Today I visited a chocolate farm not far from where I am residing in Bocus de Toro on the San Cristobal Island, a quick buzz across the water to meet a foreigner (retired dentist), an American, now turned Panamanian along with his lovely wife Julie who farm 30 acres of land, absolutely stunning view of the bay, immaculate gardens planted by the original owners, and a chocolate plantation.
The chocolate process starts with a tiny tree ‘Theobroma Cacao’ – The Cocoa Tree that supports these heavy pods stay small in stature to take cover under the more mature canopy for shade and shelter. The pods grow right off the trunks of these tiny statues and take three to four years to mature enough to produce the pods that give us the seeds that encase the stuff we call chocolate. These trees are said to produce for up to 120 years, they continue a cycle of bearing new pods all year round. At any given time you can see the tiniest of babies along with the fully mature pods all being nurtured at the same time. The trees sprouts an excess of flowers but the tree can only raise a certain number of young at any given time so chooses which will be the survivors and cuts the nutritional supply to those less fortune who unfortunately die allowing all the nutrients to be available to the chosen ones. When the tree reaches its full maturity a rehabilitation process takes place where they allow a sucker, who would normally be ripped off at first sight, to survive and grow into a new baby tree. They cut the wise, old nurturer keeping its root system in place allowing the new baby to grow into an adult producing fruit within one year opposed to the three to four years it would take to start the process from a seed. Incredible. Smart.
Inside they look like fleshy, meaty soft, white beans all clumped together like baby puppies.
Sweet and succulent the white sticky, moist, encased clumps are a sweet delight indeed. Counselled to simply suck on these morals like a store bought candy. The flavour of the leachy nut would compare. Biting into the bean itself is a whole different experience, offensive bitterness, a moisture sucking experience; but together with the sweetness an exotic combustion: the joys of sweetness along side the offensive bitterness! Chocolate!
The process is quite Neanderthal in its nature, the pods are picked, moved to a location to be the next burial ground of these once protectors of the magnificent, brilliant, cannot do without cocoa seeds, they are sliced open with a massive mashetty at the hand of a native who literally grew up with one in his hand since childhood, in tandem the natives work stripping the shells of their once contained cozy clumps of sticky goodness. From there transported and stored in old wooden boxes with just a burlap sack thrown over top to start the fermentation process, sugars already in abundance covering the beans with sticky goodness, yeast in abundance from the pollination going on all around. Together fermentation takes place; stentch, oxidation and gases, the beans are now ready to dry.
The beans are dried and the put into a homemade tinkered together old propane tank with a gadget that spins the tank and a heating system that heats the tank to precisely the right temperature for the right amount of time.
From there over to the skinner where the beans are put into another contraption rigged up to a shop vac on one side and a pail under the contraption to catch the beans, the shells get sucked out with the force of the shop vac while the newly peeled beans drop into a “clean” bucket.
From there ground into nibs with another home made contraption. 💯 percent pure chocolate without any of the cocoa oil extracted. Robert explained all the benefits of high grade chocolate, discovering that they are a rich source of catechins, which are polyphenols of the flavanol group, and which are believed to protect against heart disease, cancer, and various other medical conditions. Robert went on to explain that all the health benefits to the teeth and gums ensuring us he had not completely forgone his oath as a dentist, chocolate is actually good for the teeth and gums! My inner smile widened!
The shells in the past were put back into the soil for rejuvenation are now being ground down and used to make loose teas and exfoliating bars.
Robert, a wealth of knowledge and information shared so much with us on this two hour tour of his property, absolutely magnificent, beautiful, stunning with an encyclopedia explanation of each plant, tree, amphibian and of course the whole chocolate making process. My mind was spinning trying to hold onto every moral.
We were invited to a termite snack, Robert explained that these particular termites has a woody quality and were filled with protein; bugs 🐜 were to be the next big rage in speciality foods apparently! Me, I will stick with chocolate thank you very much! I always wanted to be on fear factor but the bug eating, rodent encompassing made it impossible to consider.
Beauty! Some of the most dangerous creatures are the most beautiful, most colourful, the most magnificent creatures of all. This poisonous dart frog; absolutely beautiful creature, poisonious yes although Robert picked him right up and held him telling us as long as he didn’t touch his eyes after or have an open cut he could avoid the poisonus nature of this ting beauty effecting him.
The walking palm tree actually walks, actually moves. As you can see from its claw like roots stabilizing the tree, these die off as the tree moves along and a new root sprouts and growns to become the new anchor, as you can see in the third picture, Robert explained the new leg will grow from the base of the tree to the ground in a matter of days. The trees can move up to four feet a year, absolutely astounding, clearly I don’t get out much!
This one you would not want to bump into anytime, anywhere. Robert explained the natives used these needle nosed spikes as needles as well as spit 🎯 which have first been loaded up with the poison from the dart frogs! Imagine!
This little lady 🕷 has made her home on the corner of Roberts deck and has the market on the strongest web around: so strong in fact engineers have studied the webs of these intelligent creatures to try and mimic the qualities. They build a two fold web, the outer core a strong springy line that has the unbreakability of Steele with the flexibility of fishing line. The tiny male, the size of her red buttocks, the guy lucky enough to mate with this royal queen, has no chance of survival, once he has impregnated her she will eat him for lunch! Poor little dude! Robert explained he has one chance, if the timing is exactly perfect and she is distracted with an intuder at the exact moment he has finished the deed, he can get away, split second timing, perhaps a little manipulation from the universe, some reason this little guy must journey on … something more to learn, another lesson to acquire, not finished yet in this life as a small red male spider.
Robert ended the tour at his home introducing us to his lovely wife, Julie who presented us with her delightful home made brownies and beautifully presented the products they made, packaged and sold right there, explaining how each product was to be used. $15.00 for the tour and a few treats purchased for along the way!