Attempting to crack open cacao beans one afternoon at Cyrila’s Chocolate near Punta Gorda, Belize, I couldn’t help but wonder what led people, thousands of years ago, to begin torturing beans in a way that would eventually yield chocolate. These aren’t string beans; you can’t just yank them off a plant and chew and taste a candy bar. Cacao beans have to be serially abused for a good long while before they’ll foster any sweetness.
First, cacao pods are taken from the cacao tree and then split open so their beans can be harvested. Then the beans are fermented, and then dried, and, eventually, roasted. Finally, they can be broken open only to have their interiors ground. Eventually, sugar will be added, and probably some milk, and the whole mess will be molded into a chocolate bar. It was at Cyrila’s (now known as Ixcacao Maya Belizean Chocolate) that I began to appreciate the effort that goes into generating just a single ounce of chocolate. Given the results of my own bean cracking, I realized I hadn’t been a cacao farmer in a previous life.
I enjoyed some chocolate wine, though, and a messy chocolate bar that just had to be eaten because it was melting quickly even as I was walking back to my cabana at the Cotton Tree Lodge, where I was staying. In Punta Gorda Town, I continued my chocolate sojourn and picked up a few bars of chocolate soap at Cotton Tree Chocolate after the shopkeeper kindly granted my request to use the restroom.
Thanks to an afternoon cracking a few beans and grinding them into chocolate, I have so much more respect for Hershey’s, for chocolatiers who create vast and complicated candy sculptures, for truffle makers, and, of course, for cacao farmers who make our indulgences possible.