The Bittersweet Truth

Cacao beans with grinding stones.

I wish someone had been more honest with me. Have you ever believed in something to be so true that you could almost taste it? As a child, your life was as sweet as the chocolate melting on your fingertips on a hot summer morning… But growing up, you come to realize that it really isn’t like that. Life is bitter and so is real chocolate.

After traveling day and night across the United States and Pacific Ocean to the country of Costa Rica, we had come about a little town in the county of Puriscal called Mastatal. It was odd, but it seemed almost identical to the little towns you see in the movies where all the kids play soccer in the field and dirt roads line the way of travel. Seeing a horse galloping away is a normal occurrence and families survived off of their own land. But that was reality for these Ticos.

One of those families includes a little organic chocolate farm called La Iguana Chocolate and I bet you’re thinking it’s a little slab of heaven, aren’t you? Imagine this, thousands and thousands of chocolate trees lining a million acres of land… Everyday, trees are dropping chocolate from the branches of these trees and at the end of the day, there’s enough chocolate to feed the entire town of Mastatal for a week!

Well, it’s a nice thought, but that’s not exactly where chocolate comes from or even close to how it’s made. In reality, the entirety of the La iguana Chocolate farm is a total of 12 hectares and 3 of which consists of 3,500 cacao trees. The farm is run by a Costa Rican family that has 3 generations of family living on that ground, 30 years of experience in the organic cacao production business, and 7 years of experience making their own chocolate. Their entire practice revolves around permaculture principles and is completely organic.

In 7 years, the La Iguana family has mastered the practice and explains the making of chocolate in 6 simple steps:

The author poses with drying cacao beans.
The author poses with drying cacao beans.
  1. Dry
  2. Roast
  3. Peel
  4. Ground
  5. Flavor
  6. Freeze

Yup, that’s it. That’s all you need to know in order to make chocolate. Easy, right?

Yeah, not so much.

La Iguana makes these steps seem simple, but everything must be done precisely and in the best conditions possible in order to make the best organic chocolate, in my opinion.


After pulling the cacao beans from the trees, the farmers remove the not-so-small, white nuts from the cacao and set it out to dry. That’s where they fool you. You can suck on the cacao nuts and they’re really sweet and tasty and they taste like happiness. But that’s not even the chocolate. It’s not even used in the chocolate process. That’s the part that comes off whilst drying…


When it’s all done drying, the nuts need to roast and no, it’s not like putting these nuts on a little stove in the kitchen on a light Sunday afternoon. It’s more like putting these dry cacao nuts in a huge pot bigger than your torso and lighting the flames to a raging Saturday night party.

Peeling and Grinding

This part is pretty simple. The cacao nuts have an outer shell that needs to be removed to reveal the bittersweet truth. The cacao that is actually used to make chocolate has a soft texture and rests inside the hard outer shell. And if you were to taste the bare cacao, I would regret to tell you that it’s bitter. Not sweet, not bittersweet, just bitter. And you’re so upset that you start to pulverize your hard work. You grind it to sand and you grind it some more. You’re just so upset that you keep at it. Until…

Flavoring and Freezing

Until you realize it’s time. You add vanilla extract, sugar water, honey, and your favorite flavoring, which can include: salt, mint, rum, etc. and then you let it freeze for five minutes.

The Lies

I didn’t want to break it to you, but yes, they fed you sweet lies. Your favorite chocolates don’t come from a sweet chocolate tree with chocolate water flowing through a chocolate river. The movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory led you astray.

But really, your sweet treats come from a beautiful tree and are made through a very intricate and detailed process. So the next time you buy a chocolate bar from the store, remember that it took quite a bit of work to get that to you. From the pickings from a tall tree to the roasting and all the way to the flavoring, that piece of chocolate was made just for you.

Our groups hard work resulted in a bowl of freshly peeled cacao nuts that are ready to be ground and flavored.
Our groups hard work resulted in a bowl of freshly peeled cacao nuts that are ready to be ground and flavored.


Juanne Deguzman.