry from Oakland to San Fran, as the views as you approach the city are stunning. Lots of interesting architecture, boats and ferries coming and going. A real hub of activity.

When we got off the ferry, we headed straight for the old Ferry Building that is now occupied as the Marketplace, with all sorts of businesses, including the Wild West Fungi fresh mushroom shop, which I found to really unique! I’ve never seen so many varieties of wild and cultivated mushrooms available in an urban market before.

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Yes, there was good chocolate in the Marketplace as well, but I’ll save that for the next post!

We also enjoyed strolling around Fisherman’s Wharf. The city is celebrating 150 years as a port during 2013 and there was plenty of action happening on the piers and along the wharf.

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Fisherman’s Wharf is a San Francisco landmark.

Taking a Bay Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island was a highlight. The US Federal Government had shut down all non-essential services during our visit, so Alcatraz was closed to the public, but we did sail past really close and the old former federal prison appeared eerie, and almost haunted even in the light of day.

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Alcatraz Island was named for the pelicans that once populated the island, now known for its former federal prison.

The city of San Francisco is serviced by two magnificent bridges. The Bay Bridge crosses San Francisco Bay over to Oakland, and is probably best known for being one of the most illuminated bridges in the world with 25,000 white LED bulbs illuminating the bridge at night in a light sculpture designed by Leo Villareal. The Golden Gate Bridge painted bright orange is one of the most photographed bridges on the planet and has the longest suspension bridge main span in the world at 4,200 feet. It really is a sight to behold.

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Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is a must for any fan of modern architecture and engineering feats.

There were many more highlights of our trip to San Francisco, but we’ll leave it at that for now, and leave you waiting for that taste of chocolate in our next post. Be sure to visit the week of November 4th or you might miss it!

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Chocolatouring in Oakland, California

As I mention in my book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, I love discovering great chocolate in places that are somewhat off the beaten path. So I jumped at the opportunity to discover Oakland, California when planning a visit to San Francisco last month. Oakland is San Francisco’s sister city, located just across the Bay Bridge from the more photogenic and better known Northern California port city made infinitely popular by Tony Bennet’s hit song, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.” Well, I have to tell you. We left a little piece of our hearts in Oakland, where we had a massive patio room at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel overlooking the Oakland Estuary, which runs into San Francisco Bay.

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a view from the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel in Oakland

After a full day of travelling, we were thrilled to be able to put our feet up and sit on the patio, watching boats of all sizes go by. But the next day was filled with excitement, as we happily took in the Eat Real Food Fest adjacent to Jack London Square, my favourite part of Oakland, where you can dine on fresh seafood and local vintages, shop till you drop, or just enjoy the fabulous sculptures and waterfront scenery.

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A beautiful sunset in Oakland

my picks for the best chocolate in Oakland

But, yes. I was there for the chocolate. And I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered two Oakland chocolate companies that I can wholeheartedly recommend. If you’re looking for some fun in your chocolate, try the Ramona Bar made by Double Dutch Sweets. This was probably my most fun chocolate discovery of the trip. The 1.9 oz (54-gram) Ramona bar is handcrafted with dark chocolate, peanuts, salted caramel and nougat. All certified organic ingredients with no additives or preservatives. It was absolutely delicious, and let me tell you … I didn’t share much more than a small bite of one bar with my traveling companion, Mary Ann. There’s just some of my chocolate stash that I won’t share.

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Another excellent chocolate company that is based in Oakland is Barlovento Chocolates. They had a very busy booth at the Eat Real Food Fest. The sea salt caramels were good, but the Chipotle Almonds covered in 64% Venezuelan Dark Chocolate were awesome! Just a little kick (from the peppers) blended with some of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

And that’s just the beginning of our taste-tempting visit to California! Please join me back here the week of October 21st for our next new post.

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Chocolatouring in California

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Grand Opening of the new premises of Constance Popp Chocolatier of Winnipeg who is now located at 180 Provencher. A great time was had by all, but let me tell you … I won’t be taking these cute chocolate pumps with me to California this week!

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These chocolate shoes from Constance Popp Chocolatier don’t quite took comfortable enough to wear to California.

I’ll be putting on a lot of miles, all in the sake of chocolate. We’ll be starting in Oakland, California, where we’ll attend the Eat Well Fest  and meet some of the local chocolatiers.

We’re then off to San Francisco to meet with Dandelion and Tcho Chocolate, two of the finest in the Bay Area. Each received an award in Chocolatour for their excellence in chocolate bar making.

Then it’s off to wine country, where Susan Cooper has arranged some chocolate and wine pairing events for us.

And we’ll finish the Chocolatour to California with a visit to the Los Angeles International Chocolate Show in Pasadena On October 6th.

Stay tuned for details!

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Peru is a perfect destination for a culturally-rich Chocolatour

If you’re interested in chocolate travel that focuses on where the cocoa is grown and an exploration of the culture and cuisine of the local farmers who grow the cocoa, Peru is a perfect destination for you. Peru is growing an increasing quantity of fine aromatic cocoa, and as a result, some of the most taste-tempting chocolate can be found in this South American country of breath-taking beauty.

Peruvian chocolate remains a personal favourite

I prefer chocolate with fruity notes in its flavour palate, so Peruvian chocolate remains one of my favourites. In previous posts, I’ve introduced you to the beautiful hand-painted chocolates of Roselen, and the tropical flavour offerings from other Peruvian chocolatiers such as Giovanna Maggiolo. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a Peruvian coffee and chocolate cooperative that focuses on the purity of pure chocolate flavour.

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The Naranjillo Cooperative of Tingo, Maria, Peru, produces some great products … including chocolate!

Cooperativa Agragaria Naranjillo is located in the small city of Tingo Maria and is the largest producer of cocoa in all of Peru. We visited the factory and reception centre and learned that in addition to coffee and cocoa, farmers of the Naranjillo cooperative also produce honey and mead. We tasted the Mead Amazónic, called the “drink of love” as it is said to increase fertility and the likelihood of producing a male child.

I really enjoyed the Naranjillo milk chocolate with cocoa nibs. It was deliciously creamy, with crunchy bits of cocoa nibs to provide an interesting texture and taste. Everything Naranjillo makes is totally pure, with no added soy lecithin or vanilla added to the chocolate, and just a touch of organic cane sugar from Paraguay to take the bitter edge off the pure 100 percent organic chocolate.

Now in its 48th year of operations, there are 3,500 member farmers in the Naranjillo cooperative; 2,000 of those grow cocoa. Many also grow coffee, and I was fortunate to have been first introduced to Naranjillo chocolate a couple of years ago, when friend and coffee roaster extraordinaire Derryl Reid of Green Bean Coffee Imports returned to Manitoba from Peru with Naranjillo coffee and chocolate in hand. I still remember the intensity of tasting the pure 100% chocolate.

Naranjillo has just replaced their equipment with new pieces from around the world and continues to expand and improve their product line. They are also ready to welcome groups interested in experiential travel, so you can be sure that a return visit to Tingo Maria is high on my visit for a future group Chocolatour. We only had one night to spend at the amazing Madera Verde Tourist Hotel. How I wish we’d been there for a week!

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The Madera Verde Tourist Hotel in Tingo Maria, Peru, is a lovely place to stay and connect with nature.

Please join us back here the week of September 23rd for our next new post.

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swept away in the WAVE Interlake Artists’ Tour

I make it a habit on this blog to devote at least one post per year to my own backyard — Manitoba’s Interlake region. And there is no better time to salute the Interlake than during the semi-annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour.

If you live in Winnipeg or near the Interlake and haven’t yet been to the self-guided WAVE Interlake Art Tour, you’re really missing out. Each year, during the second weekend of June and the September long weekend, painters, sculptors, potters, metalworkers, jewellery and clothing makers, photographers, and creatives of many disciplines open their homes and studios to the public so that we can see where they work, how they work, and what inspires them.

I am fortunate to know many of these amazing people personally, but had only been to the studios of a couple of them. I found it really insightful to be able to see their work displayed in the space in which it was created. Now I know why people I know get a kick out of seeing my office and the place where I write my books and articles.

I started at the northern end of the WAVE tour with a visit to Loch Wood Estates and the Blue Door Studio of Marlene Van Helden, a writer, painter, and stained glass artist. I love Marlene’s new offerings this year: her stained glass fish made of bubbled and tempered glass and adorned with metal fins.

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Linda Dorian of Sandy Hook is the photographer known as Raven

I also visited the home of Sandy Hook photographer Linda Dorian, who goes by the professional name of Raven. Linda is one of the most incredible photographers I’ve ever met. And why shouldn’t she be? The world is her canvas, so to speak. Linda lives on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Sandy Hook and spends hours just watching wildlife and nature from her beautiful beach-front home. No one else captures local wildlife, flora, and fauna better than Raven. If you are a pelican fan as I am, look for Linda’s pelican prints and cards. They are delightful!

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Gayle Halliwell of Studio 410 in Winnipeg Beach.

I was also impressed with Studio 410 in Winnipeg Beach featuring the work of artist Gayle Halliwell. I know Gayle as a fellow member of the Toastmasters in the Arts club which meets Wednesday mornings in Gimli. Gayle is a delightful speaker, but she is also a very talented artist. I like the way Gayle explains her motivation and technique for each piece of art. It gives visitors the opportunity to get inside the head of this highly-creative individual.

That’s just a snapshot of the 46 stops you can visit during the 12th annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour. The WAVE will run Sunday, September 1st from 10 until 6 pm.  Do yourself a favour and spend Sunday riding the WAVE. If you can’t make it, spend some time perusing the WAVE website. It profiles the various artists. You can make future appointments to visit them in their studios, and you can order custom artwork from any of them.

Join us back here the week of September 9th for our next new post. And if you have a moment, do check out the list of Top 100 Canadian Travel Bloggers posted by Flight Network. You’ll find this blog (Diversions with Doreen) listed in the D’s.

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come Chocolatouring with us to Switzerland

Thanks to everyone who has been sending positive reviews and testimonials about Chocolatour. I’ve posted a few of them on the About page at http://chocolatour.net/about/. There are also reviews posted on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18323528-chocolatour.  It’s fabulous to have reader feedback so soon after publication of the book. Yes, I will eventually put the book on Amazon and other large outlets, but for now, I’m having fun personally filling your orders for books, and autographing each one of them.

Some really exciting news is that we are planning the first in a series of Chocolatours with readers and members of the Worldly Women Travel Club. If you like the idea of travelling to exciting travel destinations and experiencing some chocolate travel of your own with me as your guide, please subscribe to Chocolatour.net for updates on what we have planned.

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I brought an entire suitcase of chocolate home from Switzerland on my Chocolatour there in 2009.

For our first group Chocolatour, I’m pleased to say that our destination will be Switzerland. There’s truly no better place in the world to experience chocolate, and what’s really exciting is that we will be in Zurich in time to attend the 2014 Salon du Chocolat in Zurich from April 4-6, 2014. If you’ve never attended a Salon du Chocolat, these international chocolate shows are truly the ultimate experience for any serious chocolate lover. There is unlimited sampling at the booths of dozens of top-notch chocolatiers, chocolate-making demonstrations, chocolate art exhibits, and even chocolate haute couture where you can see fashions adorned with chocolate accessories and appliques.

For our Chocolatour, we will depart Winnipeg on March 29th and arrive in Zurich for some visits to chocolate shops and factories, meet some chocolatiers, and do some shopping (Zurich is a fabulous place to shop for chocolate, watches, fashions, and more.) We’ll then head out of the city and visit Basel for more chocolate and wine, and if we can make special arrangements, we hope to ride the Swiss Chocolate Train and visit a cheese factory in Gruyere, and the historic Nestle-Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. We’ll then head back to Zurich in time for the Salon du Chocolat. Exact details of the itinerary and price of the Chocolatour will  be available within the next couple of weeks, but we’ll be officially launching the idea at the Wine & Chocolate Event to be held at the Caboto Centre in Winnipeg on August 20th from 7 – 9 pm. Please register if you plan to attend.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for the event if you live in the Winnipeg area, and for the chocolate tour (Chocolatour) if you like the idea of chocolate exploration  in the country that consumes more chocolate on a per capita basis than any other country in the world. The Swiss really love their chocolate!  It will be a trip to remember, and one that is guaranteed to produce sweet memories–and a lot of laughs, because after all … chocolate makes everyone smile.

Please join us back here the week of August 26th for our next new post.

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growing cacao in Peru

As much as we enjoyed the Chocolate Salon in Lima, Peru, our journey of chocolate discovery was not to end there. We had been booked on a flight to take us to Tingo Maria, located in Huanuco Province, and also to Tocache, located in the southern part of San Martin Province.

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These Peruvian ladies from Santa Rosa are proud of the products they are now producing. Charita is on the left.

We had been in the northern part of San Martin province last year when we visited Tarapoto and the cocoa farmers of Santa Rosa. How surprising it was to see these ladies whom I had met last year when they welcomed us to their farm. Those of you who already have a copy of Chocolatour will recognize Charita on page 16 in the first volume of the book. Charita and fellow members of the Santa Rosa Cooperative are now making a cocoa drink mixed with various flavourings such as wheat, packaging it, and selling it via shows such as the Salón del Cacao Y Chocolate in Lima and other local markets.

My trip this year was as part of an international delegation of people involved in the chocolate industry who were invited by PromPeru and USAID (the US Agency for International Development) to visit Peru and learn more about its fledgling cocoa industry. I had heard mention of USAID last year on my visit to Peru, but the trip this year reinforced just how important this agency has been in helping Peru rise like a phoenix from the smouldering ashes of the coca industry and reinvent itself as an integral player in the cocoa industry. Peru now grows some of the finest aromatic cocoa in the world, and is determined to make sure the world knows about it. I didn’t need anyone to convince me that Peruvian cocoa makes great chocolate. I learned that last year, when I tasted the chocolate of Orquidea, Roselen, Xocolatl, and others, and knew it was something special.

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Our welcoming committee in Tocache, Peru included a visit from a group of school students who presented us with cocoa pods.

This year, we visited the cocoa growing regions of Tocache and Tingo Maria as key stops along the Ruta del Cacao (Cocoa Route) and were welcomed with great enthusiasm as we learned the intricacies of growing cacao in this part of Peru. It was a fascinating journey, and provided me with more great information for the second volume of Chocolatour and this blog.

We visited several cocoa farms and saw the pride from each of the farmers as they described their growing process and how the harvest is a family and community affair. We met many passionate people who want the world to learn of the quality of their delicious aromatic cocoa.

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Peruvian cocoa farmer showing us the inside of the cocoa pod.

And as in every region I have visited, the cocoa farmers in this region had their own unique challenges. I was surprised to see so many miniature black pods on the cacao trees, and when I asked what they represented, I was told that these were aborted pods. The tree senses how many pods it can nurture to maturation, and aborts the rest. So you will see these tiny black pods on the trees that will just fall off and decompose onto the ground.

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The mini black pop on the right is an abortion.

It was so fascinating learning more about cacao growing in Peru. It is such a challenge for the cocoa farmers, but with tenacity and continuing education, they are learning how to make the best of it. The result is magnificent Peruvian chocolate that is among the finest tasting aromatic chocolate in the world.

Please join us back here the week of August 12th when we’ll continuing exploring the world of artisanal chocolate.

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