The art of chocolate, Costa Rican-style

June 22, 2012

From the print edition

The first sensation is a wave of nutmeg. Next, cardamom and cinnamon ripple across the tongue. Then, the final flavor of chili blooms in the back of the throat. This procession of taste is brought on by the signature spicy chocolate truffle made at Sibú Chocolate in San Isidro de Heredia.

Last Sunday a handful of people gathered to celebrate Father’s Day at this eco-chocolate workshop for a private tasting and lunch. During these events, co-founders Julio Fernández and George Soriano introduce visitors to the complicated history of chocolate. They guide through its Central American origins to refining in Europe to  commercialization around the world.

“Everyone knows Costa Rica for her coffee,” Fernández said. “Sure, it’s been cultivated for a few hundred years after it came here from Africa, but remember that cacao has been consumed for more than 3,000 years.”

I won’t give away too many of the details – you should visit yourself – but here are a few things to know about Sibú Chocolate. 

Sibú Chocolate 2

Leah Booker, 9, learns to make a bar.


Gabe Dinsmoor

The founders, one historian and one journalist, have traveled the world learning the art of making chocolate. They studied in France, Italy, Canada and the United States, among other countries. “Then we brought it all back to our little kitchen and began experimenting with local flavors and working with different farmers,” Soriano said.

They began making chocolate in San Isidro de Heredia in 2007, where they developed an unwavering dedication to the sustainability of their chocolate workshop. Their cacao is 100 percent organic and Costa Rican. Their seven employees are all from the Heredia region. Even the timber used to build their patio is from non-native cypress trees from the property.

 “Here we have three priorities,” Fernández said. “The first is world-class chocolate, second is our use of organics and third keeping everything local.”

The chocolate hacienda is settled into the hills, 20 minutes from San José, overlooking looking the town of Coronado. The residence gazes up at the Irazú Volcano and Braulio Carrillo National Park.

“We plant only native plants here and it’s especially important with the national park so close,” Fernández said, as he pointed out seven different orchids on one tree.

One aspect of the luxuriance of chocolate, like perfume, is the packaging. Beautiful boxes and wrappings have symbolized a good product from the days when kings and queens ate bonbons from chests of gold, Fernández said. Sibú Chocolate is slightly more modest in its attractive tan and brown box made from a coarse fiber. The boxes are actually 95 percent discarded cacao shells and 5 percent recycled paper.

“This is probably the first chocolate to purposefully wrap its goods in garbage,” Fernández said.

Sibú Chocolate 3

James Burleigh, 3, with his dad on Father’s Day.


Gabe Dinsmoor

The tempering, molding, settling, cooling, filling and decorating of chocolate is all part of a delicate and precise art. And it’s especially tricky in the hot, humid climate of Costa Rica.

Yet Soriano and Fernández have it mastered. After a workshop tour, visitors are seated on an open-air patio, where the founders lead a tasting and detail the history of how cacao became chocolate. 

“It’s not just a money-making business they run here,” said guest Jutta Daubenberger. “They run off the inspiration and materials Costa Rica gives them.”

Don’t forget to pet the residence’s hound, a chocolate Labrador, Mochaccino, and make sure to try the white chocolate truffle covered in dark chocolate with lime zest and basil.

All tastings are made by reservation several days in advance. For more info, call 2268-1335 or visit www.sibuchocolate.com

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