On the first day of our stay in Paso del Mango we went to a local cacao farm to have a tour. When we arrived we sat down for a few minutes while we waited for the woman who owned the farm and we were given a bit of chocolate . The tour was already off to a good start! It was very dark but it was really nice. We had seen cacao growing last time we were in Colombia but we didn’t know how they turned it into chocolate so I was really looking forward to finding out how to do it.
We were greeted by a woman who started to show us around the plantation of cacao trees. She said that they were planted 15 years ago and that was when they started making chocolate on the farm. Most of the cacao in Colombia is grown in the centre of the country where it is hot and there is lots of rain, especially around Santander. The people on the farm were able to grow it on the hot coast because, as the farm was on a mountain, there was enough rain to grow a successful crop.
As we were walking through the trees we noticed lots of pods in all different colours: red, orange, yellow, green and purple. Our guide said that inside these pods were the cacao beans that made chocolate, and the colour of the pod depended on how ripe it was and the type of tree. She said that there were 2 types of tree: original and mixed. There were two types of original trees; one with yellow pods for when it was ripe and green when it wasn’t. The other original tree had orange and red for ripe pods and purple for unripe ones. The mixed trees included both types, so they had all five colours on the tree, but they were cultivated differently and made more pods. These trees looked like a rainbow and it was amazing to see that the pods grew straight out of the tree trunk. I really don’t think there is any other crop that looks anything like cacao, and we were already fascinated.
Our guide chopped one of the pods off and cut it open with her machete. Inside we were extremely surprised to see white seeds instead of brown. She said that we couldn’t eat the seeds but we could eat the soft coating around the outside. We all took a bit and it was so sweet. It tasted like a tropical fruit that had been grown only to eat on its own, not to make chocolate. It was so delicious that we had to have more until we’d eaten nearly half the pod. Beneath the white coating there was a pale brown seed that looked a bit like an almond and that was the bit that was made into chocolate. When the seeds had been removed from the pod, they were put in a bag to ferment and then put out in the sun to dry. Finally, they were spread out on a platform to dry. The platform had a sliding roof over it so the people on the farm could shut the roof when it rained. It was really important that the seeds didn’t get wet at any point in the process.
At this point we moved inside the finca, where we were shown how the beans were cooked or fired until they started to look a bit more like chocolate. The next step was breaking off the skin around the bean and we were put to work doing that. You were allowed to try the inner part but it was very bitter. When all the skins had been thrown into the compost we put the remaining part of the seed into a mill or grinder where you had to turn a handle to make a kind of chocolate paste. This is when it turns from cacao to chocolate. Finally, you added sugar and they also added cinnamon which was a family secret, shhh 🤫 ! At this point, we were given some of the chocolate and we were told to make a shape out of it. I made an empanada, Brae made a smily face, Dad made a snowman and Mum made a seal. We were then allowed to eat them, which I was very happy about.
The whole process was so eye-opening and we were all completely amazed and felt that we had learnt a lot about chocolate production. We were struck by how much knowledge was needed to make chocolate and we never expected it to be grown in that way. It really was an amazing day, made even better by the incredible location of the finca, and the beautiful walk through the jungle to get there!
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more interesting, our guide put some of the paste aside and mixed it with hot water to create a smooth paste which she put on our faces – a chocolate face mask! While we were letting the mask have its effect we had some delicious hot chocolate and got some homemade chocolate and orange brownie. I think you will realise by now that this was my kind of tour, and it was another day in Colombia that I will never forget!