How to Become a Chocolatier in Costa Rica

The “bean-to-bar” production of artisan chocolates is a way to make tastier chocolate in a more sustainable manner—and charge a premium to willing customers (three-ounce bars in the U.S. can go for as much as $8).

Ecuador, Costa Rica and Belize are three of the Latin American countries in the “cocoa belt”—the 10 degrees either side of the equator where the cacao tree grows. Here you’ll find a burgeoning cottage industry devoted to this type of chocolate making.

Earning a living in a tropical paradise while creating a product that is rich, exotic and flavorful is appealing to a growing number of entrepreneurial expats. Some embrace it as a lifestyle choice, producing enough profits to support them comfortably in their new home. Others do it on a more commercial scale, with a wide range of products beyond chocolate bars.

If you’re a chocolate-loving entrepreneur, turn your passion into profits with a small-scale cocoa production business in some of the most desirable locations in the world.

In Costa Rica, entrepreneurs are working to turn the lush landscape into the “Napa Valley of chocolate,” one chocolate business at a time.

When Paul and Jeanne Johnson started caretaking a friend’s home on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast four years ago, they didn’t know it would be the start of a business and a whole new way of life.

The home, like many in the region, was set in a former cacao farm.

“The whole area has a history of cocoa going back to Spanish colonial times,” says Paul.

But a blight in the 1970s forced farmers to seek work elsewhere. As the Johnsons explored the property, in between the jungle trees and overgrown vegetation, they spied cacao trees from that era.

“I’ve always been a chocolate lover but knew nothing of how it was made,” says Paul. “We already had the roasting equipment for the coffee, so there wasn’t a lot of initial investment needed.” Because they could process the cocoa beans using coffee roasting equipment they already had, their first small batch cost just $500 to make. That money was used to buy a few pieces of equipment and pay labor costs.

They embarked on an ambitious restoration project to get the plantation up and running. Making chocolate was as much about restoring the cocoa plantation as it was about making money.

Chocolate now represents half of their business, called Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate, Puerto Viejo. The other half is their coffee shop, a local institution.

Their goal is to make Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean a destination for chocolate lovers, not only through their farm but by paving the way for other local producers. They don’t view newcomers to chocolate making, local or expat, as competition. There’s plenty of room for the nascent industry to grow.

In the current issue of Incomes Abroad, I tell you more about the Johnson’s enterprise in Costa Rica…plus other successful expats filling this niche in Belize and Ecuador. They all have valuable insights for anyone looking to earn an income in these countries.

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