Pineapple Lumps

While stocking up for our roadtrip, I picked up an innocuous bag of pineapple/chocolate candy. I love pineapple, we love chocolate, and the bright yellow bag and slightly ridiculous name called out to me. We put it in the car and promptly forgot about it.

 

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The candy is just as vividly yellow on the inside.

 

Pineapple lumps are chewy, bright yellow, pineapple candy centers coated in a basic but tasty chocolate. The consistency of the center candy is somewhere between a soft taffy and a very hard marshmallow. The overall effect is neither too sweet nor too tangy, and they very readily fall into the category of “just one more” snacks, except each piece is fairly large and eating too many is a good way to get a stomach ache.

Our first experience with the Lumps was after rummaging around for something sweet coming back from a hike. The car had been left in the sun and the interior was toasty, as car interiors can get. We found the bright yellow bag and gave out a collective “oh no..” expecting the whole pile to have melted into an inedible brown and yellow mess. Luckily for us, this was entirely not the case, and we had our first taste of some very soft and extremely chewy pineapple lumps. They quickly became a favorite and I made sure to restock whenever they ran low.

These candies (or lollies in NZ) are not just a favorite of the Kiwis but also a point of pride. As the company page writes : “In the beginning some countries got luckier than others and New Zealand more so than most – that’s because we got Pascall Pineapple Lumps … Those other countries can keep their gold, diamonds and oil – we’ve got the most scrumptious National Treasure of them all!” The back of the bag continues on in similar style describing the history and wonder of Pineapple lumps, from humble beginnings sometime in the 1950’s at the Regina Confectionery Company.

Our second memorable experience with the Lumps was attempting to eat them for breakfast, after the car had been chilling in the cold New Zealand night. Approaching the consistency of hard taffy that quickly softened up after an initial hard bite. Cold is probably my favorite way to eat the Lumps, you get a variety of textures and they’re great as a faux ice-cream on a hot day. On the trip keeping them cool was a challenge so we mostly ate them at whatever temperature they happened to be.

Pineapple Lumps were one of the most memorable candies from our time in New Zealand, and our trip overall. They seem to be a quiet but popular part of Kiwi history, and unfortunately have been facing trouble. While our Lumps were manufactured entirely in NZ, Mondelez has slated the factory for closure with production moving to Australia. As of July 7th there seem to be NZ companies interested in picking up manufacturing. Hopefully this iconic New Zealand sweet can stay locally made.

I’m not sure where they are available outside of the Aus/NZ area, but Amazon carries them for online ordering in the US. I highly recommend picking up a bag if you see one. They’re delicious alone, or in a plethora of desserts as the pile of internet recipes indicates.

Hidroeléctrica to Machu Picchu

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Visitors ask locals for directions to Machu Picchu at the start of the railway in Hidroelectrica.

FAfter our evening of food, hot springs, and rest in Santa Teresa, we woke up ready to tackle the last leg of our journey to Machu Picchu. Because we couldn’t afford the insane $200 price tag for the train to and from Aguas Calientes (the town that serves as the base for visiting Machu Picchu), our only option is to walk from the relatively nearby town of Hidroeléctrica along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. It’s something that a lot of backpackers do, so we figured we’d be in good company.

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Our trail supplies (plus water and some trail mix). Note that the Sublime is actually an amazing chocolate bar for the price, with decent quality chocolate.

We stocked up on ‘supplies’ (read: life-saving chocolate) in a general store near the main square, and then caught a van headed toward Hidroeléctrica for 10 soles. The road was hot, dry, and dusty, so we were grateful to be in an air-conditioned van, despite the bumps and ruts. After half an hour, we passed an odd geological feature that our driver insisted was a natural cave in the wall. Ten minutes later, we passed by the hydroelectric dam compound that Hidroeléctrica is named after. Then came our stop, marked only by a sign welcoming us to the Hydroelectric Center Machu Picchu. From here, we had to continue the rest of the way on foot.

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The mysterious ‘natural’ cave near Hidroeléctrica. Any idea on what it is?

With the exception of the towering peaks around us, this area looked a lot like a scene from Southern California’s dusty lowland bush. It was also not well signed, so we set off on the largest trail we could find in the direction of Hidroeléctrica and hoped for the best. Thankfully, within minutes we encountered a guard post that marked the entrance to Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. The guards here checked our passports, wrote down our passport numbers and names, pointed to the park rules, and then genially waved us on our way. I noticed the rules included “Not walking on the train way” and “Not starting plants”. Given that we’re literally about to walk the track path to Machu Picchu, I can guess that they’re poorly enforced.

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The guard station at the entry to Machu Picchu’s Sanctuary and the start of the railway tracks. Go here to register!
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The do and do nots of the sanctuary. I see that walking on the train way isn’t allowed; I hope they just mean walking directly on the tracks.

We hiked in the direction the guards waved and found the start of the railway track, a mix of tourists making the walk and vendors selling last-minute snacks and goods. There was even a full-service restaurant, just off to the right of the track. We had our snacks so we kept hiking, and within a few minutes of following the track it was just us. We may have taken a wrong turn, because after half an hour our tracks dead-ended into a wall. Above us there was an ominous, handpainted “no entry” sign. We backtracked and asked a guard on duty nearby what direction to take. He pointed us to the dead end, and off to the left, where there was a trail hidden in the underbrush.

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I’m proud to say that despite several websites stating that this hike had only one trail, we managed to find the dead-end track AND take the alternate route up the hill. TAKE THAT, BEATEN TRACK!

We followed the trail, skirting the “no entry” area that consisted of someone’s wooden shack and farm plots. It quickly got steeper, until we found ourselves climbing over rocks and clinging to branches to continue up the hill. Twenty minutes later and panting, we emerged from the hillside onto another set of railroad tracks. There were several more people walking along these tracks, so we guessed that this was the correct way to Machu Picchu.

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Small white mushrooms grow on a stump along the trail.
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A emerald-green insect along the trail (a beetle or hemipteran?)

From here on out the hike was pretty straightforward, marked by a few odd scenes along the trail and some interesting plants and animals. The first half was hard-packed earth that made the going easy. We passed wild avocado and guava trees, and occasionally saw farms cultivating bananas. Huge green macaws flew from tree to tree, squawking loudly, but were impossible to photograph. About an hour in, we crossed a train bridge using a wobbly, steel-sheet pedestrian path to the side of the tracks. Looking over the railing, we watched the brown water of the river move lazily below us. It looked like the rainy season was carrying off quite a bit of dirt.

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Crossing the rail brige over the river: mostly safe, except for some wobble in the steel sheets and a couple of rust pits. But she seems stable enough!
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A hibiscus flower along the trail

At halfway, rocks and gravel replaced the dirt along the track and the hike got harder. While in some places the trail was wide enough that we could avoid the gravel and walk on the dirt or grass, in most places the path was too narrow. We found ourselves slipping on the gravel, twisting our feet and ankles this way and that. Passing trains also became more frequent, accompanied by conductors shouting at us to get out of the way and scowling. I get it, but maybe we wouldn’t be here if the train didn’t cost as much as a night’s stay in a five-star hotel.

On the upside, guess who met up with along the track? Yep! It’s Ashley and Kyle! They had managed to hike Llacapata and were now on their way to Machu Picchu as well.

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The train passes us on the trail carrying a dour, shouting conductor. He’ll shout and frown even when you’re far off the track on the side of the trail.

Near the end of the hike, things started to get a little surreal. The path widened to include four tracks and included a grassy knoll in the center. We stopped on some nearby rocks to eat our chocolate bars, and noticed that there was a whole botanical garden, restaurant, and lodge here alongside the tracks. Again, the only way to reach this place is by walking along the train tracks, so this establishment has to get all of its visitors from people like us.

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Eating our trail rations of chocolate
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This is a lodge, garden, and (I think) restaurant that seems to just serve visitors hiking the railway. Maybe the train stops here too, but that seems unlikely.

Just outside the garden there was also a signpost indicating destinations and distances. According to it, we had covered 7 of the 13 kilometers to Aguas Calientes. We had 4 more to go.

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Look, Cusco is only 115 km! More importantly, don’t conflate Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, or you’ll have an extra 2 km to hike that you didn’t account for.

The last part of the hike seemed to stretch on forever as exhaustion weighed on us. After two more kilometers on the tracks, we reached the train station and transitioned to hiking on a road. We passed the offshoot to Machu Picchu, and finally we could see the town. The sky was threatening rain again, so we picked up our pace and reached the town’s edge in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of stopping at hotels and asking for prices, and we finally we found a room we could afford just as the first raindrops came down.

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A view of Aguas Calientes, the end of our hike for today.

I won’t spend much breath on Aguas Calientes, since it wasn’t a place we liked much. Like Cusco, it was suffering the effects of the low season, and desperation for tourist dollars and two-fold inflated prices made the town seem even more bleak. We did manage to find the doctor, who told us that while Aguas does have an X-ray machine, it’s a small one that’s only for examining hands and feet, so we would have to seek a doctor in Cusco. He seemed overworked, but gave us a weary smile and told me, “If you were able to walk here, you’re more or less ok.” I’ll take his word for it, since we tackle Machu Picchu tomorrow.

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An Incan-styel sculpture in Aguas Calientes. It’s a tourist town. The best thing I can say about it is that it has an interesting layout, spread across two rivers and connected by several aerial bridges.

Mindo’s Chocolate Tour

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Flowers on cacao trees at Mindo’s El Quetzal

You already know I love chocolate so much that I carried a DIY bean-to-bar chocolate-making project across three countries. Continuing this obsession, we we’ve been on the lookout since the start of our trip for a tour of a cacao plantation and the full chocolate-making process. Mindo Chocolate’s El Quetzal was the perfect opportunity to see small scale bean-to-bar chocolate creation in action, so during our day trip to Mindo we stopped by to take a tour.

El Quetzal serves as a storefront, café, and tour center for Mindo’s chocolate-making. You can go in and shop around while waiting for a tour to begin (they occur every half-hour as of Dec 2016), or you can grab a cacao-themed snack at the café. These include the standard fare of brownies and chocolate cake, but what you should really order is the cacao fruit smoothie – it’s a rare chance to taste cacao fruit, that sweet pineapple-mango flavored delight that surrounds each cacao bean and is lost in chocolate-making.

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The café at El Quetzal

The tour begins with a walk through the plantation behind the restaurant to demonstrate growing, harvesting, fermenting, and drying the cacao beans. While the bulk of Mindo’s beans are grown elsewhere, several cacao trees flourish on the Mindo plantation. The guide explains cacao’s growing conditions in hot humid environments and describes the Nacional and Criollo strains they use in their chocolate-making. The trees at the plantation display cacao pods in all states of development, from flower to full-size pod, which all sprout from the trunks of the trees in a natural phenomena known as cauliflory.

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A young cacao pod grows among flower buds

The next stop is an open greenhouse to see how cacao is fermented and dried. El Quetzal ferments its beans primarily on the main plantations, but the guide shows you the type of boxes and layering with banana leaves that occurs to keep the cacao at the perfect temperature during the two-day fermentation. They then show you the beans drying on mesh nets in the greenhouse—cracking one open reveals a nearly rich brown cacao nib, even before the roast. There’s hardly a trace of the original purple color found in cacao nibs before fermentation.

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Cacao beans dry in an open greenhouse

After learning growth and preparation of the bean, the guide walks you through the roasting and extraction of the cacao nib. El Quetzal has built much of its own chocolate-making equipment, including a rotating drum for roasting the cacao beans at a low temperature and a device that cracks the beans and separates them from the outer husk.

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Our guide shows us equipment for cracking cacao beans after roasting

Then it’s on to grinding and processing, where El Quetzal uses several ball mills to grind the cacao from the nibs into a smooth, dark chocolate liqueur. The liqueur is then further processed by a press that squeezes out the cacao butter, leaving behind the cocoa powder that we use in baking. Or the cacao liqueur is conched and mixed with cacao butter to make chocolate. All of this takes places in a heated room to keep the chocolate liquid and encourage formation of the shine that we’re used to in fine chocolate. Once poured into molds, the chocolate is moved to a cold room to set and mature for three days.

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The cold room where Mindo’s chocolate matures

Finally, it’s back to the café for the tasting flight of El Quetzal’s chocolates. It begins with the pure cacao liqueur served beside a homemade brownie, followed by 85%, 77% and 67% dark chocolate bars, both plain and with added flavors. Their chocolate is citrusy and tangy, pairing well with ginger and nuts. You wash the chocolate down with a sampling of cacao tea, made from the cacao husks after the nib is extracted.

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A brownie served with chocolate liqueur during the tasting

While wonderful, the tour and chocolate purchases were definitely a splurge for us. The chocolate-making tour is $10 per person (in 2016), which is the cost of about 2 meals for us in Quito. Chocolate bars are also on the pricier side, at $7 for a 50 g bar. But with their award-winning 77% bar and the amazing blend of the 67% chocolate and ginger bar, it’s hard to resist. And because it’s a mom-and-pop operation built from scratch, it couldn’t feel better.

Hostel Chocolate Part III, the Thrilling Conclusion

When we last left off, I was turning the cacao nibs we roasted in Costa Rica into powder via an uncooperative coffee grinder. It did not look promising. While the cacao mixture had liquefied as expected, it seemed grainy. I dumped it into a container and then placed in the fridge, where it solidified into this mass by next morning:

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It kind of looks like chocolate, although it looks more like chocolate that has gone off

I paused at this point because after reading various chocolate-making resources, I learned that I wasn’t going to be making anything except the darkest chocolate without cocoa butter. It would be something that hovered around 82% chocolate*, which is definitely not my cup of tea. Or bar of chocolate.

While it was possible we might find cocoa butter somewhere in Medellín, I didn’t have high hopes. Because it’s needed to make chocolate and much of it can be lost in processing cacao, cocoa butter is the most valuable part of the cacao mass. Most chocolate-makers order it from sources online, so what are the odds I’d find some that someone selling it in a shop? We were also heading to the tiny town of Guatapé for two days, so the likelihood I’d find cocoa butter soon was nil. Right?

It turns out that the old adage about finding things in the least likely places is true. While in Guatapé we encountered José, the owner of La Tiendita de Chocolate and full time chocolate-maker. As luck would have it, he had just ordered a huge amount cocoa butter to work with, and he agreed to sell us a couple of ounces for about $2 USD. “It’s funny,” he told us, “I just got cocoa butter for the first time last week. I’ve never had it around before then.” How’s THAT for good timing on our part?

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Our little nibbin of cocoa butter

With cocoa butter in hand**, I returned to Medellín to complete our chocolate making adventure. The first step was to assemble the ingredients: the cocoa mass, the cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder. Milk powder isn’t generally used in dark chocolate, but I figured I could try making some dark milk chocolate. I took multiple recipes and mashed them together, aiming for roughly the following ratios:

5 parts cocoa mass
1 part cocoa butter
2 parts sugar
2 parts milk powder

The first thing I did was put the coffee grinder through one more round of grinding-things-it-shouldn’t be. I wanted the chocolate to be as smooth as possible, and without water sugar doesn’t dissolve, leaving a sandy texture. I put several tablespoons into the coffee grinder and created a fine powder.

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Sugar, before (left) and after (right) grinding

I did the same with the powdered milk, but it turns out that the powdered milk was indeed powder, and the grinding had no effect:

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Our milk powder, before (left) and after (right) grinding.

Then I got down to working with the cocoa mass. In hopes of making the cocoa particles finer, I tried to give it a second grind in the coffee grinder, but the poor thing had finally had it and started jamming. Thankfully, there was a blender in the hostel kitchen. I broke the cocoa mass into pieces and tossed it into the blender:

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Let’s hope the blender does a better job of grinding the chocolate mass than the coffee grinder did.

After several minutes of grinding, I got powdered cocoa mass but nothing finer. I decided to abandon making it finer and tossed in the ground sugar, so at least the blender would have a chance to start the mixing process:

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Nope, blender does not grind cocoa mass better than a coffee grinder. I added some sugar to start the mixing process.

Now that the cocoa mass-sugar mix was ready, it was time to start the chocolate making process. Since direct heat is anathema to chocolate, I fashioned a double boiler out of pots found in the kitchen.

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The makeshift double boiler; at least the aluminum ensures quick heat transfer.

I let the water heat for a few minutes, then I tossed the cocoa butter (about 1 oz.) into the double boiler. It immediately started to melt and release the most amazing smell ever–think chocolate combined with melted butter and vanilla.

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Cocoa butter melting. If you ever want to make your room smell like heaven, melt some cocoa butter.

Once the cocoa butter was melted, I tossed in the whole chocolate-sugar mixture and began stirring:

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Amazingly, the cocoa mass began to melt and smooth out, so that it was nowhere as grainy as I thought it would be! I kept stirring, and the mass continued to melt until I had shiny, smooth chocolate:

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What followed was a long process of taste-refining. I stuck my finger in the chocolate and found it was still extremely dark and bitter. I tossed in a couple more spoonfuls of sugar, and a bit milk powder, and then tried it again. It was better, but still too dark for my tastes. I repeated this process until I had something that tasted like something between a milk and dark chocolate. The final ratio of ingredients in my chocolate was probably closer to the following:

4 parts cocoa mass
1 part cocoa butter
2.5 parts sugar
2.5 parts milk powder

Having somehow accomplished fermenting, roasting, grinding and melting chocolate all in a hostel setting, I ran into a final challenge: how do I temper chocolate without a concher or some kind of surface to mix it on? Tempering is the mixing of chocolate in the right conditions such that it will form ideal crystals. It’s what gives chocolate its characteristic gloss and snap. There are two tempering methods: you either use a thermometer and mix chocolate continuously at very specific temperatures, or you seed your newly-made chocolate with an already-tempered piece of chocolate and it magically teaches your chocolate to form the right crystals***.

Unsurprisingly, the hostel kitchen didn’t have a thermometer. I also didn’t have any chocolate to seed with. I settled on the solution of instead reheating my chocolate once more on the double boiler while mixing continuously, then continuing to mix for several minutes after taking off the heat. Finally, I spooned the chocolate into molds (our old leftovers container, used previously for the cacao mass):

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I spoon the chocolate into a clean leftovers container for cooling after my approximated tempering attempt.

Since I wasn’t optimistic about the chocolate flavor, I also ground some cloves and sprinkled the clove powder on top of one of the chocolate bars. I figured that at worst, the strong spice of the cloves would help offset any burnt flavors in the chocolate.

I tapped the chocolate containers a few times to remove bubbles, then I left them to set. Unfortunately, a few hours later they were still pretty runny:

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The chocolate bars setting (very) slowly. The bar on the left is plain, while the bar on the right has powdered cloves sprinkled on top.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, as Jose had mentioned that too much cocoa butter might prevent the chocolate from solidifying. I had read that I shouldn’t put chocolate in the fridge to set because moisture will damage it or cause seizing. But I figured committing heresy and having poor quality chocolate was better than it spilling everywhere or having it filled with flies who drowned in chocolatey paradise. I placed both bars in a paper bag and slid them into the fridge.

Miraculously, when I pulled the chocolate out an hour later, it wasn’t ruined and had hardened quite nicely. There was some evidence for bloom on the tops of the bars, but it was nowhere as bad as I thought it would be with my tempering job.

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Flipping them out of the molds also revealed that the bars had a fairly nice shine, despite my approximated tempering. Whether I had actually done a good job, I had just been lucky, or the patterns on the molds had helped set the chocolate properly remains to be determined. Maybe it was all three.

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Then came the real test: the taste. Stoytcho and I snapped off bits of each bar and tried it. The chocolate was darker than I expected, losing some of the milky flavor during the cooling phase. The words I would use to describe the flavor profile would be bittersweet, fruity, and slightly burnt. It was definitely not the most balanced set of flavors, but it wasn’t awful. And the cloves bar was actually downright tasty, as the spiciness of the cloves helped offset the vague burnt undertones in the chocolate****.

So there you have it, everyone. Against all odds, poor resources, and an utter lack of experience, I have forged chocolate in hostel kitchens across two countries. I am a cooking god.

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I pose with my creations. This success bodes well for my attempts at ridiculous culinary acrobatics in the future.

Attributions:

This project would not have been possible without the magic of the internet, Google, and the following resources: Kojo Designs, The Ultimate Chocolate Blog, Bean-to-Bar, Chocolate Alchemy, and José from La Tiendita de Chocolate in Guatapé. If you’re looking to make your own chocolate, their knowledge is phenomenal.

Notes:

*Ever wonder how the % on your chocolate bar is worked out? Well, if you’re working with cacao mass like I am, it’s simply the ratio of chocolate to other ingredients by mass. So an 80% chocolate bar is something akin to 5 oz. of chocolate and 1 oz. of sugar.

**Well, not really in hand. It would have melted. The melting temperature of cocoa butter is just under human body temperature, which is why chocolate melts in your hand (or your mouth).

***It’s not actually magic, but the more amazing power of science! “Seeding” a solution with a seed crystal, a piece of the material where the molecules have settled down the way you want, is fairly common in chemistry. You can use it to make awesome crystals.

****I should note here that the love of the clove bar was not universal; Stoytcho most definitely preferred the plain dark chocolate bar. But he likes extremely bitter, dark chocolate, which makes him weird. Right? RIGHT???

Heroes Around the World: José of La Tiendita de Chocolate

Heroes Around the World highlights amazing people we meet on our travels. From pursuing their dreams to changing the world, we find their stories inspiring. We hope you do too.

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The street leading to La Tiendita de Chocolate.

Down at the end of this street, near the base of the stairs, is a little chocolate shop that goes by the apt name of La Tiendita De Chocolate. Located in the Colombian town of Guatapé, La Tiendita sells delectable chocolate desserts of all kinds, from bars of pure dark chocolate to creamy bonbons. The chocolate bars shimmer in their clear wrappers, boasting flavors like Himalayan sea salt and pink peppercorns. The bonbons, wrapped in tissue paper and foil, carry equally refined taste combinations: almond, rum, tequila, or caramel with roasted cacao nibs.

Every piece of chocolate is handmade onsite by the owner and man behind La Tiendita, José, his wife, or their assistants. When we visited, José was busy behind the counter showing off some new chocolates. We had initially planned to make a quick purchase to nibble on our walk through town, but the panoply of options made it hard to choose which. José laughed at this, and handed us a piece of chocolate. “Try this,” he said. It was a dark chocolate truffle flavored with tequila and cream.

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Bon-bons filled with caramel and cacao nibs sit in a display case at La Tiendita de Chocolate. The store sells a panoply of chocolate bars and flavors, with a focus on dark chocolate.

I’ve encountered a lot of chocolate in my life, both commercial and gourmet, but nothing quite like what José makes. His focus is on dark chocolate, which he makes from personally-sourced cacao beans. He says he spends a lot of time looking for new bean sources and interesting flavors, which occupies him whenever he’s not shopkeeping. I’d believe it. Biting into a piece of José chocolate reveals complex and fruity flavors. There’s a tang of citrus at the front, followed by a more mellow cherry taste, and the unmistakable bitterness of a dark chocolate that somehow lacks the harsh burnt flavor I’m used to finding in other dark chocolate. I find myself longing for a glass of wine instead of a glass of milk to accompany the chocolate.

Piece after piece, we sample several chocolates in José has on offer. Each is fine blend, with additions to the chocolate playing on its fruitiness. We discuss the flavors with him, and he guides us through his sources for beans on a flavor map of South America: He points out regions that produce cacao beans rich in chocolatey flavors, and other regions that produce beans with lighter, more floral profiles. His knowledge on chocolate is incredible, and we stay with him for hours, taking a virtual trip of South America’s cacao growing regions. At one point, he even pulls a fresh cacao pod out of storage and shares some of the fruit with us.

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Bars of dark chocolate are studded with spicy pink peppercorns. José, the owner, makes his chocolate from bean-to-bar at La Tiendita and has developed all of his own recipes.

We learn that José wasn’t always a chocolate-maker. “I used to work as a field producer for FoxTelecolombia,” he says in perfect English. But he was always experimenting with chocolate. “It was my passion!” he laughs, “And eventually my wife asked ‘Why don’t you quit your job and follow your passion?’ That’s how we got started.” José has been making chocolate ever since, experimenting with everything he can get his hands on and eventually opening La Tiendita here in Guatapé, his wife’s home town. Now he spends his days managing the shop, creating chocolates from his recipes, and crafting new recipes.

But the most inspiring thing about José is his goal of building a gourmet Colombian chocolate an international sensation. He sees a future for Colombian chocolate like that of Ecuador and Peru, whose gourmet chocolate industries have exploded in the past decade as consumers seek higher quality. “Right now, there are very few gourmet chocolate-makers in Colombia and it can be difficult to get supplies,” José says, “We have (the company) Luker, but that’s it, so I make chocolate to show the world how great Colombian chocolate can be.” He tells us how visitors to Guatapé have found his shop and have become obsessed. Once, two Japanese visitors left with two full cases of his chocolate bars. Visitors have also sometimes sent him ingredients he can’t get in Colombia, like flavored liqueurs. All of it has helped him grow La Tiendita and make better chocolate, although he still makes chocolate out of love rather than for profit. “The store may fail, but I will always make chocolate,” he says.

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Truffles flavored with tequila, an alcohol you wouldn’t normally imagine pairing with chocolate. José’s goal is for gourmet Colombian chocolate to be as renowned as chocolate from Ecuador or Peru, but he still makes chocolates out of love for the art, pushing him to create new flavor combinations.

Guatapé: Medellín’s little lakeside town

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The scenery of Guatapé

While Colombia’s major cities have undergone a Renaissance in tourism in the past decade, many of its smaller towns remain quiet bastions of pastoral life less visited by tourists. Located 80 km east of Medellín’s, Guatapé is one such town, boasting a population of less than 6,000 inhabitants and hundreds of kilometers of lakes and forests. While primarily a farming community, part the region was intentionally inundated after construction of at 2600 MW hydroelectric dam by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) in the 1970’s along the Nare River. The resulting reservoir flooded more than 2,000 hectares of land, creating the patchwork of emerald hills and lakes you see above. The beautiful scenery and local charm combine to make Guatapé a relaxing getaway only a few  hours away from the hustle and bustle of Medellín.

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The edge of town

Getting there:

While there are many tours available, most pack too much into a single day and then drop you back off in Medellín, AND can be pretty expensive to boot. Guatapé is a place to slow down and enjoy the scenery, so plan to spend at least one night in the town to truly savor the experience. This means that planning your own transportation is cheapest and easiest, since overnight stays tend to drive up tour costs. The cheapest way to get to Guatapé is by bus from Medellín’s North Bus Station, located at the Caribe stop on the metro line. There are two bus lines that run to Guatapé, but because it’s a popular weekend destination with the locals keep in mind:

    1. As of writing, buses from Medellín to Guatapé run from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm, buses from Guatapé to Medellín run from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm, and tickets should cost around 13,500 COP ($4.50 USD) per person. Always double check bus times with staff at the station when you buy your tickets, because holidays change this schedule.
  • Try to plan your trip around low times, as the bus is far more pleasant to ride. As with most buses in Colombia, the driver will pick up people along the way and it can get pretty cramped during busy times.
  • If you’re planning on taking the last bus back to Medellín, buy your ticket at the Guatapé bus kiosk at least an hour before departure or on the previous day. The final bus tends to sell out in advance, leaving last minute travelers stranded in the town. While this isn’t the worst place to be stranded, it can put a damper on any plans you had back in Medellín.

P.S. We were able to successfully negotiate at Medellín for a lower bus fare than that stated above, but failed to get a lower rate when we tried to negotiate in Guatapé.

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A street in Guatapé with one of the local moto-taxis

Stay:

Located on the quiet eastern side of town, Lake View Hostel is an affordable backpacker accommodation with several perks. The building is clean and airy, with a central hangout area on the first floor. Lake View’s staff are bilingual (English/Spanish), and can offer great recommendations on what to do and where to eat in the local area. They’re also insanely nice–they gave us a whole 4-bed room for a private room rate when the private rooms got overbooked. When we visited in December, rooms cost 46,000 COP (~ $15.50 USD) per night via HostelWorld.

Asking the staff about Guatapé’s current events also nets interesting stories. As of December 2016, the reservoir is the fullest it’s ever been and Guatapé’s waterfront real estate prices are soaring. “People are buying like crazy, and it is crazy,” a staff member laughs and tells us, “because this water doesn’t belong to Guatapé. It could disappear at any time.” He explains that the reservoir exists solely to store water for EPM’s dam, which in turn creates hydroelectric energy on demand. If EPM finds additional buyers for electricity, it draws more water from the reservoir through the dam, lowering water levels and leaving previously waterfront properties landlocked. The water level is currently high because last year Venezuela defaulted on paying EPM, so EPM cut them off. The water level has been rising ever since. Guatapé may be a small town, but even isn’t isolated from global events: the economic crisis in Venezuela is fueling a real estate bubble here.

Eat:

Guatapé’s local specialty is trout (trucha) that is caught locally from the reservoir. Nearly every place will offer a version of this, either grilled in foil with butter or fried on the griddle. Steak and other grilled meats are also common. Most plates will come with rice, plantains or french fries, and a small salad. And as with elsewhere in Colombia, fresh fruit juice is easy to come by in most restaurants.

After asking both hostel staff and locals for the best restaurant in town, we found that the overwhelming consensus was La Fogata, a grill located conveniently along the town’s main street right next to the bus kiosk (where you’re first dropped off in town). La Fogata serves grilled meat of every kind, from steak and pork to fish, including trout. The prices here are high for Colombia–expect to pay around 50,000 COP (~ $17 USD) for two entrees and drinks. But the fine preparation of dishes like the fried trout and grilled salmon make it worth it. If you’re feeling particularly carnivorous, you can also go all-out and order their steak, which comes smothered in grilled bacon and a mushroom-cream sauce.

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The open grill at La Fogata

There’s also a second, more secret culinary specialty in this town: chocolate. Hidden in a corner of the Plazoleta de Los Zócalos, La Tiendita de Chocolate is dedicated to the small scale, bean-to-bar creation of chocolate delights. Gourmet chocolates range from 2,000 COP ($0.67 USD) per piece to 5,000 COP ($ 1.67 USD) per bar. The focus here is on dark chocolate (although milk and white chocolate are available) and exciting flavors (think peppercorns, sea salt, and tequila). Each chocolate is handmade on the premises.

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Chocolates at La Tiendita de Chocolate

Do:

Despite its billing as a relaxing destination, Guatapé has a surprising amount to keep you busy for several days. Here’s a brief overview of what we found

#1. Take in the town’s charm

Guatapé may be small, but its narrow streets are packed with brightly-painted buildings and its open-air squares are gorgeous. It’s a local tradition to create panels of art on each building depicting floral patterns or scenes from pastoral life and the local area.

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Buildings with panels depicting La Piedra

Similarly, the local squares are decorated differently for each holiday. Take time to wander the streets and admire the houses and shops. Two particularly good places to visit are the local squares: Plazoleta de Los Zócalos is a square with open-air seating, restaurants, and souvenir shops, while Parque Guatapé is the main town square and a great place to people-watch.

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La Plazoleta de Los Zócalos–can you tell this one is a hit with the tourists?
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Parque Guatapé, with bright lights for Christmas

#2. Climb La Piedra

By far Guatapé’s most iconic attraction, La Piedra is a volcanic remnant that towers 200 meters (~650 ft) above the ground. Enterprising locals have built a stairway to the top, and for a small fee you can climb up and enjoy breathtaking views of the region. There’s even a shop at the top that sells ice cream as a reward for making the hike. Make sure you bring water, a hat, and sunblock, as the 740-stair climb can get hot.

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A view of La Piedra (upper left) from Guatapé

This rock goes by multiple names because both Guatapé and the neighboring town of Peñol claim ownership of it; you’ll often hear it referred to as either La Piedra Del Peñol or El Peñón de Guatapé by locals. I don’t know much about the history of the dispute and who’s in the right, but I hear it can be a touchy topic.

#3. Enjoy the water

With all that water in the reservoir, there are tons of aquatic activities to do, including a water park in the area and daily boat tours. To find any of these things, just walk down the main street (Calle 32, where you’re dropped off by the bus when arriving). You’ll find water taxis to take you around the reservoir or out to one of the uninhabited islands.

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Amusement rides and water slides along the waterfront

If you ask around at Lake View Hostel, they also know several areas for good trout fishing. There’s even a spot in the hills where you can fish and a local family will cook your catch up right away for you to enjoy.

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A sculpture along the waterfront

Guatapé may seem tiny, but our two days there were overpacked and we loved every minute of it. We can’t wait to go back.

Hostel Chocolate, Part II

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Processing the cacao

We’ve come so far, through Panama and northern Colombia, with nary a moment to think about the roasted and somewhat ground cocoa beans we’ve been carrying. We needed a coffee grinder to turn our current cocoa product into the final product*, chocolate. Since we finally have a breather in Medellín, we went in search of a coffee grinder to continue our Hostel Chocolate adventure.

 

Part 1: The search for a coffee grinder

Colombia is one of the top three coffee exporters and is rewnowned for some high-quality brews, but getting a coffee grinder here is nearly impossible. Good coffee gets exported and the people here mostly drink the pre-ground, freeze-dried coffee, so grinding your own coffee just isn’t a thing. We started our search at big-box stores such as Falabella and Exito, big-box stores like Wal-Mart that sell appliances. While they offered coffee-makers, they had no coffee grinders. The next day we tried three independent coffee shops in the Zona Rosa district—two had no coffee grinders, and the last only had a high-end Japanese glass grinder for $100 USD. Eesh. We asked this last coffee shop where we might be able to find an electric coffee grinder, and they suggested a mall in the next district. So we caught a bus there and hunted around until we found a department store. We asked if they had a coffee grinder and indeed they did! But then we asked how much it was, and they said it wasn’t for sale. The grinder was only available as a free gift with the purchase of a KitchenAid mixer for hundreds of dollars. Defeated, we returned to our hostel.

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Coffee and chocolate shops everywhere, but not a coffee grinder in sight. This store suggested we try the mall, but we had no luck bying a coffee grinder there either.

The next day we stopped by a Juan Valdez for a cup of tea, and lo and behold, they had an electric coffee grinder for $25 USD! It was the last one and a bit dented, so I tried to talk them down in price, but the manager said no to my attempts. All the same, WE HAD OUR COFFEE GRINDER! Thinking I could try making milk chocolate without cacao butter, I grabbed some powdered milk on the way home as well. At the time I didn’t notice it says “fortified with iron”. When I realized it I just figured, “the chocolate will be extra healthy?” Hooray!

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Our ingredients: the bag of somewhat ground, roasted cacao beans and a bag of powdered milk. I accidentally bought the one fortified with iron (hierro), so we’ll see how that affects the chocolate.

 

Part 2: Cacao’s time to grind

That night, I got to grinding the chocolate in hopes of finally completing our chocolate, only to run into the problems of capacity and viscosity. The first problem was capacity—we had roughly 300 g of chocolate, but the machine had capacity for only 50 g at a time.

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~50 g of our starting product in the coffee grinder.

To get the machine to grind the chocolate effectively, I had to grind it for a couple of minutes, open the lid and mix it around, then grind again. I’d repeat this process 2-3 times, so the first batch took about 10 minutes. Despite this, by the end the chocolate had gone from rough grind, to fine powder, then a dark mud, and finally a dense liquid. We had cacao paste, ready for action!

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The product after several minutes of processing. This is about 75% done.

This is when I encountered the second problem of making cacao in a grinder: the  viscosity. Cacao paste has a higher viscosity than ground coffee, so the coffee maker wasn’t designed to handle the extra resistance. The coffee grinder’s motor worked harder, and coupled with the reduced heat dissipation from a paste (instead of the drier ground coffee), the machine soon began to overheat. After the second batch the grinder produced a burning smell, and I had to take breaks within and between the following batches to keep the grinder from dying entirely.

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Attempting to reheat the cacao paste in the pan to grind it more finely. Don’t ask about all the spoons.

With these setbacks, the cacao grinding took about 3 hours in total, and at the end I had a still-slightly grainy paste. I tried to improve the consistency by heating it a pan to grind it again (above), but this turned into a massive mess. Unhopeful, I mashed it into a clean leftovers container** and set it aside to cool overnight.

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The final ground mass of cacao paste. Though blurry, you can see the grainy dots along the surface of the cacao paste.

Not wanting to admit total defeat, I also took one spoonful and dissolved it in some milk made from our powdered milk and sugar, and had myself some chocolate milk. It felt like the spiritual equivalent of making lemons out of lemonade, since we didn’t have high hopes for the cacao paste.

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Chocolate milk: because I refuse to accept that what I’ve made is totally inedible! It was actually pretty good, so at least I’ve made drinking chocolate.

The next day we took a look at the cacao paste and it didn’t look as bad. It had solidified into a dark mass and seemed less grainy, but some areas had white bloom suggesting the fat had separated from the rest of the cacao mass. We were heading to Guatape that day, so I didn’t have time to move forward with the rest of the recipe. But as you’ll find out soon, this was actually a lucky move.

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The solidifed cocoa mass. The whitish parts are bloom, where the fat has separated out. It doesn’t look terribly edible, does it?

Stay tuned for our adventures in Guatape, the land of many (artificial) lakes, and the culinary conclusion of Hostel Chocolate!

  • Natalie

 

Notes:

* A coffee grinder is actually a subpar tool for making chocolate because the ground cacao particles aren’t small enough and result in somewhat grainy chocolate, but it’s the cheap option. Various kinds of ball mills are used to create small-batch and commercial chocolate, running quickly into the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars category. There are cheap ball mills out there for $150-200 that some people swear by for chocolate-making. But I figured our chance of running into one of those in Colombia was pretty much nil.

** When travelling you’re often short on your standard kitchen gear, so saving food containers from restaurants and takeout is insanely useful. It’s basically +1 item for food storage that you can discard or leave behind when you have to move on. We found the Styrofoam boxes don’t keep well, but plastic ones are wonderful. Even the super flimsy plastic ones (like the one in the final photo above) can be reused a few times.

The food of Medellín’s Zona Rosa: Dessert

Zona Rosa

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People sit in front of a Christmas lights display at a park in Zona Rosa

Zona Rosa is Medellín’s happening tourist spot, with all of the hippest shops, bars, and restaurants. Stroll down one of these streets and you could easily imagine you’re in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or any other major metropolitan hub. And while the prices definitely reflect the area, clocking in around 1.5-3 times that of other places in the city, they’re still highly affordable if you’re coming from a country like the U.S. or Canada.

We spent most of our time in Zona Rosa enjoying the relative comfort of the Panela Hostel 2 and eating amazing food. Because around here we like to eat dessert first, this post will be about the desserts of Zona Rosa. Our second post will cover other meal options. But seriously, you can eat dessert first.

The Dessert Tour

Our first Zona Rosa tour began with my insatiable sweet tooth. Stoytcho and I looked up all of the dessert places nearby by searching for “chocolate” on TripAdvisor and we committed to trying the following:  MeLate Chocolate, Como Pez en el Agua, and Arte Dolce.

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The MeLate storefront

MeLate Chocolate was a true chocolate paradise, with chocolate bonbons, chocolate baked goods, and chocolate drinks. Nearly everything on the menu was touched by chocolate in some way. We ordered the traditional hot chocolate, which was perfect, and a white hot chocolate with lime, which was a bit too sweet for our tastes. Next up was the Encanto, a flourless chocolate cake with berry compote and whipped cream. This was absolutely phenomenal and was probably the best thing we had on the menu while there. And finally, last but not least, the chocolate bonbons filled with maracuyá (passionfruit) jam. Although the chocolate alone was overly sweet and had a mild burnt taste to it, the combination with the fruit filling was lovely.

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Some of the dessert offerings at MeLate
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The Encanto with frutas rojas (berry) compote

Recommendation: For those with a craving for chocolate, this is a one stop shop. Try the traditional hot chocolate and the encanto covered in puree de frutas rojas.

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The storefront of Como Pez en el Agua

Next stop, Como Pez en el Agua! This venue is a full-scale coffee shop and bakery, offering up high-quality tea and coffee alongside gorgeous cakes and pastries. The tea selection is wide and all of it is high quality, and if you get the chance you can also order fruit infusions that taste like fresher, cleaner versions of herbal teas—think berry or wild-rose hip tea if it hadn’t been sitting powdered in a sachet for months before you used it. If you’re a coffee snob, this is the place for you, because for 3000 COP ($1 USD) they’ll freshly grind beans that you bring in and make you either a French press or Chemex cup of coffee. Ironically, we’re tea people in Colombia, so we didn’t try much of the coffee. As for the pastries, we visited a few times and tried the following: the hazelnut Nutella brownie, the mini-cheesecake with wine-poached pear, and the Margarita (a lime-mousse cake). We weren’t wowed by the Margarita as it seemed a bit bland, but the brownie and the cheesecake were both fantastic. CPA also offers brunch until noon, which while we were there included bruchetta with fresh cherry tomato and onion jam. While on the pricier side for the portions, the taste is just right.

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Desserts at Como Pez en el Agua
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The mini cheesecake with wine-poached pear

Recommendation: A perfect place for brunch or afternoon tea, but it may take you a couple tries to find the perfect dessert. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff for recommendations.

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The gelato of Arte Dolce

Arte Dolce was our third stop and turned out to be an amazing little gelato spot with a side of French bakery. The baked goods they offer were fairly limited, though we found the sundried tomato and basil quiche to be excellent when warmed. But where Arte Dolce really shines is the gelato, and in particular the Amarena, a sour liqueur-soaked cherry and cream gelato that sandwiches perfectly between their chocolate crumb coating. You can get it with an extra scoop of ice cream and fresh cream for 12,000 COP (around $4 USD), and it’s definitely a dessert for two.

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One of the baked goods that Arte Dolce offers
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An amarena gelato sandwich with chocolate crumble and an extra scoop of berry gelato.

Recommended: If you’re looking for a cool treat on a hot night, Arte Dolce hits the spot. It’s especially good for those looking for options on the less sweet side, as they offer gelatos such as the Amarena and tangy berry sorbets.

Making chocolate from scratch in a hostel – Part 1

Some people have a passion for specific types of projects, like woodwork, or surfing, or cooking. Me? I apparently love challenging projects (see: getting a PhD, travelling around the world).

This manifests as evaluating projects thusly: is it really hard to do well? Is there a moderate or high chance of failure? Do I currently lack the skills and knowledge to do this project, and will I have to learn a ton to do it? Is it usually done with specialty equipment that we will have to McGuyver substitutes for? If the answers to the previous questions were yes, then HELL YEAH I’m in.

So, as I was stuffing my face with cacao fruit and lamenting the fact that the little beans within would go to waste, I hit upon the following realization: I could make chocolate.

Did I know how to make chocolate from cacao pods? Nope. But that didn’t stop me from scouring the jungle and Old Reef Farm for cacao pods to figure it out.

Note: A HUGE special thanks to Davide and Hakuna Matata Hostel for their patience with this insane project.

Cacao anatomy:

The first thing to cover is what part of the cacao pod actually makes chocolate. Let’s go from the outside to the innermost bit. First, you have your cacao pod, which grows from the stems on the cacao tree:

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The pod is hard and inedible, but cracking it open reveals the seeds, surrounded by a fleshy, delicious fruit:

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With finger for emphasis of fruit deliciousness

Inside each unit of fruit is a cacao seed, which is composed of a husk on the outside and the cacao bean or nib on the inside. This little nib is the source of all things chocolate. But biting into it raw just gets you a range of bitter and highly astringent flavors – definitely not yet chocolate.

Cacao Types:

We had to figure out type of cacao pods we had, since this determines some of the processing steps and the flavor of the final product. There are three traditionally-recognized “varieties” of cacao common in South America: Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario. Modern genomics have actually revealed 10 clusters, but your standard chocolate-making information on the internet hasn’t quite caught up with this information yet so we’ll stick with the three.  The Criollo bean variety is prized for having complex fruity and spicy flavors, but Criollo trees are susceptible to a wide range of pests and diseases, making it fairly rare. The Forastero bean has a more traditional chocolate flavor, but because of the reduced complexity of flavors compared to Criollo, it’s considered inferior. However, Forastero trees are resistant to many types of pests and diseases, making them the most common type of cacao. Trinitario is a hybrid of the Criollo and Forastero varieties, resulting in trees with greater resistance to pests and beans with a more complex flavor.

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Our cacao pods

There are several traits that distinguish these three varieties, but since we only had the cacao pods, we had to stick with the pod and cacao bean traits. Our cacao pods were somewhat bumpy, and the beans inside were moderate to dark purple and black. Criollo pods are extremely bumpy and have white or light pink cacao beans, so they were immediately ruled out. Forastero pods are smoother and have dark beans; combined with their abundance, it’s likely we had Forastero pods. The one exception is the orange pod on the far right, which had moderately purple beans and rougher skin, suggesting it may be a Trinitario. Luckily, it seems like Forastero and Trinitario can be processed together (Criollo is more finicky).

From Bean to Chocolate:

Internet research yielded five major steps in making cocoa powder: fermenting, drying, roasting, shelling, and grinding. In total, “proper” cacao processing should take at least a week. While we had more time in Cahuita than we expected thanks to Hurricane Otto and Costa Rica declaring a state of emergency, we still had only 5 days. So, we had to fudge a few steps, no pun intended. I’ll break each step down below and explain how it’s normally done, then how we did it.

Step 1: Fermenting

I didn’t even know chocolate making had a fermentation step before this project, and it threw a definite wrench into our plans. Once removed from the pod, the fruit-covered cacao seeds are traditionally fermented in buckets or boxes for at least 3 days and up to 2 weeks. This process is an actual fermentation process, where the fruit around the cacao seed is consumed by a complex microbial community of yeasts and bacteria that produce lactic acid, alcohols, and aromatics. The result of this fermentation is two-fold: it kills the cacao germ with heat and prevents it from germinating (which produces astringent flavors), and it initiates the flavor development process in the bean. This presented two problems for us: we didn’t have that much time for fermentation, and we’d already eaten the cacao fruit off half of our seeds. Oops. I couldn’t find much information on whether these things would affect the fermentation process, but dangit, I’m a biologist. I know the three things needed for fermentation: sugars, low oxygen levels, and warm temperatures. Half of the cacao seeds still had fruit, so I figured this should be enough to drive the fermentation process. As for the low oxygen levels, the most airtight thing we could find was a plastic doggie bag (a la making prison wine I read about once), so we dumped our cacao seeds into that:

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Double-bagged, for protection

As for the warm temperatures, your standard bread-and-beer yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae favors temperatures of roughly 30° C, or slightly below body temperature (thanks to my yeast labmate Eddie for this info). So after tying our double-bagged cacao mass shut, we slept with it under our sleeping bags for two nights and left it wrapped in the sleeping bag during the day. Since these temperature conditions would speed microbial growth, I figured we could cut fermentation down to around 36 hours. And considering that the bag started to bulging with liquor-scented carbon dioxide that we had to open and release every few hours, I think I was right.

Step 2: Drying
The second cacao-making step I didn’t know existed, in this step cacao beans are dried either in the sun or with low external heat to make them both easy to ship and to further develop flavor. I considered skipping this step entirely, but since the roasting step could go horrendously without it, I decided against it. Since we only had 1-2 lbs of beans, we opted for sun-drying on plates borrowed from Hakuna Matata’s kitchen:

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Our drying cacao seeds

By some kind stroke of fate, the days following the hurricane were hot and sunny, so we spent 2 days at the hostel drying our cacao beans, which consisted of placing them out in the sun, turning them once every few hours with a fork, and then moving them when the sun shifted. The little fermented beans definitely attracted some bugs, as well as some curious looks from hostel staff and guests. Finally, on the evening of the second day, our beans were dry enough for roasting.

Step 3: Roasting

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It’s like stir fry, except it smells like chocolate

From here, cacao processing gets fairly fast (can be done in a few hours) and the internet can provide lots of instruction, as most people start chocolate-making from scratch with fermented, dried beans. Like coffee, cacao beans are roasted to mellow acidic flavors and develop complex aromas through the Maillard Reaction. The practical goal of cacao roasting is to roast enough so that these flavors develop, but not so long that the cacao burns. There are some fantastic online resources on roasting cacao beans in an oven, but we didn’t have an oven at the hostel. So we opted for this guy’s awesome pan roasting method.

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Eternal stirring to prevent cacao burning

The primary goal was to start hot and then lower the temperatures for a roast of at least 30 minutes, pulling the beans off when they smelled chocolatey but before they were “done” since they would continue cooking. Also, since we had Forastero and Trinidado beans, we could opt for a longer roast time. So, we heated our pan and tossed the beans in, stirring constantly. Once the beans had heated (about 5 minutes), we lowered the heat. We then kept stirring and tried a bean every 5 minutes to see if they were done, which is marked by a loss of astringent flavors and conversion of bean color from purple to chocolate brown. Finally, 45 minutes later, we pulled the beans off and poured them into a metal bowl. Since they tasted done, I wanted to cool them quickly, so I went over to the hostel’s pool and used it as a water cooler to rapidly cool the beans.

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The final result of roasting the cacao beans

Step 4: Shelling
This was probably the easiest step in the process, as it involved cracking the seeds, dropping the bean into one pile, and then dropping the husk into another pile. We did this manually, and kept the husks to make a fairly tasty tea. Here’s what the beans looked like:

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And here are the husks: IMG_2037

Step 5: Grinding
Grinding is the final challenge in making cocoa, which is arguably fairly easy to overcome with a spice or coffee grinder. But we were in Cauhita, which doesn’t have an electrical appliance store (or really, most stores), so we opted for a manual grind. We found and washed a nice elongated rock, and ground the beans in a metal bowl as finely as we could.

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Real handmade chocolate

Arguably, our cocoa powder wasn’t super-fine, but upon tasting it actually tasted like chocolate. Not like the nasty raw cocoa beans, and not sort of like chocolate, but ACTUALLY chocolate. We had transformed raw cacao beans into actual cocoa powder. We’re wizards.

We actually haven’t finished making our chocolate yet. We poured the cocoa powder into a bag and have been dragging it along with us, hoping to find a cheap coffee grinder here in Colombia. I’ll post an update when we do.