In Season 1, Episode 7 of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” we find him climbing into valleys and up steep hills in Peru in search of cacao beans growing wild in the jungle. He’d been introduced to high-end bean-to-bar chocolate by his friend chef Eric Ripert when the duo made their own chocolate bars, selling them for $18 a pop. In true Bourdain-style, he needed to poke a little fun at this luxury enterprise, but also ask himself some tough questions.
“Was I doing a good thing? Is it OK to be in the chocolate business?” he wondered. “ I don’t have any problem with wealthy people who can afford making impulse buys in expensive gourmet shops spending a lot of money on my chocolate. But where does the money go? In fact, where does this chocolate come from anyway? Just about everybody loves the stuff. It’s everywhere. A fundamental element of gastronomy. But I knew so little about it. Where does it come from? How is it made? Most importantly, who does it come from? And are they getting a good piece of the action? Or are the producers, as in so many cases, getting screwed over? I very much hoped to find that whoever was growing our cacao was, at the end of the day, happy about the enterprise.”
And so Eric and Anthony went off to find the source of this wild cacao from Peru, and thanks to a trip organized by Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate in Epping, 20 lucky chocolate lovers (or just those of you who like a good adventure) can learn all about where some of the best chocolate in the world comes from in a country a bit easier to get to – Belize. Her Cacao Origins Adventure Trip runs from Feb. 23 to March 2, 2019, and will be held at beautiful Cotton Tree Lodge in the Toledo District, the heart of Belizean cacao farming and production.
“I wanted to bring people to a country that’s easy to travel to and Belize is an English-speaking country so we can talk directly to the Mayan farmers and anyone else we meet,” says Grazier.
During the week, you’ll visit local cocoa farms, meeting the farmers, learning how cacao is harvested, fermented and processed, and enjoy fresh cacao right out of the pod. You’ll also learn how to make drinking chocolate and tortillas with a Mayan family, in one of the few regions of the world where quality cacao is grown.
Most of the world’s cacao is cultivated in a belt spanning approximately 10 degrees on either side of the Equator due to the humid climate and regular rains. Countries like Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia and the Ivory Coast produce cacao and some of the best chocolate in the world comes from Belize, primarily in the southern Toledo district. Grazier wants to bring people to the origin, to the source where their food comes from.
“I think people who already ask questions about where their food is coming from will want to go on this trip,” says Grazier. “I studied anthropology in college and it effects how I view my own space in the world. It’s one of the reasons I became so interested in cacao and chocolate. There’s such a history, but it’s modern, too.”
Many experts believe that the region may be the “birthplace” of cacao and chocolate use and 2,600-year-old chocolate pots have been found in Belize. Both Mayan kings and regular citizens would have made a chocolate drink from ground corn, cacao, honey and hot chili. The word “cacao” comes from the Mayan word ka’kau.
During the Chocolate Week, guests will tour two organic cacao farms, learn how to make traditional Mayan drinking chocolate and learn about pressing cacao juice to make cacao wine. Other workshops include visiting a traditional Mayan home to learn about and help make tortillas from scratch and a tour of Cotton Tree’s chocolate factory with a hands-on chocolate making workshop from roasting to packaging.
There’s also plenty of downtime for exploring Mayan ruins and caves, fishing, river kayaking and rafting or just lazing around in a hammock on the porch of your jungle cabana at Cotton Tree Lodge, which has its own organic farm, supplying ingredients for the farm-to-table fare at their restaurant and bar.
Nearby is Maya Mountain Cacao, founded by Emily Stone, which sources premium cacao from local farmers and through their nonprofit organization, Uncommon Cacao, creates an ethically responsible distribution channel for smaller cacao farmers to get their beans to chocolate makers like Grazier, who recently got a shipment of beans through the group.
Grazier says that meeting the people growing and processing that cacao will be a highlight for her.
“I want to stand in a grove of cacao trees, surrounded by the pods. I’ve not done that myself — cracking open a cacao pod, eating the juice, meeting the people who grow it — it’s really a bucket list item for me.”
Find out more:
The Belize 2019 Cacao Origins Adventure Trip is from Feb. 23 to March 2, 2019 at Cotton Tree Lodge near Punta Gorda. The cost is $1,570 per person double occupancy ($400 upcharge for single occupancy) and includes lodging, meals and ground transportation from Belize City International Airport. Does not include flights, lodging upgrades, or activities on the three free days, but there are many activities that can be arranged through the lodge.
Find out more about the week, the lodge and about booking here: www.ennachocolate.com/belize
Spaces are going quickly and two of them are taken up by this writer and my friend Vicky. See you in Belize!
— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Austin, Texas. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.