|Managing Editor Crystal Lindell drinking the honey juice out of a cocoa pod.|
It had been a long day and long week by the time we ended up on an actual cocoa farm in the state of Bahia, Brazil.
My attempt at makeup that day had completely melted off my face, I was sweating through my shirt, which seemed to be made of wool. And, I was constantly being warned not to touch plants (that one over there is poison ivy) or rest my hand on a tree limb (that’s where biting ants like to hang out after all).
Visiting an actual cocoa farm with actual cocoa pods has been a dream of mine since I first realized that chocolate does not appear out of thin air. I had always sort of assumed I’d get my chance somewhere in Africa, but life has way of fulfilling your dreams in unexpected ways.
The stop was part of a seven-day whirlwind trip throughout Brazil, that also included tours of the peanut candy company Santa Helena and the caramel candy company Embaré. ABICAB (the Brazilian Cocoa, Chocolate, Peanut and Candies Manufacturers Association) and APEX, (the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments Acts) sponsored the press tour in an effort to show off Brazil’s confectionery prowess.
We stayed in a different hotel every night, took three domestic flights along the way and found ourselves driving through the middle of nowhere at all hours to reach our various destinations.
All week long, one of our guides, Rodrigo Solano from ABICAB, had been talking up Bahia. Gushing about the ocean, and the beauty in the region, and telling me there's even a saying in Pourtuguese, translates to, "Smile, you're in Bahia!"
Of course, I didn’t need any one to talk anything up. It was my first time in the South American country and all they needed to do to impress me was show me some palm trees and teach me some words in Portuguese.
Done and done, on my first day there. Obrigada. (Thank you).
Nevertheless, Solano was sure that once we finally go to Bahia we would be thoroughly impressed by Brazil.
And as soon as our plane landed at the Ilhéus airport, on a runway that literally ends mere yards from the coastline, I was in a state of bliss.He was right. It was thoroughly amazing.
We had fresh seafood for lunch at an oceanside restaurant, my hotel room looked out onto the ocean and the city was so gorgeous that we all desperately tried in vain to capture its beauty with our cameras every chance we could.
Then, the next morning, we drove out to the Leolinda cocoa farm to meet with João Dias Tavares Bisneto. His farm supplies beans to both major chocolate companies and bean-to-bar chocolate companies like Brazilian-based Nugali.
After allowing us to taste various cocoa beans, and then showing us where he fermented and dried the beans, he took us out to the actual cocoa farm, where the cocoa pods hung from the trees like oversized ornaments.
So there I was, stupidly wearing a business shirt made with polyester in one of the most tropical climates in the world, finally getting a chance to see where all that chocolate I eat every day comes from.
But just as I was swatting away the bugs, and wondering how much longer this tour was going to last, something amazing happened.
Tavares and his team took a barrel full of fresh cocoa beans that had literally just been scooped out of cocoa pods minutes before, and piled them up, covering them with banana leaves on a dirt hill right there in the middle of the forest.
Then, we waited.
And after about 20 minutes, Tavares and the other farmers grabbed empty cocoa pods, filled them with the juice that had drained to the bottom of the hill and handed it to each of us to drink.
It was delicious.
The so-called honey juice didn’t taste like honey at all. Or cocoa, or banana leaves for that matter. It was sweet, but not in an overpowering way, and sort of tasted like a combination of every fruit juice I’ve ever had.
Tavares says some people even believe that drinking the rare juice, which you can only ever drink while at an actual cocoa field, can cure all the ails you. So, I gladly took seconds just to be safe.
And as I was standing there, in the forest, holding a cocoa pod filled with honey juice and wiping the sweat out of my eyes, it was as if my brain stopped for a moment. The leaves on the trees were crisp and green, the cocoa pods were vibrant reds and yellows, and the juice tasted like happiness.
It was, indeed, a dream come true.
Be sure to check out Crystal Lindell’s full coverage of her trip to Brazil in Candy Industry Magazine’s July issue.