From Cacao to Chocolate

Antigua Guatemala

Words cannot express how happy the Choco Museo in Antigua makes me. Within seconds of entering, I was sipping cocoa husk tea and signing up for the chocolate making workshop ($21/person). 

If you cannot go to the Choco Museo, I’m terribly sorry. It is worth the plane ticket to Antigua. However, I will share a bit of what I learned! 

Cacao trees produce pods, which are harvested by hand and contain cacao beans. These beans not only grow new trees, but they are the source of all chocolate happiness. 

Harvest the Cacao Pods

First, the pod is cracked open by a machete or by hitting it against something hard, like a table. The beans are scraped out by hand. I was surprised to see that they were covered in a thick white mucus. It looks as gross as it sounds. The mucus is sweet and edible, even though the bean is not at this point.

Ferment the Cacao Beans

The beans are placed in a wooden box to allow the white mucus to dry and ferment the beans. Fermentation develops the flavor and is a critical step to delicious tasting chocolate. 

Dry the Cacao Beans

Dried Cacao Beans

The beans are laid in the sun to dry, which takes another week or so depending on the weather. In Guatemala, this is done outside, not in a dehydrator (electricity is expensive!). 

Roast and Peel the Cacao Beans

Once the beans are dry, they still have an inedible outer husk that needs to be removed. To do that easily, the beans are roasted until the husk cracks; this takes about 15 minutes using the traditional roasting plate. Roasting also happens to deepen the flavor of the chocolate.

Roast Cacao Beans

When the roasted beans are cool enough to touch, the husk is removed by hand. The husk can be used for fertilizer, and it makes fantastic tea. The husk contains all the antioxidant properties of chocolate but none of the fat, calories, or caffeine. It’s pretty much awesome. 

Inside the husk is the cacao nib. In the U.S., you can buy cacao nibs at many grocery stores. They are bitter but super healthful. I love them on ice cream and in yogurt. 

Crush the Cacao Nibs

The cacao nibs are crushed into a smooth paste. Traditionally, this is done with a metate and mano. You can also use a grinding contraption that is much more difficult to crank than it appears. Commercial producers of chocolate use machines to grind the nibs.

Metate and Mono

Purposeful Life

The result is called cocoa liquor. 

Eat the Chocolate

For centuries chocolate was a liquid drink, not a solid bar. During the workshop I learned how to make hot chocolate like Mayas and like Spaniards. I was not very good at the Maya way of stirring the chocolate…

Our guide demonstrates the correct way to mix hot chocolate.

Our guide demonstrates the correct way to mix hot chocolate.

Martin got the hang of this method of mixing very quickly.

Martin got the hang of this method of mixing very quickly.

I think I got more hot chocolate on the counter than in the pitcher...

I think I got more hot chocolate on the counter than in the pitcher…

Extract Cocoa Butter and Cocoa Powder

Today, almost all of the time, cocoa liquor is processed further by a fancy machine to separate it into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Cocoa butter is used to not only make chocolate (especially white chocolate), but it is also used in beauty products. Cocoa powder is used in baking and making hot chocolate. It has a milder flavor than the cocoa liquor, which many people prefer. 

So what do the percentages mean on a chocolate bar?

A 70% dark chocolate bar contains 70% cocoa and 30% sugar. Most of the cocoa will be cocoa liquor, with only a small amount of cocoa butter. 

Conversely, a 45% milk chocolate bar contains 45% cocoa, with nearly equal parts liquor and butter, about 35% sugar, and about 20% milk. 

White chocolate is very similar to milk chocolate except it doesn’t contain any cocoa liquor; instead it contains about 35% cocoa butter, 35% sugar, and 20% milk. 

I always knew that chocolate was a complicated process, but I never understood all the steps involved! I definitely have a new appreciation for good quality chocolate.

I wasn’t impressed with the chocolate I bought in Lanquin, but now I realize that it was meant to be drank, not eaten. The texture threw off the whole experience. I just want to go back and make a hot chocolate out of the delicious handmade disks.

Maya Hot Chocolate
Serves 4
Traditionally, only the very rich could afford to sweeten their hot chocolate, so most Maya drank this unsweetened. However, the drink greatly improves with the sweetener, so go ahead and pretend you are royalty and add some honey to your hot chocolate. The achiote was used to turn the chocolate into a red color to symbolize a blood offering. Paprika works the same way. The chili powder was added as a preservative, but I love the extra spicy kick it provides.
Total Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
194 calories
22 g
0 g
15 g
4 g
9 g
164 g
24 g
13 g
0 g
6 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 194
Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 15g
Saturated Fat 9g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 24mg
Total Carbohydrates 22g
Dietary Fiber 5g
Sugars 13g
Protein 4g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 2 cups boiling water
  2. 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  3. 2-4 tablespoons honey (or raw sugar)
  4. 1 teaspoon chili powder
  5. 1 pinch ground anise
  6. 1 teaspoon achiote or paprika
  1. In a heat-proof pitcher, add the chocolate, honey, chili, anise, and achoite. Pour in the boiling water. Let sit for 3 minutes to let the chocolate melt.
  2. Aerate the chocolate drink by pouring the liquid into a second pitcher and back into the first one. Repeat the pouring about 20 times or until a nice froth appears on the top. (Alternatively, you can use a whisk to aerate the chocolate.)
  3. Pour into small cups and serve hot.
Craving Sustenance

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3 Responses

  1. Amy Lou says:

    How yummy! This is awesome. I use Palmer’s Cocoa Butter lotion in the winter here and I love smelling like a chocolate bar all day. :p

  2. Mimi Wheeler says:

    Hi Jill. I’m enjoying your blog and I had fun meeting you and Martin at Kafka last night.
    I am a chocolatier from Michigan and has over the years gained much knowledge. A correction: chocolate liquor/cocoa or cacao liquor contain about 50/50 cacao butter and the (mostly fat free) cocoa. Fine chocolate would have extra cacao butter added to the pressed nibs/liquor and when a chocolatier produces bars and bonbons s/he add extra cocoa butter for the tempering process.

    • Jill Wigert says:

      Hi Mimi! I enjoyed meeting you too! Thanks for the clarification; that part of the workshop wasn’t super clear to me. Thanks for reading my blog!