Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bri Bri Cacao, Wild Caimans and Wild Cacao

We left Turrialba and headed southwest to the Caribbean coast, close to Panama. Thoughts were to travel into the Talamanca mountains to talk chocolate with indigenous growers. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to make the trip there and back by boat...perhaps on a return trip? We visted instead a Bri Bri family near to Cahuita, to see their cacao traditions and how they make chocolate. They are unable to grow their own cacao now, because their farm is infected with moniliasis (see my last post). They buy some beans from other farmers, so we were able to sample some beans with them and chat a bit about the local growers. 

Our next stop, up the coast was Tortuguero! There are no cacao growers in Tortuguero, we just came for the monkey business. A couple of days to canoe and spot as many sloths, monkeys and crocodiles as possible! But much to my delight, right after we saw this guy...

...a wild caiman! We spotted these guys....

...wild cacao! We left the cacao to the monkeys and are headed next to the Pacific coast. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Visit to The Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE)

We had the pleasure today of meeting with Dr Wilbert Phillips-Mora, head of the cacao improvement program at CATIE. CATIE established an international cocoa collection over 70 years ago. At present they have over 1000 varieties of cacao at the centre in Turrialba.
Dr Phillips-Mora guided us through the important work they are doing in breeding new cacao varieties in order to  improve growing stability for farmers.
Have you ever heard of frosty pod rot? I hear “rot” and get an ominous feeling.  Frosty pod rot, otherwise known as moniliasis began destroying cacao trees in Costa Rica in 1978. As an airborne fungus, it spreads easily from farm to farm and has resulted in many growers in the region abandoning cacao for more reliable crops. Moniliasis has had a devastating affect on cacao crops in many countries including: Mexico, Peru, Belize, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.  Certainly, if this disease ever reached west Africa (where most of the world’s cacao is grown) it would have catastrophic consequences for chocolate consumers worldwide.
Frosty pod rot, along with black pod (which is found worldwide) have been the main concern of cacao researchers at CATIE for the past 30 years.  Through decades  of  careful and frequent evaluation of disease resistance and yield potential CATIE have now released 6 new varieties in Central America. The hope is that farmers will gain confidence in growing this crop and cacao will flourish once again in this region.
Disease control and yield, but what about quality and flavour? I feel a sudden panic, thinking of the grocery store rows of bland fruits and vegetables, brought to us by agriculture improvement research. Is this the future of mesoamerican cacao? Will we forever only know cocoa as an ingredient in a sugary candy bar, and confine the exquisite “food of the gods” to a page in history?
Thankfully, I’m assured that quality has been an integral part of the breeding research. Dr Phillips-Mora believes in the importance of promoting the exceptional quality of Central American cacao. So, only varieties with fine flavour potential were considered. In fact, 2 of the 6 varieties selected were ranked among the 10 best varieties at the 2009 Salon du Chocolat competition in Paris.
At CATIE the research continues and better varieties will be released as time goes on. The superior quality of CATIE’s developed varieties coupled with the influence of unique terroir characteristics are hoped to provide chocolate makers with an impressive variety of cacao  and in turn improve the earning potential for producing families.

Thanks to Dr Wilbert Phillips-Mora and the cacao team at CATIE for taking the time to meet with this small chocolate maker from Canada. Muchas gracias!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hola Costa Rica!

Chadwick and I are heading to Costa Rica for the next two weeks! Wifi pending, I will be posting updates of our cacao adventures here, so you can be a stowaway in our virtual suitcase 😉
Alas, I do hope you have stocked up on your favourite bean-to-bar chocolate, because the online store will be closed until we return. If you are feeling a bit peckish however, you can always stop by Greenhorn Espresso Bar in the west end for a gooey pecan or fleur de del caramel. 
Next market day for us will be May 9th - I'll be at Trout Lake and Chad will run the show at Stone Soup. Onwards to sunshine and happy adventures!