Blog : Chocolate and cacao

Speaking with the Tropical Chocolate Café in Panama City

Speaking with the Tropical Chocolate Café in Panama City

“We are tree to bar producers; it’s more than bean to bar!”

We speak to Carolina Buglione – the general manager of Tropical Chocolate Café, about tree to bar chocolate, 100% authentic Panamanian chocolate from Bocas del Toro.

Can you tell me a little bit about Tropical Chocolate Café?

We are located in Casco Antiguo, in Panama City, and this is a gorgeous place where we celebrate chocolate and cacao from Panama, in particular from Bocas del Toro. We own a very beautiful cacao plantation based in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. We grow a fine cacao which is used to make Oro Moreno fine chocolate, which we sell here in the Tropical Chocolate Café.

What makes Oro Moreno different?

Oro Moreno is a Panamanian chocolate company as well as the name of our ‘home branded’ chocolate bar. We are tree to bar producers. It’s more than bean to bar! We start the work from the plantation, from the harvest of the cacao trees. We ferment and dry the cacao seeds in Bocas del Toro and then Oro Moreno artisanal factory here in Panama City makes the chocolate – the fine products that you can see here.

We want to celebrate fine, high-quality chocolate. People – generally speaking and particularly here in Panama – are not yet used to consuming a very high-quality chocolate. Industrial chocolate you can find anywhere. But we want to offer our clients the very best here in the Tropical Chocolate Café.

Our plantations are grown without the use of any pesticides or any other chemicals. Our employees are Panamanian, most of them are from the indigenous communities. We have around 150 hectares of cacao plantation. First it was just the cacao plantations in Bocas and then we opened the Tropical Chocolate Café here in the City where we sell the chocolate made from our cacao. So we’ve created this opportunity to produce 100% Panamanian chocolate, right here in Panama.

What is it about chocolate that people love so much?

Chocolate is indeed something special. There is something that goes beyond the love for sweetness – people are very passionate about chocolate, there’s a real love affair. There are also the health benefits and people are becoming more and more aware of this aspect of cacao. Cacao is a superfood – it has a lot of amazing properties and – if consumed in the right amount(!!) – it is great for your health, it also lifts your mood. It’s a great product.

Is chocolate changing?

I think so, yes. In Panama, slowly. We have read a number of articles recently about the chocolate industry – the negative side – bringing to people’s attention how the chocolate industry is destroying natural forests and also employing a lot of children in the plantations. Because of this, I think that we’re seeing consumers becoming a lot more aware of what they are eating and wanting to know where the chocolate they are eating is from. You will have noticed in recent years the finest chocolate brands putting a lot of attention on the source of the cacao bean and the way it’s grown, including the way workers are treated. This is of course something that we care deeply about.

Things do need to change – I’m talking here about the industry, the global chocolate industry. As I’ve said, there are cacao producers that use child labour and have bad working conditions for their employees. Cacao is like other mass-produced products and of course there are the same issues and challenges. What we and other fine chocolate companies are trying to do is produce a higher quality chocolate. This includes knowing about the supply chain and the working conditions of the farmers. We’re raising the quality, which probably also raises the price too, but it’s for good!

What’s next for the Tropical Chocolate Café and Oro Moreno?

The next step for us is to open our doors to other chocolate producers here in Panama – who are producing fine chocolate. We want to be a chocolate ‘hub’. We’re calling out to people who are making fine chocolate to come here and create a place where we can talk about cacao, talk about chocolate, learn from each other and offer customers a wider range of high-quality chocolate products.


Tropical Chocolate Café:

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am to 7pm

Address: Calle 6ta. Oeste, Casco Antiguo

Further information:

Social: @tropicalchocolatecafe

T: (+507) 388 6843


Oro Moreno and the Tropical Chocolate Café were created in alliance with ForestFinance, a German forestry investment company that offers investments in ecological reforestation and sustainable forest products. Taken from ForestFinance’s website:

“At ForestFinance we believe that the long-term protection (and establishment) of ecologically-sound, sustainable working forests is the only global, mainstream approach to prevent chemical and profit dominated forestry. We do not follow the “donations to save the rainforest” route; we have developed a sustainable forestry system which benefits all stakeholders.”

You can even invest as little as €40 with ForestFinance for which you will receive five bars of chocolate made from ForestFinance cacao as well as a cacao tree – ForestFinance will plant a cacao tree for you; you receive an individual planting certificate with the location of the tree.


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A cacao Christmas

A cacao Christmas

So, when Ariel and I first started thinking about what we wanted to do in Panama, I had no idea that Bocas del Toro was the cacao growing region of the country. I don’t even think I’d really heard the term cacao until a few years ago – I had no idea about chocolate, where it came from, how it grew or what cacao pods or seeds even looked like. How things have changed. I’ve now been to Bocas four times and have enjoyed numerous chocolate making tours – learning about the humble cacao pod and seed, and the harvesting, fermenting, drying and roasting processes. It’s truly fascinating.

We thought, what better time to write about chocolate than in the run up to Christmas, when all everyone will be doing for the next couple of weeks is indulging in this yummy yummy brown gold!

A few of our favourite things…

On our journey we have come across a few things we love – chocolate related things that is. We wanted to share a few of them with you.

  1. The Chocolate Show

Started in 1995, The Chocolate Show (UK show) is a true celebration of chocolate in all its form. We have attended the show for the past few years and each year it gets bigger and better. You can find cacao farmers, chocolate makers, the best chocolatiers in the world; you can attend workshops, tastings and talks; and can take in exquisite chocolate art – from portraits and sculptures to high-end fashion! We would recommend the show to anyone who either just wants to indulge in their favourite sweet treat for a day or who wants to learn more about chocolate.

Chocolate sculpture of Michelangelo’s David (Michelle Wibowo, Michelle Sugar Art Ltd UK (West Sussex)
  1. Rabot 1745

Hotel Chocolat’s restaurant in Borough Market – Rabot 1745 – is named after their Rabot Estate cacao plantation in St. Lucia. Most, if not all of the dishes on the menu incorporate cacao in some form. In some dishes it acts more as a subtle seasoning, but in others it plays a central role, giving an earthy, malty note to the dish. I took Ariel to the restaurant for his birthday a few years ago – it was great. An interesting concept and great location. There’s also a shop and bar on the ground floor so, if you don’t want a full meal, you can pop by to try chocolate craft beers or wines!

Tip – the molten chocolate lava dessert is to die for!

  1. Trash tea

So, on one of our trips to Bocas we ventured to La Loma jungle lodge & chocolate farm, run by a wonderful couple who we are glad to now call our friends. We went on their chocolate tour around the beautiful tropical rainforest and cacao plantation, and ended up making some of our own chocolate. Back at the main lodge had lunch and were offered their trash tea!!?? It doesn’t sound that appetising right? Well, trash tea is hot water infused with the shells of the cacao seeds. The shells give lovely earthy, malty notes – and you also benefit from those wonderful antioxidants. The tea gets its name from the fact that most people throw the shells away – in the trash. Love the concept.

  1. Repurposed cacao pods

It’s always great to see things being reused and repurposed – and we think this shot, taken at La Loma and posted on their Instagram – is the best example of this! Check these chicks out – taking over an old cacao pod! Beautiful.

Until next time #liveslow. Merry Christmas!!! Have a lovely one – hope you are surrounded by friends, family and loved ones.

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