Colombian Chocolate aficionado José Luis Pérez is a host at Casa Rivera del Cacao. Here he discusses the child-like magic of his small natural paradise in the foothills of the Andes, Córdoba, Quindío – the perfect place to explore the gastronomic applications of Colombian biodiversity and where several of the best cocoas in the world are grown and produced.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to work in this role?
I fell passionately in love with cacao and chocolate. Its history, biology, and all the agricultural process around it. Cacao is something that is very dear to our hearts as humans, but most of us don’t know much about it. When I started to discover all that surrounds chocolate I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
How does a typical day start for you?
A lot of the experience in our property revolves around gastronomy. A typical day would begin in our restaurant brewing coffee from our plantation, baking fresh pastries for breakfast, or preparing freshly squeezed mandarin juice from our garden.
Favourite thing about where you work?
The natural surroundings. An incredible array of hundreds of tonalities of green, the richness of nature, and the incredible varieties of animals and plants. The pristine waters of our river. To be able to spend my days in the area of the world with more species of birds per square kilometre than any other. The incredible vegetation, just imagine, we have over 60 species of fruit in our forest. Also spices like cinnamon, tonka bean, or vanilla. The permanent contact with nature in an organic permaculture forest in which we produce up to 80% of the ingredients in some of our dishes. The awe-inspiring richness of this ecosystem, and the profound respect it also inspires and deserves. That is why we aim to be completely sustainable, recycling all our waste and treating all our residue waters. We even produce our own line of biodegradable amenities for our rooms from the plants in our forest. Customers love our chocolate soap.
What’s the most unusual/memorable moment you’ve experienced guiding visitors?
Every visitor is different and interacts differently with the experience we offer, but I would say that in many cases the most memorable moment for our visitors is to discover that cacao is a fruit!
That it is delicious and that it has an incredible flavour and aroma. Also, to discover that it has been in use by humans for over 5000 thousand years. The incredible history of cacao is something that never ceases to amaze our visitors. And mostly, of course, the amazing sense of fulfilment our visitors get from making their own chocolate from the cacao bean. It is a little bit like they are experiencing what is described in the lyrics of the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
Biggest challenges you face in your role?
I would say to make our guests feel at home. Having them completely comfortable so that they can fully experience the magic of the land of “Encanto”.
What advice would you give travellers coming to explore your holidaying experience?
To keep their senses always alert. There are infinite aromas, tastes, textures, sounds, shapes and colours in our little paradise.
Your favourite time of year, and have you any tips for when to go there?
I would say some of the best months are June and November when there is less rain. But months like April and October are also great because we are in the peaks of our two main harvest seasons.
Any funny stories you would like to share?
When people eat a certain amount of true chocolate, they can get a Theobromine rush. Our chocolate only has two ingredients: cacao and sugar. The alkaloid of cacao is Theobromine. This natural alkaloid triggers the production of three happiness hormones: Dopamine which gives you the sensation of pleasure, Serotonin, a sense of self-confidence and acceptance, and Oxytocin, which makes you feel loved. In some cases is just incredible to see the sheer joy on our visitor’s faces, many adults just start behaving like children again, spilling chocolate over themselves or liking the chocolate from their plates. We are just grateful to be able to help our visitors experience such levels of joy.