How to characterize
the many flavors of chocolate? Sometimes, only a moan will do
Canyon replica drinking glass on the right next to
traditional Mesoamerican cocoa grinder, cocoa beans and cocoa
specialty chocolates. (photo by Kerri Cottle)
Craft culture is alive and well in Santa Fe. Multiple micro-breweries,
coffee roasters and a robust farm-to-table movement have all been
fully integrated into the enthusiastic and ever-burgeoning local
foodie scene. But with last autumn's arrival of Cacao Santa Fe,
the "City Different" has its first bean-to-bar chocolatiers who
think the experience of eating chocolate gets better the more you
know about the art and culture of chocolate-making.
Partners Melanie Boudar and Derek Lanter offer a fun, informative
and unforgettably delicious two-hour, hands-on chocolatiering and
tasting workshop called "Food of the Gods." Besides the fact that
your taste buds will thank you, the session is named for Theobroma
cacao, the scientific name for the tree that produces the pods in
which the beans are found, translated from the Greek theos
meaning god, broma meaning food.
These transplants from Hawaii have arrived in New Mexico with
a mission to share the history and how-tos of chocolate and
move its partakers from the role of happy passive consumers to happy
active appreciators. For them the yummy brown stuff isn't merely
a mood-enhancing confection but is also a lens into historic
indigenous cultures in Mesoamerica, where elixirs
were used ritually, medicinally and spiritually, not to mention
as an energy-boosting aphrodisiac.
"Aztec ruler Montezuma reportedly drank a staggering fifty cups
of chocolate a day while making the rounds of his four thousand
concubines," Boudar explained.
chocolate with a wheel at Food of the Gods, a Santa Fe workshop.
(photo by Kerri Cottle)
While cracking and removing the shell from the already roasted
beans (a process called winnowing) and grinding the fatty beans
into a thick paste, workshop participants learn about the growing
and harvesting processes.
"Growers can't usually afford to have their farms certified
organic," explained Boudar, who leads the workshops, "but they're
organic by default. The trees are not sprayed, the outer husk of
the pods and beans themselves are thick and dense, so bugs can't
get at them. The process hasn't changed much for a thousand years."
Behravan and Shirin Zoufan sip some of their chocolate creations
in front of a photo mural of a cocoa forest. (photo by Kerri
Twice a year the trees are covered with flowers, and if the
flowers are pollinated they turn into pods, which contain the beans.
There's usually one big harvest and one smaller harvest. All told,
a tree might produce 50 pods in a year, and each pod may produce
a single bar of chocolate.
have the Mayans to thank for preparing complex chocolate beverages
in their ceremonies, which often centered on drinking something
from nature. Their chocolate was prepared without sugar, which did
not arrive on the continent until the early 1600s. It was mixed
instead with flowers, seeds and spices.
"They sipped from the cacao bean pod itself, which served as
a ceremonial vessel," Boudar said.
The Aztecs lived farther north where it was high and dry, but
they taxed the Mayan farmers, taking beans in payment. By 1500,
beans were used as everyday currency. There's a conversion chart
that shows the valuations you might be surprised to see how
many or few beans were traded for a chicken.
"As people are people," Boudar said, "they counterfeited the
beans, making fakes from clay and dough."
For New Mexicans, history was brought even closer to home about
ten years ago, when archeological researchers found chocolate residue
coating pots found in the Anasazi ruins of Chaco Canyon.
"They found Macaw feathers in the pots too, and turquoise in
the Yucutan. This points to trading among the ancients," Boudar
explained, "and the spread of chocolate making across thousands
Behravan uses Mesoamerican traditional mortar and pestle to
grind spices into the cocoa. (photo by Kerri Cottle)
Part of the fascination of the workshop is contrasting the modern-day
equipment needed for contemporary chocolate making with the few
simple tools and processes the ancients used.
"Mayan ladies would take the cracked beans and shake them in
a bowl, and wait for a breeze to take the shells or else pick them
out by hand," she informed us.
Like the Italians who prize crema on their espresso, the Mayans
love foam on top of their hot chocolate, and use a special tool
called a molanillo, which has a spinning action, and which is carved
from one piece of wood.
"It's essentially a Mexican whisk," Boudar explained, passing
The final segment is spent tasting a flight of seven bar chocolates,
some made in-house, some from other craft makers, and learning how
to talk about their distinct flavors. More learning by doing
or in this case, chewing. The chocolate students really did try
to find the right adjectives for the seven bites that ended up on
surprised tongues flowery? leathery? smokey? ashy? earthy?
but sometimes a moan just had to do.
You can reserve a slot in an upcoming Food of the Gods Workshop
at Cacao Santa Fe, 3201 Richards Lane Santa Fe, New Mexico, by visiting