Today, we had the incredible opportunity to go back in time with Julio from Sibu and taste the history of chocolate, from its use in Aztec medicine to its feature in both World Wars. The flavors were rich, the textures creamy and delicate. My personal favorite was the salted caramel bonbon, but I also really enjoyed the basil/lime white chocolate. It was sort of like a garden wrapped up in a single bite.
Coffee and chocolate share a close relationship, both in terms of taste and cultivation. The two are often paired in culinary creations, evidenced by the many chocolate-covered coffee beans we were offered at each Doka, Britt, and even Life Monteverde. Properly consuming either chocolate or coffee is a bit of an art, requiring the activation of all five senses, not just taste. It’s really important to assess all the flavor profiles over the whole tongue. Additionally, both crops grow best in tropical conditions, with a variety of other plants around to help them out. For coffee, nearby banana trees help to distract insects, whereas for chocolate, it’s imperative that the cacao tree is in the shade of other plants or else it won’t produce fruit. What this calls for is an adoption of agroforestry: a practice that can help revitalize Costa Rica’s ecosystems without compromising agriculture production.
The chocolate supply chain faces numerous challenges that play a large role in the overall industry’s sustainability. Two examples include deforestation and unethical labor practices. As mentioned, cacao trees need to be around other trees, so the cutting of forests for monocultures effectively kills chocolate farming as well. Importantly, a lot of chocolate plantations in Africa exploit child and even slave labor, and large chocolate-manufacturing firms purchase this cacao while ignoring the ethics of the upstream members of the supply chain. This isn’t sustainable, nor is it ethical, and Sibu seeks to break the norm and do things right.
Sibu and Cafe Britt are like David and Goliath, except in a warped way. Both have positive aims, except one towers menacingly over the other. Cafe Britt, through its partnership with Morpho, has a near monopoly on the retail market in hotels and airports. This narrows Sibu accessible market to boutique hotels, which they’ve discovered fortunately are occupied by exactly the type of customer for whom their product is marketed. Although the two are in competition, they’re both determined to lead their respective industries in sustainable innovations, and it never hurts to have a rival pushing you one step further.
Personally, I would prefer to make chocolate over coffee. The flavors and aromas and manufacturing processes are all far more appealing to me for the former than for the latter, even though coffee certainly does have its unique appeal. Economically speaking though, it might be easier to produce coffee. I think of chocolate as a sort of guilty pleasure that I’ll indulge when I’m older (and wealthier). On a Sunday afternoon, I’ll grind up some cacao beans and make a proper chocolate bar from scratch.