From Cacao to Chocolate
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
- 2 cups boiling water
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 2-4 tablespoons honey (or raw sugar)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 pinch ground anise
- 1 teaspoon achiote or paprika
- 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.
- 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.)
- Pour into small cups and serve hot.