First impressions are everything
It was a misty morning when we pulled into the parking lot of the Sibú Chocolateria and already a small group of guests were being walked around the grounds by one of the owners, tiny cups of steaming hot chocolate in their hands. A Sibú employee approached us with a tray of our own tiny mugs and the creamy concoction of pure chocolate and steamed milk lingered on our lips; they had us at hello.
Ingredients for a Perfect Costa Rica Chocolate Tour
We wandered towards the tables framed by jade-green gardens and set with the most tempting of places settings: white oval plates with 7 assorted chocolates in a perfect line, ranging from a toasted cacao pod to European-style bonbons decorated with geometric designs and squares of dark and milk chocolate. Every inch of the terrace walls and counters were tastefully decorated with chocolate-themed artifacts from around the world, ranging from a set of hot chocolate frothers and wooden whisks looking more like art than tools and replicas of french paintings depicting early royalties affinity towards the “food of the gods.” The owners’ attention to detail and passion for the history of chocolate (and the people who indulge in it) is tangible.
The tours are conducted by the owners, Costa Ricans George and Julio who have been investing their lives in the business of chocolate since 2008, when Sibú was born. The goal: world-class chocolate that was 100% organic and 100% Costa Rican, and a business model that would follow their personal values of environmentalism, sustainability, and social responsibility. The result was the first chocolate factory in Costa Rica, and the perfect place to put their experience as Master Chocolatiers – a prestigious title they had received after traveling to France and Italy to study with the best – to work. They tracked down a cacao farm in Costa Rica that was growing the trees naturally under the shade of jungle foliage, was Rainforest Alliance organic certified and most of all – had the flavor profiles they were hunting for. With the chocolate factory ready and a steady source of quality, organic cacao, George and Julio began making their vision a reality.
A Journey For The Senses
The tour is a journey similar to the one that George and Julio embarked upon in their search for the worlds best chocolate, with each sample illustrating a point in the colorful history of cacao products. Julio was a master story-teller on our tour, weaving interesting and little-known historical facts with good humor flavored with a bit of sarcasm (all aimed, of course at the country best known for chocolate despite not producing cacao itself). The tray of colorful cacao pods became a prop as he demonstrated opening them the way the indigenous once did, exposing a cluster of white fruits that he passed around. We sucked on the sweet fruits’ pulp while learning about the intricate process that turns them into the chocolate we know today, and took our first sample from the white plates; a toasted cacao pod bursting with the deep, bitter flavors of dark cacao.
From there, we were taken on a carefully illustrated journey from the jungles of Central America, (where we sipped on an indigenous recipe from the 1500s) to Europe and back to the Americas for the first World War. We even learned about cacao’s surprising role in the beauty industry in the 60’s. As we were guided down our plate of chocolates in historic order we were taught how to appreciate good chocolate like a fine wine. We learned what signs to look for (like the crisp snap of pure dark chocolate) and the sensation of flavors unfolding like those hidden in George’s personal favorite: a dark chocolate bonbon with nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon with a pleasantly surprising kick of chili pepper. By the time we bit into the last coconut caramel filled bonbon, we felt like chocolate experts in the making, enlightened by the information if not by the indulgent plate of chocolates we had polished off.
World Class Chocolate From Bean to Bar
We’re all about feel-good businesses, and in our few short hours we discovered that there’s so much more to this small company than meets the eye, perhaps something that they have in common with their chocolates. Every detail has been attended to in order to appeal to the masses but maintain not only the products integrity, but the businesses – even its growth. While George and Julio look forward to exporting more chocolate and putting Costa Rican chocolates on the map, they are focused on creating a product and business model that will serve as a model in a growing industry. The finishing touch to their chocolates is an ideal example of how they are doing this: they work with a local artisan to create one of a kind cacao-paper boxes, using a byproduct to create beautiful and completely plastic-free packaging.
Sibú chocolates are a perfect example of a small business doing big things, and the best part is that supporting them is easy – who doesn’t love chocolate? The tour was one of our favorite tours we’ve done in Costa Rica, and a box or two of their bonbons comes as a highly recommended souvenir, especially if you can’t make it to the tour. Check out the details on the right for details on tour times, where to buy the chocolates, directions and more. We would love to hear about your thoughts on chocolate in Costa Rica in the comments below!
San Isidrio de Heredia | Costa Rica
Sibú’s Chocolate Tasting Tour is located at the production site and Garden Cafe. Set in the mountains, it’s a pleasant drive an easy to get to from the international airport, downtown Heredia, and downtown San Jose. To get there from San Jose, take Route 32 (also knows as the Guapiles Highway) for about 20 minutes, and take the San Isidrio exit on your left. Take an immediate right onto a smaller road running parallel to the highway – there you will see signs for Sibú and a small factory. Continue on the road following the signs. For step by step directions from Heredia, the SJO airport, and via bus click here.
Tasting Tour $55 | Tasting Tour with Lunch $75
Tastings start promptly at 10 am., Tuesday-Saturday, and run with a minimum of four guests and a maximum of 40. Tours typically last 2 hours. Reservations are required.
What to bring
An appetite for interesting history and delicious chocolates!
This tour makes an excellent beginning or end to your Costa Rica trip due to it’s nearby location to both the airport and San Jose. If you’re on your way out, take a box of the organic, handmade and completely Costa Rican chocolates home as a delicious souvenir. Show up a few minutes early to sip on your welcome chocolate and tour the grounds or take a closer look at the extensive collection of chocolate souvenirs from around the world. Do stick around for lunch if you’re hungry enough – homemade breads, local cheeses and gourmet comfort foods are the highlights of the menu.