Exploring Cacao and Chocolate Production 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. Your love of chocolate will benefit from a deeper understanding of cacao cultivation and processing, and how this impacts bean flavor and quality. You will also gain an appreciation for the importance of biodiversity and sustainability in preserving fine-flavor cacao.
Next program: March 2017
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.
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, artisan and industrial processing, and see how final products are brought to market.
Registration will open in the Fall.
Registration fee includes:
6 nights lodging (including sales tax and lodging tax).
5 lunches, including farewell lunch
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:
Any meals and transportation not specified in itinerary
$26 airport tax
Would you like to be notified when registration opens for this program?
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.
Students completing the program will receive an Ecole Chocolat Certificate of Achievement.
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 founded Ritual Chocolate. Like them, during the program you will experience it all: farm to processing to manufacturing to finished product.
**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.
Independent arrival at host hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Monday: B, L, D
Program and lunch at CATIE Center for Tropical Agriculture and Higher Learning
Tuesday: B, L, D
Full day at Finmac organic cacao plantation and artisan chocolate factory.
Wednesday and Thursday: B,L
Visit to wild cacao in the forest and indigenous peoples communities on the Caribbean coast over the two days. Free nights for dinner in Puerto Viejo and Limon.
Friday: B, L, D
Return to Central Valley and San Jose for a hands-on bean-to-bar making session at Sibu Chocolate.
Independent departures from host hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica.
What our graduates have to say
"This was such an amazing program! I am beyond happy with how everything turned out. The trip 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." Brianna, 2015 Program
"I thoroughly enjoyed visiting such a variety of cacao plantations and learning so much about how it is grown, the different methods and the many problems. I hadn't realized that there were so many steps with so many potential pitfalls. It was also great to see the work that was being done at CATIE and then follow it up with visits to the plantations. I loved seeing the cacao plantation and processing in action at Finmac. The final day at Sibu with the chocolate tasting, lunch and dinner wrapped up the program really well." Jill, 2015 Program
"The Costa Rica program is highly recommended for anyone looking to learn more about the steps in chocolate making that matter most: the beans, fermentation and drying. This is where all the precursor flavors are developed and will make the chocolate you produce unique. Recognized as the 2010 chocolate maker of the year by the FCIA, Steve DeVries is more than happy to pass down the chocolate wisdom he has gleaned from years of research and first-hand experience. Not only are the students immersed in the cacao growing environment from sun up to sun down, they can also ask Steve and Jorge and Julie of Sibu Chocolate any questions they have about the cacao trade. Even if your goal is not to source your own cacao and to start a chocolate making company, the Costa Rica course is highly educational with not just chocolate, but with the history and culture of Costa Rica and Central America.” Robbie Stout and Anna Davies, Ritual Chocolate, 2010 Program
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
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.
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.