Öribë Chocolate Farm, Panamá
Our visit started out a little rocky, as we tried to sort out a ride from Almirante port to the farm, located in the jungly hills near by. But after we befriended some locals, and they made a few phone calls, we managed to catch a free ride on a crowded mini bus. About half an hour later, the bus doors flew open and we were greeted by our smiling guide ‘Jack’ at the entrance. He pushed some walking sticks into our hands, and we quickly realized we'd need them as we trekked up the steep hillside. Öribë Co-op operates from a 600 person Ngöbe native village where 30 families tend the 100% organic cocoa production. Jack tells us (his real name is Leni) that only those who truly love cocoa can be successful in cultivating it, since the process is intricate and requires much subtle pruning and tending. In order to give cocoa's pests something else to munch on (and rather than using pesticides), the farmers populate the hills with many other plants from banana and lemon trees to pita (used for traditional fibre-crafts) and various medicinal plants—not to mention the wildlife that abounds: toucans, sloths, tiny poison dart frogs. A fruitful symbiosis.
We spent an amazing afternoon at the Öribë co-op learning as much as eating. The chocolate was rich and so incredibly pure, in all its forms: you could suck on the fruit enveloped in sweet, white meat or crunch roasted cocoa beans and finally indulge in the the creamy chocolate paste with a dash of cane sugar added. The lunch we were served was not far behind. The standout ingredient was a local variant of rhubarb with a root that tastes like potato and leaves that are incredibly flavourful and sweet when stewed.
It's possible to book this eco tour ahead through a local provider ($30 for 2 hours with lunch), or you could make your own way there, and have all the proceeds go directly to the community.