Where Chocolate is Born

Deep in the Panamanian jungle just outside of Almirante, you’ll find Oreba Chocolate Organico Co-op and the Ngabe indigenous people — the producers of the some of the world’s highest grade cacao in the world, according to Swiss experts. Most of our readers know that our friendship began over a shared appreciation of the cacao bean in Switzerland, where we sampled just about every brand the Swiss made. Lo and behold, Oreba Chocolate Organico is among the biggest suppliers of cacao to chocolate producers in Switzerland. That means even before we heard of Oreba Chocolate, we were enjoying their rich, delicious dark cacao beans. Needless to say, we were already huge fans.

There are many types of cacao but they can be categorized into sweet, acidic, and simple

Spotting our first cacao pods

These flowers are bound for chocolate glory

Taking on a serious 3-hour hike in the tropical jungle heat

An emaciated mama and baby horse block our path

A very 'fruitful' tree and Leah powering up the mountain

Gill is in heaven

A cute baby cacao pod just 2 months old. Only 6 months more to go!

Leah and our guide, Maurico, taking in the view

The co-op is made up of 1500 people, 600 from Ngabe community. Every year they export around one million pounds of cacao to Switzerland at just 80 cents a pound. Committed to the practice of organic farming, the Ngabe people use no chemicals and pesticides to produce their cacao. Each year almost half of their crop harvested from the 8000 acres is lost to the “sickness” and other natural causes.

Our day at the Ngabe community began with a trek up into the hills surrounding the village to see firsthand the magical trees that produce the sweet cacao. Some of the local Ngabe women helped us to roast our own beans and grind them into a cacao paste. After adding a little milk and sugar, we were left with our very own brand of delicious Panamanian chocolate.

The raw cacao fruit.

Our guide's cousin roasting some beans for us before we were set to work grinding them

Workin' hard for our chocolate. Grinding the roasted beans into a paste.

Our homemade 90% cacao chocolate. Divine.

The beginnings of the cacao fruit and the finished product 8 months later

A Green Frog who also like cacao

Sporting high, thick socks to keep away the sand flies

The cacao fruit 'cemetario' that becomes compost for the other trees

The homes of our Ngabe hosts

Leah with Melvin, who was excited about the photos of the Argentine buses on Gill's camera

Lunch!

"Perritos"

Melvin chasing us as we leave

As we wait for our ride back to the island, we spot a sweet little boy skipping down the road