SAN ISIDRO, Heredia – The rain fell lightly outside as George Soriano, co-owner of Sibú Chocolate, served tiny cups of hot chocolate to beat back the chill in San Isidro de Heredia Wednesday afternoon. Made with water, honey, hot peppers, nuts and sometimes ground corn, the traditional Central American drinking chocolate is an interesting break from the smooth milk and sugar-based chocolate that most are familiar with.
Soriano and his business partner, Julio Fernández, are working to reclaim the millennia-old tradition of high-quality Central American chocolate and to do it in the most sustainable, environmentally-friendly way possible. (Disclaimer: Soriano is a beloved ex-Tico Times staffer.)
“There is a three-thousand-year-old tradition of chocolate-making in Costa Rica,” said Fernández, who is also a historian, “Chocolate and tamales are the two most traditional Costa Rican foods.”
Their efforts, along with those of Chietón Morén, an indigenous direct-trade market in San José, were on display during a technical tour of sustainable businesses – environmentally and culturally – in and around San José Wednesday as part of a preview for the upcoming Planet, People, Peace Conference (P3) from Nov. 3-6.
Nathalie Carballo, executive director of the National Chamber of Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism and organizer of P3, said that the international ecotourism conference will explore “green” economies, how businesses can market sustainability, the future of ecotourism, and how some businesses in Costa Rica are already successfully incorporating sustainable practices.
P3’s organizers decided to highlight Sibú for its creative solutions, from production to packaging.
The cacao used in their artisan chocolates comes from Rainforest Alliance organically certified cacao farms in Limón, along Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast.
Biting into one of Sibú’s bonbons, a glossy dark chocolate cone, delivers a blast of sweet and sour passion fruit to the palate. All the fruits, nuts and cacao Sibú uses are locally sourced.
“By buying local, organic products, we’re trying to encourage producers to offer a higher quality, valued-added product,” Soriano said.
The chocolatiers take local sourcing one step further by hiring employees who live nearby in Heredia to try to reduce their operation's carbon footprint and provide employment opportunities for the community. To reduce the use of plastics in their packaging, they recycled the husks of the cacao pods to make textured paper chocolate boxes.
“Business goes hand-in-hand with sustainability,” Fernández told The Tico Times.
While Sibú aims to rekindle some of Costa Rica’s forgotten traditions, Chietón Morén gives visitors a chance to connect with the country’s living roots.
Located on Calle 1 between Avenidas 10 and 12, behind the Iglesia La Dolorosa in downtown San José, Chietón Morén provides indigenous communities across Costa Rica the opportunity to sell crafts and artwork directly to customers without worrying about high overhead costs and price gauging by middlemen.
The museum and shop, whose name roughly translates to “a fair deal” in the Boruca language, provide craftspeople direct access to the San José market. Supported by the Dominican fathers of La Dolorosa church, the museum is staffed by volunteers and producers do not have to pay commission on sales.
A vivid mural greets visitors as they enter the cozy shop, which showcases art and handiwork from 140 different artisans from 16 of Costa Rica’s native communities, as well as a small museum. Pottery from the Chorotega people and Boruca masks are just some of the items for sale.
“We thought in the beginning that tourists would support the market, but the interest from Ticos surprised us. Now, it’s a mix of half Costa Ricans and half foreign tourists,” said Chietón Morén’s director, María Pilar Ureña.
Paolo Najera, a member of the Térraba tribe in the southern zone and store volunteer, told The Tico Times that the storefront is a positive way to support small producers in areas where work is hard to come by.
He added that he hopes the store eventually offers wares from all 24 of Costa Rica’s indigenous communities and that Ticos develop a greater appreciation for these goods as works of art, not just crafts.
“It’s a way to make indigenous people more visible,” he said.
Contact Jason Alvarado at firstname.lastname@example.org or 8820-7048 for more information about the P3 conference, which takes place from Nov. 3-6 in the Auditorio Nacional at the Museo de los Niños.