This simple mantra became a guiding principle for us at Sibö Chocolate, back when we started the company in 2007. My late father had challenged me to come up with a business model that would be a positive force, not just for me and my partners, but also for my adopted home—Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica has been good to you,” he said. “Do something that will be good for the country.” So, with that in mind, my partner, Julio Fernandez, and I went to work.
Using chocolate making as a vehicle for more ambitious endeavors—such as creating economic opportunity by reviving an industry, incentivizing the creation of biological corridors that connect our protected lands, and being kind to our workers and stakeholders—we are showing that you can start a successful business without any business background if you first seek to spread joy to your customers.
Through our operations, we have seized many opportunities to give back to our industry, first by sharing our model with up-and-coming chocolatiers (https://www.ecolechocolat.com/en/costarica-cacao.html) , as well as improving post/harvest processes with our suppliers (https://www.facebook.com/ChocolateSibu/videos/246953475963237/), and most recently by helping found ICACAO, Costa Rica’s Association of Chocolate and Cacao, (https://www.facebook.com/ICACAOCostaRica/?modal=admin_todo_tour).
We have also made a priority of supporting the artisan community in Costa Rica, by purchasing only the best freshly grown ingredients for our products (when we don’t grow it ourselves) and by giving space on our store shelves to small artisan companies that show innovation and sustainable practices when crafting their wares.
We take pride in putting quality and sustainability above all considerations in order to create delicious chocolates that are helping to place Costa Rica among the top chocolate producing countries of the world.
At Sibú Chocolate we believe that sustainability is woven into the fabric of a business. Sustainability involves business ethics and how we use our natural resources, as well as mitigating our impact on the environment and on communities, all while generating opportunities and guaranteeing quality in the long term. So how do we strive to be sustainable at Sibú Chocolate? It’s in everything we do.
From how we source ingredients to using recycled materials for our packaging, and from staff development to waste management, sustainability is ever present in our vision for growth. Over the years, we have done a lot of specific things to show this commitment.
Sibö’s quality assurance staff has completed exhaustive training as auditors in Best Manufacturing Practices for food safety with Costa Rica’s National Learning Institute (INA). All Sibö Chocolate employees hold certificates in food handling and adhere to strict guidelines to guarantee food safety and traceability.
Members of our staff have also completed coursework with international specialists through Costa Rica’s Universidad Nacional, to form part of an official panel of expert cacao tasters for the country.
To support the groundbreaking work in generating more resistant and productive varieties of cacao that benefit small scale cocoa producers, Sibö Chocolate donates one percent of its chocolate bar sales to the Center for Tropical Agriculture and Higher Education (CATIE). Based in Costa Rica, CATIE houses one of the world’s most important genetic banks for cacao, including rare and wild species.
Sibö Chocolate donates fine chocolates for the Corcovado Foundation’s annual wine-and-dine fundraiser to benefit its sea turtle protection program on the Osa Peninsula. Find out more about the foundation’s programs at http://www.corcovadofoundation.org
All compostable food from our restaurant is converted into organic fertilizer on the premises that feeds our vegetable and herb garden. To minimize trash, we recycle plastic, aluminum and glass, as well as cardboard boxes and paper that are blended with cacao fiber to make our unique cacao paper boxes (see above). We also use a rainwater collection system to supply water in our bathrooms and have replaced our lighting with led technology in order to reduce our use of energy and water.
Donations of one U.S. dollar per chocolate bar were allotted to the Neotropica Foundations wetland protection program through sales at Automercado supermarkets as part of the campaign “Sweeten Your Day for a Good Cause.” The program works with communities to create awareness about the relationship between wetlands and people’s wellbeing. Visit https://neotropica.org
For years, Sibö Chocolate compensated for the carbon dioxide emissions produced while delivering chocolates through the Programa Aliados Cambio Climático (ACC), a Costa Rican initiative seeking to help businesses counterbalance carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. The program allows businesses to calculate their carbon output and donate funds accordingly toward reforestation projects in Costa Rica. Visit https://www.programaacc.org/.
Sibö Chocolate artisans work exclusively with Costa Rican Trinitario cacao, a high-quality, fine-flavor bean that represents only about 12% of cacao traded worldwide. We work closely with cacao farmers from three regions (see descriptions below) and pay an average of 25% above local market prices in exchange for only the highest quality beans and a commitment to sustainable farming practices.
Between the Talamanca Mountains and the Bananito River are two small farms that provide us with gorgeous beans, expertly fermented and dried by the Gaitán family, who have been working in cacao for generations. Some of the trees on these farms are more than 40 years old, which means that we get some rare and surprising flavor notes that are lacking in the types of commercial cacao currently being planted throughout the Central American region.
Flavor profile: HERBAL, with dried fruit and tapa de dulce (raw cane sugar)
Near Piedras Blanca National Park on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region, we found something really special: a remote farm producing a very limited supply of cacao with clear criollo genetics. We are looking forward to further experimentation with this wild cacao. For now, each batch yields pleasant surprises of complex flavors and a long finish.
Flavor Profile: SPICE with red fruit and nutty finish
Set in a river valley near Guayabo National Park this model farm is shaded with tropical cedar trees and isolated from other cacao farms in rich agricultural valley of Turrialba. Here, the Zeuner family has been producing award-winning cacao with strict quality standards that yields unmistakable hazelnut flavor.
Flavor profile: NUTTY, notes of caramel and coffee
Three years. It took three years for historian Julio Fernandez Amón and journalist George Soriano to take the plunge and leave their day jobs in Costa Rica to follow a dream of making chocolate. The decision would come just in time for the great recession of 2008.
Despite the odds, and ignoring the advice of friends and family, the two forged ahead with optimism and perhaps just the right amount of naiveté. And so Sibú Chocolate was born. The goal: the chocolate had to be organic, it had to be made start-to-finish in Costa Rica, but most importantly, it had to be good enough to stand up to best chocolates in the world. If not, then why bother?
The years prior to opening their business were filled with research—seeking out and sampling some of the best chocolate from around the world, as well as studying the history of chocolate and cacao production. Intense training in the chocolate arts followed, taking them to France, Italy and Belgium, to practice alongside Master Chocolatiers—a title they now share with their mentors.
Upon returning to Costa Rica their quest began for the country’s finest cacao beans. While flavor and aroma were of utmost concern, the beans also had to be organically produced to adhere to their vision. They travelled undaunted to remote villages and wild lands on both coasts trying cacao and meeting with growers. And then, Eureka! On a family-owned organic plantation on Costa Rica’s Atlantic slope, they found fine cacao flourishing under the protective fronds of Laurel and plantain. The farmers were expertly fermenting, drying and roasting the beans onsite.
Julio and George’s next step would bring them back from the field and into the kitchen. With big ideas but just a marble slab donated by a friend for tempering, the two went to work.
Inspired by the idea of pairing unusual flavors, George started playing with herbs and spices and tropical fruit to make the first bonbons with surprisingly delicious results. These recipes included lime and coriander white chocolate truffles and ginger coconut milk caramels covered in dark chocolate. Inspiration came from the fresh ingredients that were available, as well as from historic records about chocolate written at the time of the Conquest.
Julio began designs for packaging. The bonbon boxes had to be free of plastic and bulk, and use recycled materials. His experiments would eventually lead to crafting boxes out of cacao husks and fiber that are normally discarded in the process of making chocolate. While he found a packaging solution, Julio was actually hand painting details on every single plain brown box that left their workshop— something he remembers with a mixture of fondness and dread.
As Creative Director, Julio also began applying native pre-Columbian patterns to decorate George’s creations. Every chocolate, they thought, should tell a story both in flavor and design. Today, those first signature bonbons have expanded to a line of 16 flavors, from passion fruit ganache in dark chocolate to lavender and honey truffles.
Chocolate bar making followed in 2009, which opened up the budding company to exporting chocolate. This part of the business would become especially gratifying as it helped to put Costa Rica on the chocolate map for quality. Today there are 16 bar flavors, ranging from 82% extra dark chocolate for purists, to wild inclusion bars like Chai Spice and sea salt Coffee-Toffee in milk chocolate.
Chocolate tasting tours began in 2011, growing out of a desire to share their passion for chocolate and the ideas behind their business. With candid commentary and plenty of wit, the two are quick to joke about the trials and triumphs of raising the bar. Their hope is that every guest will leave with a great experience, but more importantly, that they will think more deeply about the relationship between food and culture, food and the environment and the economics behind what we eat.
In 2014 Sibú Chocolate proudly opened its second store, selecting San José’s La Sabana neighborhood as the first off-site location to enjoy chocolate treats, have a quick bite to eat or shop for chocolate gifts.
That same year, Sibú opened the terrace at its San Isidro cottage workshop to the public as relaxing spot for drinking hot chocolate in the afternoon. Guests can also dive into decadent desserts and curl up with fresh home-style comfort food on the lunch menu.
In 2015 Sibú Chocolate began expanding its chocolate line, experimenting with more micro batch chocolate made with fine flavor cacao from the region at its San Isidro workshop. The mantra has stayed the same through the years, but the chocolate gets better and better.
In 2016 Sibö welcomed new partners Alfredo Echeverría and Luis Quesada as part of the Sibö Chocolate team. That year, the company invested in new chocolate making equipment with larger capacity to prepare for growing sales both locally and internationally. Sibö also opened a new production space and moved its store to the San José’s Escazú neighborhood.
The years to come would be rife with growing pains as we introduced our chocolates into larger supermarket chains and hotels and new clientele growing in Japan and the U.S. We have added specialty sugar-free chocolate line to our mix of products, specifically catering to a growing market of chocolate lovers with restricted diets.
As this is written, we are planning our third location in the trendy restaurant district of Barrio Escalante.