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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coffee, Cranberries and Chocolate

If you thought Epcot's Food & Wine Festival was just about getting your extra money for trying all the fun foods from around the world, you might be surprised. While that is the big part of the festival, they also want to educate visitors on nutrition, growing and harvesting. Each year they tend to focus on different things, but they tend to present things that are universally appealing. The great thing about these extras are that they are included in your admission and often give out freebies.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival

I love learning new things, especially about food, because...FOOD! If I eat it, it's fun to know where it comes from. Epcot knows that education and awareness helps people make better and more informed decisions about the things they buy, so even though you're excited to get to the Greece kiosk to get all that delicious baklava in your face, take a few minutes to check out these other areas and wander around the Festival Center, too.

I'm a fan of a great cup of coffee. Of course I was going to check out this little set-up that takes me from plant to cup. Not only is the area beautiful looking, but you can also get up close and personal with actual coffee plants to see what your beans look like. And there's that guy standing there to answer any questions you may have. He knows all about the coffee-growing process, so ask away.

There are always great signs with a bunch of cool info on them, which will probably answer a lot of questions for you if the expert on the scene is otherwise engaged - I find this is hardly a problem, since most people are too busy eating and drinking to stop at these areas. 

Here are a few things I learned here: All those green sprouts on the map above are where coffee is grown in the world. it shouldn't be surprising that almost all of it is on, or close to, the equator. The darker the roast, the less caffeine you're actually getting, because it takes longer to roast. So, when you order your double-espresso to wake up in the morning, just know that it's not hugely different from decaf. This is also why the dark roast cost more than the lighter roasts. Want to taste it for yourself? There's a coffee stand nearby and the expert is more than happy to give you a coupon to make it little cheaper.

What do you know about cranberries? They're sweet and tart and taste good in vodka? Sure, but if, like me, the most you know is that and whatever you see on those cranberry commercials, this set-up was fascinating. Apparently, cranberries grow on bushes (the very bushes you see growing around this bog) and the bog is only flooded for a few days when they are ripe. The water causes the ripe berries to float to the top, so they can be easily harvested. I don't like cranberries, really, but I was insanely interested in the growing process. Nearby was a kiosk that would give you more info if you wanted and bags of samples of dried cranberries and covered cranberries, so you could enjoy what you just learned about.

Chocolate. Who doesn't love it? I barely know anyone and am a bit sad for the few people I know that are allergic to it. Inside the festival center there was a spot set aside for learning about the growing and harvesting processes of chocolate and cacao plant. Obviously, there is a Ghirardelli guy on-hand to answer your questions and give you some samples and coupons (because who doesn't want free chocolate?). 

This past year had a wonderful display of chocolate Disney scenes which were amazingly detailed, including this one from Frozen. It's all chocolate. Pretty amazing, right? There were several Star Wars themed ones, as well as the Jungle Book and others. I wouldn't even be able to do this with clay, but these masters could bend chocolate to their will and were talented enough to make it look like something awesome. It was crazy impressive and detailed. I wonder who gets to eat the mistakes. 

So, while you can spend your days at the Food & Wine Festival in Epcot stuffing your face and getting drunk (there is a never-ending supply of beer, wine and other libations), don't forget that these other freebies are there and can save you money, give you a great education on foods/beverages and are a fun way to pass the time while you wait for your small plates to digest. I love the chance to ask an expert about things, especially when there's not another line to stand in. Extra tip: The Festival Center has nice bathrooms that you usually don't have to wait for in the evening, plus it's usually deserted, so you don't have to fight the crowds to do a bit of shopping of festival merchandise and wine-related products.

Have you ever been to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival? If so, what was your favorite part?

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