Tripping on Chocolate

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.

Harvested, fermented, dried, roasted cacao beans ready to be shelled. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Harvested, fermented, dried, roasted cacao beans ready to be shelled.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

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.

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Cotton Tree Chocolate in Punta Gorda, Belize Photo credit: M. Ciavaardini

Cotton Tree Chocolate in Punta Gorda, Belize
Photo credit: M. Ciavaardini

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.

Chocolate gorilla Paris

A chocolate gorilla in the window at Patrick Roger Chocolatier in Paris
Photo credit: V. Laino

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.

—Lori Tripoli

The Brandenburg Gate in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch in Berlin Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

The Brandenburg Gate in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch in Berlin
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

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2 comments for “Tripping on Chocolate

  1. July 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Great post! I’m one of the founders of Cotton Tree Chocolate and invite you to come visit my newest company located in Pike Place Market, indi chocolate. Starting Cotton Tree Chocolate grew out of my desire to teach my children how chocolate grows on trees. I always love teaching people about the fascinating story and strange facts of chocolate. Let me know when you’re coming to Seattle.

    • BashfulAdventurer
      July 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Will do, Erin! I love Pike Place! If I’m headed to Seattle any time soon, I’ll definitely stop in.

      -Lori Tripoli

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