Heirloom Cacao from Southern Costa Rica

The Coto Brus region of Costa Rica is a six hour drive south from the capital, San Jose.  Less than an hour to the border with Panama lies the farm where the beans we use for this bar are grown.

The farm itself is incredibly beautiful, perched on a hillside and facing south overlooking the mountains.  Inside its 100 acres are pastures for cattle grazing, a large area of primary forest and fifteen acres planted with cacao.

The cacao from these trees was the first variety from Costa Rica given the official “Heirloom” designation by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund.  The fund was launched in 2012 with the goal of recognizing, and therefore preserving, specific varieties of fine flavor cacao.  Since its inception the fund has designated only 15 cacao varieties as Heirloom, and with a unanimous vote of the tasting panel Coto Brus became the only cacao from Costa Rica to be so honored.

Fine Flavor Trees

For years Costa Rica had thriving cacao farms and exported many tons of beans each year.  But in the late 1970’s most of the cacao trees fell victim to a disease known as Monilia, also known as Frosty Pod Rot for the white fungus which covers the pods.  The surviving trees were mostly abandoned in favor of new “clones,” which were more disease resistant.  These clones were created by various organizations with the admirable goal of creating more robust trees, however the flavor of the beans generally wasn’t a big consideration in the selection process.  As a result much of the cacao being grown in Costa Rica today is from these clones, some of which aren’t particularly flavorful.

However, the majority of the trees on the Coto Brus farm from which we source are descendants of the trees that grew in the area prior to the arrival of Monilia.  Because of this the cacao they produce has incredible and unique flavors which are apparent from the first bite.

The Importance of Post-Harvest

The trees are tended by brothers Giovanni and Raul Campos Portilla.  They live in the nearby village and in addition to watching over the cacao trees they graze their cattle in the pastures.  They also oversee the post-harvest fermentation and drying, which unlike many cacao farms is done on site.  These two steps are incredibly important in flavor development and the protocols were created, and continue to be overseen by, cacao expert and geneticist Daniel O’Doherty, who is behind several of the currently designated Heirloom cacaos.

Flavor profile: Caramel, plum and cocoa.

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