Tree Chocolate Farm
By guest bloggers: Josie Smart and Radu Burciu.
Sweeten your experience in the region with a visit to the Tree Chocolate Farm. Just a 25-minute drive from Casitas Tenorio, Tree Chocolate is a locally owned, family run farm located in the lush rainforest surrounding Tenorio Volcano. Not only will you get to know the whole process of producing chocolate, from bean to bar, you’ll take a walk through plantations of cacao, coconut and a wide array of other fruit trees and plants, and you’ll get to taste all sorts of locally grown delights. Tree Chocolate are proudly organic and run sustainable farming practices, all while also conserving rainforest on their property.
The basics –
- How to get there from Casitas Tenorio: Around 25 minutes by car. If you don’t have a car, we can arrange private transport for you.
- Cost: $18USD adults, free for children under six
- Parking:Parking is available on site.
- Duration: About 1.5 hours
- What to bring: Comfortable walking shoes, raincoat and/or umbrella, mosquito repellent.
- Facilities: There are restrooms at the farm, and a gift shop where you can buy all sorts of cacao goodies and handmade wooden crafts.
- What to expect:
- Why do we support this tour? Tree Chocolate farm is owned and operated by a local family. Their farming practices are organic and sustainable, and the family have even chosen to conserve a large portion of their land as untouched rainforest.
- Tips: You’ll be treated to a bunch of tastings, so try not to start the tour with a full stomach!
Visitors’ experience blog
What a feast for the senses! The Tree Chocolate tour far exceeded our expectations. This tour was about so much more than just chocolate. Yes, the chocolate is a clear (and delicious) drawcard and highlight, but on this tour we were also treated to other tasty locally grown delights, plus given a lesson in medicinal plants. Add in the spectacular scenery and a walk through the farm and neighbouring rainforest, and you have all the ingredients for an excellent experience in real, rural Costa Rica.
The drive to the farm is only about 25 minutes from Bijagua, in a small village called Santa Rosa. Our hosts at Casitas Tenorio helped us order a taxi so we could get there because we didn’t have a car. The last 5 km are on an unpaved road that took us past smallfincas, village houses, schools and churches. We were intrigued to see huge dark coloured rocks scattered in the fields. We felt a world away from the polished, tourist spots encountered elsewhere in the country. And when we arrived at our destination, we were pleased to see that it was just as advertised: a family-run, authentic, operational farm hugged by the lush rainforest. We were greeted by Gerardo Solorzano Barrantes, who owns and lives on the farm with his wife, Runia Cerdas Barahona, and family. Gerardo only spoke Spanish, but he was clearly very warm and welcoming by nature, and took great pride in his work and his land.
We had prepared ourselves to practice our elementary Spanish as we thought the tour was only operated in the local tongue, but we were pleasantly surprised that our guide, Luis, spoke perfect English. Luis had a natural approach to sharing his knowledge as we walked around the farm, making easy conversation and finding ways to engage with our friends’ seven-year-old daughter who accompanied us – a huge plus! We started the tour in the plantations, where Luis gave us some background about the property. It had been in the family for 40 years, but they had only been growing cacao trees for 6 years. While cacao is the main form of business, they also grow coconut, banana, papaya and plenty more. Luis was always prepared with a knife, plyers or machete to cut off an edible fruit or plant for us to taste or smell. We loved experiencing the sweet taste of the cacao fruit, freshly picked from the tree. The flesh around each cacao bean is delicious, and we managed to eat the entire thing. We learned about the way the cacao flowers are pollinated, and the procedures used by the farmers to ensure a quality fruit crop all year round without using any chemicals! This includes the way they avoid crop-killing fungus by checking every individual cacao fruit each day, rather than spraying the fruits like many other farms do (especially those in mass-production).
But the cacao wasn’t the only attraction here. We continued our walk and got to see, smell and taste a huge variety of other plants and fruits – including some with traditional medicinal uses. For example, Luis showed us the Guanabana(soursop)fruit, with leaves thatare supposed to have multiple medicinal uses. He also showed us the ‘solda con solda’, also known as the ‘power plant’. This plant is used as a pain reliever, and is known as a natural anaesthetic. We even had a taste of the leaf, and it had a definite numbing effect on our tongues.As we walked we again encountered the enormous black rocks that were dotted around the place. Luis explained that you can see these rocks in some parts of the area, and they were most likely from an eruption of Tenorio Volcano many years ago. As people from countries with only (well and truly) extinct volcanoes, this was a very cool sight to behold. We could see the volcano in the distance, and it was crazy to imagine the rocks shooting this far through the sky to land there.
The tour continued into the rainforest, which was also part of the property. This portion of the land had been conserved intentionally by the family, who recognise the importance of the rainforest to the ecosystem. This was a great surprise addition to the tour as we had the chance to listen to the gentle sounds of the river, and gazeat the moss-covered trees surrounding us. There were massive Liana (woody vines) hanging over our heads, ‘Chonta’ trees with roots above the ground that could ‘walk’ to receive more sunlight or rain, and an enormous, 400-year-old tree that was home to many small bats. The landowners had also created a makeshift playground in a clearing with a hugeswing hanging from one of the big trees. The swing was great fun for adults and kids alike!
Gradually we make our way back to where the tour began to see the manufacturing process of chocolate – from bean to bar. Some of the equipment being used was decades old, and we were told many of the instruments had been constructed by a member of the extended family. We inhaled the scent of the cacao as we saw the way in which the beans are separated from the fruit; the drying process; the roasting process; and how it transforms from bean to the paste that becomes 100% chocolate. We got to have a taste of the chocolate in its most pure form, as well as 50% and 70%, and sample cocoa butter, which is also a valuable commodity as an oil and moisturiser. Finally, we took a seat and watched a video which gave even greater insight into the full chocolate production process. The best part: we were given a delicious, freshly made chocolate drink to indulge in while we watched.
Naturally, the tour finished with a visit to the gift shop, where we could buy bars (50% or 70%) to take home with us. The chocolate that they produce and sell comes in an array of forms and, most importantly, is super tasty. You can also buy cocoa butter, powder and a few other forms of cacao. Aside from cacao products, there were some beautiful homemade artisan woodcrafts available, which were made by another member of the family. We left the tour with full bellies and a spring in our step, that was no doubt the result of both chocolate and from having such a wholesome and insightful experience.