About Us

Exploring Cacao in Costa Rica

Join Us in Costa Rica

Exploring Cacao and Chocolate Making in Costa Rica is an opportunity to join Julio Fernández Amón and Steve DeVries for an intimate experience in a cacao growing region exploring fine-flavor cacao and chocolate making. Your chocolate making will benefit from a deeper understanding of cacao cultivation and processing, and how this impacts bean flavor and quality.

Next program: March 2019

Registration fee (does not include travel to and from Costa Rica): Cost for this program has not been confirmed but note that the registration fee in prior years has been approximately $2,700 US, single occupancy, for your budget planning.

Registration will open in the Fall 2018. Would you like to be notified when registration opens for this program?

Registration fee includes:

6 nights lodging (including sales tax and lodging tax).
5 breakfasts
5 lunches, including farewell lunch
3 dinners
All in-country land transportation and private driver expenses
All entry fees to activities specified in itinerary
Cacao and Costa Rica Expert: Julio Fernandez
Chocolate-making expert: Steve De Vries
Bottled water and snacks while traveling
Program does not include:
Gratuities
Alcoholic beverages
Any meals and transportation not specified in itinerary
Personal expenses
$26 airport tax

One-week (six-nights) program

We will travel East from San Jose to cacao finca (farms) and indigenous peoples' forests and fields. You'll gain skills and knowledge in cacao genetics and production, bean selection, and chocolate making processes. You will also gain an appreciation for the importance of biodiversity and sustainability in preserving fine-flavor cacao.

The chocolate bean, which is harvested from the cacao tree, has a long history in Costa Rica. Cacao beans were originally used as currency in the pre-Columbian times by local Indians and continued to be a form of currency into the 1930s. It was one of the major industries in Costa Rica before the introduction of coffee in the late 1700s outpaced it.

Below is a trailer for the new documentary Bean to Bar featuring Steve De Vries and graduates Annie and Robbie who took this program and went on to found Ritual Chocolate. Like them, during the program you will experience it all: farm to processing to manufacturing to finished product.

Program itinerary:

**Legend for meals included in your tour:
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner

* Itinerary subject to change. Every effort will be made to keep the itinerary as it appears here. However, the final itinerary may vary due to schedules, availability and factors beyond our control.

Sunday:

Independent arrival at host hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica. 

Monday: B, L, D

Cacao genetics and propogation: Meet scientists working to better cacao flavor and resistance to disease, while exploring clonal gardens and cacao gene bank, including rare species of cacao and Theobroma at CATIE Center for Tropical Agriculture and Higher Learning. Overnight at Villa Florencia.

Tuesday: B, L, D

Cacao growing and post-harvest processing: Visit a successful organic cacao farm that is a model and inspiration for others and learn about harvesting, fermentation, drying and roasting on a large scale at FINMAC. Discuss the meaning and value of certification for the chocolate industry (organic, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Fair trade). Overnight at Suerre Guapiles.

Wednesday: B, L, D

Bean-to-Bar chocolate making: Visit Caribeans to understand the challenges of small scale bean-to-bar production and a tasting of single-origin chocolate from the area.

Understanding how cacao cooperatives work: Tour the APPTA cooperative cacao collection center. Discuss the difference between single plantation and blended chocolate. Overnight at Escape Caribeno. Free night for dinner.

Thursday: B, L

Chocolate and Indigenous culture: Tour the remote indigenous village of Amubri to see how indigenous cultures produce cacao, prepare chocolate and find out why chocolate is considered sacred among the Bribri culture. Overnight at Escape Caribeno. Free night for dinner

Friday: B, L

Comparing machinery: Universal conche vs Cocoatown melangeur. Start the day at Sibú Chocolate production plant and garden Café to explore the chocolate laboratory and discuss business models, sustainability and innovation in the chocolate industry. Guided side-by-side tasting of chocolates made on different equipment and lunch.

Setting up a nib-to-bar production line: End the day at Sibú chocolate's bar production facility in San Jose’s Escazu neighborhood. Farewell cocktail. Free night for dinner.

Saturday, B

Independent departures from host hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica.

What more do I need to know?

This program is delivered in English.

Program participants must be 17 years of age or older. Also note that the program involves a lot of standing for long periods and walking (with bags at times) so good mobility and strength are important. Because we go into small towns, access for the handicapped is minimal.

Note re shared rooms – Ecole Chocolat will pair students wishing to share a room in the order of receipt of their deposit. Please be prepared to pay the single room registration fee if we are unable to pair you with an appropriate roommate.

Our minimum requirement for this program to run is 8 students and the maximum is 13 students. You'll want to wait to book your flight to Costa Rica until we confirm that the minimum number of students have registered.

Program certificate:

Students completing the program will receive an Ecole Chocolat Certificate of Achievement.

What our graduates have to say

"Steve, George and Julio did a great job with the organization and the content of the program. Their energy and enthusiasm really made the trip. It was great that they not only educated us on chocolate, but taught us about Costa Rica and ensured that we tried lots of interesting foods - Costa Rican fruits and vegetables, as well as Costa Rican cuisine." Jill, 2015 Program

"This trip was amazing! I would tell anyone who is even the smallest bit interested to go. It was a wonderful experience. i know that I will remember it for the rest of life. I'm glad that I took the class at the time, place, and with the people that I did. The class progressed flawlessly. Each day seem to build upon the next. It seemed that we were in a combination of history, socialogy, anthropology, biology, ecology, and business class. The great thing was that Julio, George, and Steve were able to pull it all together and relate it all to the making of chocolate." Michael, 2015 Program

"The trip to Costa Rica was above and beyond all expectations I had for it. I knew I would enjoy myself and learn many new things, but I had no idea that I would learn as much as I did. Every day was unique and just when I thought I had had the best day, the next day would blow me away. Not only did I get to eat chocolate everyday, 3 to 4 times a day, but I got a much better understanding of where chocolate comes from. The first day of our adventure I got to taste the pulp from a cacao pod, something that was very new to me and was a great learning experience." Brianna, 2015 Program

Cancellation policy:

Our Ecole Chocolat Master Chocolatier Programs only accommodate a limited number of students and are usually full, with a waiting list. As the programs involve a travel component, we need to contact those on the waiting list in enough time so they can make travel arrangements. If you have to cancel, we'll do everything in our power to find a replacement but can't guarantee that we'll be successful. No refunds will be given after 45 days prior to the program start date. Make sure you're totally committed to the program before paying your registration fee. We also suggest that you take out travel insurance when booking your travel to and from the program country, in case of an emergency.

Back to list of our other Master Chocolate Programs

Sibu Chocolate

Julio Fernández Amón (on the right above) of Sibu Chocolate is eager to share local insight on his country’s past and present with signature humor and sincerity.

For Julio and his partner George Soriano, starting a chocolate business that features only organically grown cacao from Costa Rica became his way of helping protect the natural world, as well as a way to spark new interest in a growing industry for his home country. He also hopes his business will highlight the importance of cacao to Mesoamerican cultures throughout the ages.

Today, they have the only chocolate business in the country that features chocolate made from fine organic Costa Rican cacao from a single plantation.

De Vries Chocolate

Steve De Vries opened De Vries Chocolate with a tag line of “one hundred years behind the times” in 2005 after six years of studying chocolate – for three years as an intense hobby and three years full time.

Steve is intimately involved in the whole process of chocolate making, from working directly with growers to being hands-on with the manufacturing process using all antique equipment. He has learned that with chocolate, changes in production processes can mean major improvements in flavor.

He produces both bulk chocolate for use by chefs, candy makers and chocolatiers as well as consulting for many different chocolate makers around the globe.

Close up view of fermenting cacao beans.

Feeling the heat of cacao bean fermentation.