Licking The Spoon: Making Craft Chocolate in Costa Rica (Interview)

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Interview with Lindy Hart of Two Little Monkeys Chocolate.

Why did you start Two Little Monkeys?

My husband, Ismael was given the opportunity to create and develop a chocolate tour at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, where he works as the main tour guide. While researching for the tour, Ismael dove passionately into the project and discovered that not only is there much to be loved about the cacao tree, but the process of producing chocolate in small batches seemed to be a fascinating venture. After learning more from other chocolate makers in Costa Rica and the US, we decided to invest in a few machines to get us going with small batches and have been experimenting and learning with each new batch.

Selling artisan chocolate at the farmer's market--wildheartfood.comWe feel very fortunate to be living in a country where cacao grows and thrives all around us! Cacao trees are mainly found in regions that are 20 degrees north or south of the equator, which means that countries in Europe and North America (where chocolate is highly consumed) rely on importation of cacao in order to produce chocolate. We, on the other hand, can take a day trip and drive to multiple cacao plantations, visit with the farmers and see production and fermentation techniques used which offers us a greater connection to and appreciation for cacao.

How do you make your chocolate—what does the process entail?

Making Chocolate

Our chocolate is made in a process that is described as “bean-to-bar”. This means that instead of starting with a chocolate paste or chocolate liquor as many companies do, we are joining a small (but growing!) group of chocolate makers that actually start the process from the cacao bean. This gives us more control at each step, and brings you closer to an authentic cacao experience.
We buy our beans, which have been fermented and sun-dried, from organic farmers throughout Costa Rica. 12699271_1532074507091766_694261025_oWe then hand select each bean, roast them, winnow (a way to remove shells using airflow), grind for 36 hours, temper, mold and hand-package each chocolate. It’s about a three day process. We work in small batches and only use three high quality and organic ingredients from local Costa Rican sources: cacao beans, cane sugar and vanilla.

 

What should people look for when buying chocolate?

For anyone interested in finding a healthy, quality chocolate, first check the ingredient list. If there are more than 4 ingredients, then there is probably something is in it that doesn’t need to be. Cacao beans, sugar, vanilla and sometimes additional cacao butter…. that’s all! Anything else is just cheap filler and doesn’t need to be in your chocolate.

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Assistant Maya discussing the chocolate making process

Next check how connected the company is to the cacao itself. Can they tell you what country or even from what farm the cacao beans come from? If a bar is listed as “single origin” or indicates the country that the cacao is from, or if it is described as craft or bean-to-bar chocolate, chances are good that the chocolate makers have a strong connection to the cacao itself and have made an effort to source quality cacao that has also been grown and produced using fair and sustainable practices.

And lastly, when it comes to chocolate, the darker the better! Believe it or not, chocolate that is 70% or darker can actually be healthy! High quality dark chocolate is packed with flavanols (antioxidants), vitamins and minerals. It also protects against heart disease, increases mood, reduces stress, boosts energy, decreases signs of premature aging, improves metabolism, among other benefits!

Are there things most people don’t know about chocolate?

Most people don’t realize that the cacao tree has its origins in Mesoamerica and has been a highly valued fruit throughout ancient civilizations. Cacao beans were used as food, as medicine and even as a form of currency dating back as early as 1900 BC. Yet today, roughly 80% of the world’s chocolate comes from Africa where there are poorly regulated labor laws, often utilizing child labor and slavery for production. Most of this cacao is sold to giant corporations whose products include countless additives and very little actual cacao content. These everyday supermarket chocolates and candies have become the “norm” worldwide and have unfortunately altered people’s taste palates to think of chocolate as the sugary, milky flavors that engulf these products.

However, over the last decade, there has been a growing demand for dark chocolate with higher cacao content. This has fed into an even more specific demand for chocolate that is directly connected to the cacao itself. More and more small-batch craft chocolate makers are popping up all over the world which are helping to educate the public about the unique qualities of cacao and allowing consumers to appreciate its full flavor! It is exciting to be part of a movement that brings people back to an authentic cacao experience.

What is your favorite thing about running a chocolate business?

Licking the spoon!

12722297_1532074190425131_296014978_oWe also love being able to experiment and tweak recipes in order to bring out different flavors or textures in our chocolates. Since each batch of beans requires its own unique roasting profile, we end up with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle!) taste results. While we strive for consistency, each of our batches has its own nuances that can sometimes be noted if paying close attention. This, we think, is one of the beauties of working in small batches and what makes it a very unique product.

 

What is the hardest thing?

Keeping up with demand! Lucky for us, it is not hard to convince people to try chocolate. And once they do, most realize that we are doing something special. Working in small batches is empowering, as it gives us more control at each step, but it is also limiting in terms of production. We have plans to expand in the future to allow for increased production, but we will continue working in small batches to maintain a distinctive quality in our craft.

Any life lessons learned?

Be open for anything and take chances! If anyone asked me just one year ago what I would be doing now, I would not have had an answer. The idea to start making craft chocolate arose quickly, and we jumped on the opportunity. At the time, it felt like an impulsive decision, but things have flowed into place so beautifully and it now feels like a natural fit for our family and for our future.

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Lindy Hart interviewed by Nicholas Tippins

2 thoughts on “Licking The Spoon: Making Craft Chocolate in Costa Rica (Interview)

  1. Who knew? A fascinating article explaining nature’s role as well as ingenious use of mother nature’s gift of the cacao, originating with ancient people, perpetuated throughout history, and appreciated all along the journey by those who benefit from the combination of nature and human ingenuity. Hooray for February chocolate month on Wildheart Food!

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