Explore Cacao Cultivation, Post-Harvest processing and Artisanal Chocolate Making in Costa Rica with local experts and your host, Julio Fernández Amón, founder of Sibö Chocolate. Visit cacao plantations, collection facilities and clonal gardens; and follow the tree-to-bar process firsthand from harvesting and fermentation to drying, roasting, winnowing and conching with both artisanal and industrial equipment. Your chocolate making will benefit from a deeper understanding of cacao cultivation and processing, and how this impacts bean flavor and quality. This program happens every other year.
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 $2,400 US, single occupancy, for your budget planning.
Registration will open in the Fall 2020. 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 dinners including farewell dinner
All in-country land transportation and private driver expenses (Monday-Friday)
All entry fees to activities specified in itinerary
Cacao and Costa Rica Expert: Julio Fernandez
Bottled water and snacks while traveling
Program does not include:
Any meals and transportation not specified in itinerary
We will travel toward Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast from capital city San Jose to cacao fincas (farms) and bean collection points, as well as the laboratories of agricultural centers and artisan chocolate makers. You'll gain skills and knowledge in cacao genetics and production, bean selection, and chocolate making processes, as well as an appreciation for the importance of biodiversity and sustainability in preserving fine-flavor cacao.
The cacao industry has a long history in Costa Rica. Cacao beans, harvested from the pods of the cacao tree, were originally used as currency by indigenous peoples in pre-Columbian times and continued as a form of exchange into colonial times. In the late 1800s, cacao production was outpaced by coffee, a non-native crop first planted in Costa Rica in the 1700s. Cacao production fell further behind when blight (monilia) wiped out much of Costa Rica’s plantations in the late 1970s and 80s. Many of these plantations were replanted with bananas, and later with pineapple.
In the 21st century, cacao has made a comeback as a priority crop for the country, thanks, in part, to the efforts of the Cacao Program at CATIE—a leading center for tropical agriculture based in Costa Rica. Fine flavor Costa Rican beans are now highlighted on leading international chocolate labels, as well as local export brands driven by quality and sustainability.
**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 program hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Monday: B, L, D
Cacao genetics and propagation: 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 in Turrialba.
Tuesday: B, L, D
Cacao growing and post-harvest processing: Gain a deep understanding of planting and managing a plantation, harvesting, fermenting and drying. Taste beans from several origins and learn about bean selection. You’ll also taste under-fermented and over-fermented samples to gain an understanding of fermentation and drying. Overnight in Turrialba.
Wednesday: B, L, D
Cacao farming and the supply chain: Travel to Bananito. Tour Doña Elena’s cacao farm, and learn from her experiences with supply chain paradigms, working with wet beans, fellow cacaoteros and chocolate makers like Sibö.
Bean-to-Bar production: Visit Caribeans chocolate maker to understand the challenges and triumphs of micro-batch bean-to-bar production and a tasting of single-origin chocolate from Puerto Viejo de Limón area farms. Overnight in Puerto Viejo
Thursday: B, L, D
History of cacao in Costa Rica: Travel to Shiroles. Learn about indigenous culture, how cooperatives work in Talamanca and farm management standards in rural areas. Explore the challenges of producing cacao versus other crops. Travel by dugout canoe to Bambu where you’ll be greeted with native hot chocolate and stories of cacao lore.
Understanding how cacao cooperatives work: Tour the APPTA cooperative cacao collection center. Discuss the difference between single plantation and blended chocolate. Learn about quality standards, and challenges from a buyer’s perspective. Overnight in Puerto Viejo.
Friday: B, L, D
Roasting, winnowing and conching: Travel to Guacimo. Learn about roasting, winnowing and conching with a ball mill/vintage machines. Taste under-roasted and over-roasted bean samples.
Comparing machinery: Side-by-side tasting of chocolates made with identical beans processed on Universal refiner-conche and a Cocoatown melangeur. Sibö Chocolate opens its laboratory and café to students and leads discussions on sustainability and innovation in the chocolate industry.
Setting up a nib-to-bar production line: End the day at Sibö chocolate's bar production facility and store in San Jose for program wrap-up and final questions. Farewell dinner. Overnight in San Jose.
Independent departures from San Jose, Costa Rica.
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.
"I would say that this adventure complemented perfectly the online Chocolate Making course. It gave me the confidence that I am on the right track. Everyone, including fellow participants was outstanding! I made good connections and in fact I have communicated with my new friends since getting back to Canada." Gabrielle, 2017 Program
"I came on this trip wanting to understand what "ethical chocolate" meant. I came away with a much broader and nuanced view of the concept, and of the industry. I will be able to take this back to participants in my classes locally and spread the word of sustainability, traceability and ethics." Sherri, 2017 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." Michael, 2015 Program
Our Ecole Chocolat Graduate Chocolate 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 Graduate Chocolate Programs
Julio Fernández Amón of Sibö 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, Sibú Chocolate has two artisan nib-to-bar chocolate workshops with attached retail stores, as well as a restaurant and chocolate tasting tour. In 2017 Sibú Chocolate was honored by the International Chocolate Awards with a silver medal in the America's division and multiple medals in the regional division. That year Sibú Chocolate also received honors from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) for its contribution to the industry as a chocolatier.
Costarica cacao farmer.
Julio and EC Grads in the orchard.
Comparison of ripeness in harvested cacao pods.
Close up view of fermenting cacao beans.
Feeling the heat of cacao bean fermentation.
Cocoa bean cut test to check for good fermentation.
In Sibo's chocolate factory.
Selecting cocoa beans.
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