The cacao forest that surrounds our chocolate factory is much like many other forests around here. It was planted about 120 years ago as part of a big push to prevent the Panama disease from reaching the banana plantations in the Caribbean Costa of Costa Rica. Once the fruit was coming, the harvest was plentiful and the cacao was good quality.
Sadly, about 40 years ago a mold called monilla infected the fruit and many cacao trees were chopped down and replaced with banana. Some cacao was simply abandoned and considered “dead” by the people who were working these hilly areas that were not good for banana.
About six years ago my friend Jeff invited my family to be caretakers of his 13 acre farm here in Puerto Viejo, Limon. Costa Rica. We were just finishing up a volunteer time and were seeking a way to stay and work in Costa Rica. We started a coffee roasting business which turned into a coffee shop called Caribeans.
Once we moved to Jeff's newly built house we began to see that we were surrounded by beautiful mountain forest and within that forest cacao. Many of the fruit were black and obviously old or diseased. However, that first year there was some cacao to harvest so we did and learned about basic fermenting and drying of the beans. With that cacao we made some rustic chocolate with ground cacao and sweetened evaporated milk. Yummy!
Now after six years we are making European style gourmet chocolate! Our production from this property has always been very low due to disease and no strategy for resurrecting this abandoned “dead” cacao. So we are dedicated to farmer direct relationships with cacao producers. But we have always harvested a little bit from this “dead” cacao plantation.
Caribeans has a new plan for the Chocolate Forest! Now that we are becoming better known amongst the cacao and chocolate professionals here in Costa Rica and abroad, we have finally begun to learn some of the more successful ways of managing the cacao. Progress has been slow but we have seen some improvement. Through the teaching of Global Creek over the last three of years, we have a renewed dedication to sustainable ways of managing the Chocolate Forest. Through the sweat of some great volunteers we have begun to select zones of management and begun cleaning and trimming trees. The work is tough, buggy and generally uncomfortable. However, the chocolate that is made is all worth it!
Cacao researchers as C.A.T.I.E have been making progress too! Caribeans will be planting great tasting disease resistant cacao amongst the “heritage” cacao we have here in the property. We can continue to harvest the cacao that is ready while we wait for the new cacao to grow. The cacao forest depends on bio-diverstity. So we are dedicated to our wildlife zones and a natural forest environment for cacao. Visitors to Caribeans Chocolate Forest Experience will be treated to a true cacao forest not just a cacao plantation where the only trees you see are cacao. They will also taste chocolate made tree to bar from the very forest they are experiencing!
So, after 40 years of abandonment these old diseased cacao trees will be called forth once again to produce in all their glory!