San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
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Puerto Viejo to host third annual chocolate festival

Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is small beans compared to Puerto Viejo.

Starting Thursday night and lasting all weekend, the Caribbean beach town will be celebrating all things chocolate with the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival. The festival will bring together more than 40 chocolate vendors and local restaurants from throughout the Talamanca region to show off their tastiest chocolate creations.

“Everything is going to be smothered, covered or made with chocolate,” said Sorrel Weiss, one of the festival’s organizers. “All of your chocolate dreams can come true.”

Now in its third iteration, the festival is designed to bring attention to the reemerging gourmet chocolate market on the country’s Caribbean slope. For centuries, cacao was one of the dominant crops in the Caribbean, but a devastating fungus outbreak in the 1970s and 80s spurred many of the region’s farmers to abandon their cacao plantations or convert them into banana farms. With the fungus now under control, farmers are again planting cacao, and local chocolatiers are jumping on the bandwagon as well.

For more on Costa Rica’s growing chocolate businesses see: Costa Rica’s chocolate comeback

“The cacao grown here is of a very high quality, and what we are trying to do is make this whole coast known for its cacao,” said Tom Franklin, the owner of Bread and Chocolate, a restaurant in Puerto Viejo. “Things like this festival help businesses like mine because people will begin to see Puerto Viejo as a chocolate destination. We aren’t really doing this competitively, but more as a community.”

But that community will have some friendly competition during the festival with a series of “chocolate throwdowns,” chocolate-making competitions judged by a panel of professional tasters, and, on Friday night, a people’s choice brownie bake-off that will give the general public will get a chance to try their hand at judging.

The main event starts Saturday at Hot Rocks in downtown Puerto Viejo where doors open at 11 a.m. for free live music and chocolate samples from vendors. Attendees can check out the chocolate spa, featuring cacao beauty products, the beer garden, with chocolate beers and cocktails, or purchase chocolate from any of the vendors. Tickets are also available for the chocolate tasting lounge Saturday night, where chocolate professionals will teach attendees how to pair chocolate with different types of alcohol. On Sunday, the festival will wind down with a free chocolate crawl, featuring dishes from restaurants across Puerto Viejo.

“The goal with this has always been to make Puerto Viejo known for its chocolate and cacao,” said Jeanne Johnson, who runs the bean-to-bar chocolate operation Caribeans with her husband Paul. “This area really has so much potential, and this festival helps show that.”

For the full schedule of chocolate festival events, visit the festival’s website.

Contact Lindsay Fendt at lfendt@ticotimes.net

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