I am a big chocolate lover. I always call it my feminine side. I can eat a bar a day: easily. Being in Central America, is being at the roots of chocolate. Here it is, were the Mayans discovered the ‘black gold’. And the coolest thing is: here you can make your own chocolate: from bean to bar.
In Granada (Nicaragua) the place to do it, is Mansion de Chocolate, where everything looks like to be made out of chocolate. But not today. Today it’s my turn to make my own chocolate. So no nice, ready made bars (the darker, the better for me), but beans. Raw beans, fermented for a two months, underneath banana leaves and next dried in the sun. But that is Mansion de Chocolate has done for me. The rest is up to me, with a little help of chocolate master Kenny, who – looking at his amazing energy – probably already took some chocolate beans this morning, because the raw beans have a fair amount of caffeine in them, like coffee or tea, so they can help you work harder than you could without cocoa. Next to caffeine they are full of vitamin C and magnesium, making it a good after workout snack.
Our workshop starts with looking at the Cocoa trees, which can only live in hot, rainy places near the Equator, and the large orange fruits, who contain between 16 and 20 seeds. (One tree will have between 80 and 120 fruits a year). Then we get the already fermented and dried beans and it’s up to us to roast them. Traditionally, with a little chocolate dans around the fire. After the roasting the beans have to be peeled. The husk will be used for cocoa tea or as fertiliser for gardens; the beans are ours. Bitter to eat, but that’s something we will change quickly.
Although quickly, this might be the hardest part of the proces. Kenny hands me a bowl and a pestle and it’s up to me to grind the beans in a chocolate paste. I’m pretty fond on manual labour, but this is Granada, where it’s 35 degrees Celsius and humid. But hey, it’s the way the Mayans and Aztecs did it, so it’s the way I’m going to do it.
Slowly the dry beans change to a liquidish pulp. Kenny collects all of our pulp and distributes it in two cans. He adds some water, pepper, chilis and cinnamon two the first to recreate the chocolate drink the Aztecs were drinking about 2000 years B.C. The only ingredient that is missing, is blood. The Aztecs use to add that; as an offer to the Gods. ‘But don’t worry’, he reassures us, ‘I will put in all my love; that will taste the same.’ And I have to admit: the drink tastes good. Like a drink of the Gods. Because that is what the Mayans believed: that the god Quetzalcoatl had brought cocoa trees down from heaven and given them to people to farm.
In the Netherlands we have a saying, parents often use when their kids ask for expensive presents: ‘I don’t have a money tree.’ Well, the Aztecs did, because the Aztec government made people pay a lot of their taxes in cocoa beans, because they were expensive and you could store them for a long time. It had a downside, because now cocoa was money, most people couldn’t afford to actually eat or drink the beans anymore.
Luckily we can and after the first chocolate drink with water Kenny brews one for us with milk and a lot of honey. Too sweet for my taste. I prefer the bitter. But the best thing about this workshop – besides Kenny’s incredible enthusiasm and love for making chocolate – is that I can have the chocolate I want, because now it’s time to make my chocolate bar. That means 70 percent of chocolate (the darkest they have), sea salt, chillies, black pepper, cashews and some chocolate beans.
The best thing is followed by the hardest though. After mixing my recipe the chocolate paste goes into a form and into the fridge. No eating yet. That only happens hours later. But it’s worth waiting for, because – I have to be honest – it’s the best bar of chocolate I ever tasted. I would like to offer you some, so you can see for yourself, but I can’t I ate it all.