Historians disagree over where exactly in Mesoamerica cacao trees first appeared, but what they do agree on is that people first began to prepare cacao for human enjoyment in Mexico.
The most popular use of the cacao bean in pre-European Mexico was to produce a chocolate drink. To make the drink, producers fermented, toasted, and ground the cacao bean into a powder which provided the drink's base. Often, people used different spices such as chillies, anise seed, allspice, and vanilla to add flavour.
Once the secret of chocolate got out, other places started cultivating it. Today more than 80% of cacao is grown in Africa and Indonesia. Less than 2% is grown in Mexico. But the vestiges of the cacao culture remain, and there's an effort to make the Yucatán the center of the chocolate world again.
Top Picks for Mexico Choc Travels
What better place to start your choc trip than the Yucatán Peninsula, a part of Mexico that's closer to Cuba than to Mexico City and is still home to the Maya, the people who made the world a happier place 2,500 years ago by cultivating cacao.
There are Maya ruins to explore, working sisal plantations from the 19th century, yellow-painted cities that shimmer under the tropical sun, coastal wetlands so dense with flamingos the water looks pink and park squares where costumed women dance with glasses of water on their heads. But mostly it's about the chocolate.
Next stop the MUCHO Museo del Chocolate ....a chocolate museum, cafe, and artisan chocolate factory located in the Roma District of Mexico City. The chocolate museum is housed in a beautiful historic house of 1909 in Colonia Juarez on the Milan street corner Rome. Its facade and interior were carefully restored, and the museum is the perfect blend of history and contemporary culture. Visitors can learn about how cacao or chocolate have impacted the local culture and economy.
MUCHO Mundo Chocolate is the name of the brand of chocolate confections made at the artisan chocolate factory attached to the museum. The chocolate is made from cocoa beans from two regions: that of Tabasco, and Chiapas. Traditional Mexican chocolate is made using a blend of cacao beans mixed with vanilla beans, chili de arbol, (hot chilli peppers) and a touch of cinnamon and salt. This mixture is conched (mixed together) for 24-45 hours to get the desired consistency before it is made into chocolate bars.
Closer to home...Taza chocolate
Modern Mexican chocolate still retains many qualities of its predecessor. Makers still use some of the same spices as the Aztecs, as well as cinnamon and sugar to produce a chocolate with a unique flavor, texture, and aroma. It provides the base for hot chocolate beverages and serves as a key ingredient to several Mexican dishes such as Mole. Mexican chocolate is best recognized when sold in the form of small solid discs. The Spanish began the practice of storing chocolate in the shape of discs in the 1500s, and it continues to today.
Taza founder Alex Whitmore took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was so inspired by the rustic intensity that he decided to create a chocolate factory back home in the US. Alex apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca to learn how to hand-carve granite mill stones to make a new kind of American chocolate that is simply crafted, but seriously good. In 2005, he officially launched Taza with his wife, Kathleen Fulton.
Taza is a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing. They were the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. They maintain direct relationships with their cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao. You can find their delicious chocolate discs available both in our Byron Bay boutique, and our online store. Bringing the taste of Mexico to you! Happy choc travels. :)