Friday, 27 April 2012

San Cristobal: Kakaw, the Museum of Chocolate

Some people know that Chiapas is the home world of chocolate. It's also the largest coffee producer in Mexico, though coffee isn't native here. Until I went to the chocolate museum, Kakaw, I never knew there were so many varieties of cocoa trees, beans, or ways to "do" chocolate.

The God of Chocolate, from the
archeological site, Tonina
The ancient Mayans and Aztecs used chocolate in it's raw form. Roasted beans were ground and then mixed with hot water to become the drink of the Gods. Such a far cry from what we would today consider great chocolate. And such a far cry from the chocolate they whip together in the museum's kitchen. As part of the entrance fee of $30 pesos, you get a relleno, a filled piece of the smoothest most delicious chocolate you may ever taste.

The ceramic comal used to roast
the beans over an open fire.

When Derek was here, we became addicted to a little chocolate shop named Kakao Natura, that serves lovely fresh soft croissants called cuernitas, and a variety of filled and solid chocolates with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom.  Fillings run the gamut from nougat to nuts to creamy spicy centers with dried fruits. But the real addiction was to their hot chocolate drinks. There are six possibilities, the best of which is the Mayan version with nuts, sugar, chile, ground sesame seeds (or maybe paste) and dark rich cocoa in hot frothed milk. The froth alone is worth a slow spooning, like eating candied air. Derek tried the Mayan version right off the bat. I went for the vanilla, then on another day the cardamom concoction, but after that I stuck with the incredibly delightful chile cocoa. We went there so often that one time, when it was raining hard, we left during a break in the rain, and forgot to pay. They recognized us on the next visit (probably the very next day) and we paid up muy pronto!!

The museum tells the history and importance of cocoa beans. For instance, a man's daily farm labor wage could be paid with 100 cocoa beans, but a live rabbit cost 120, and the services of a "public" woman was 20 beans! The Aztecs, in their demand for tribute, counted cocoa beans in the thousands from their many subjects. What a way to pay one's taxes.

Beans and flowers of the Cacao tree
Pottery and china used specifically for chocolate were in displays along with comals for roasting the beans over an open fire, and the many tools used for cultivation and grinding.

The museum would be well worth the trip, even if they didn't give you a chocolate at the end.

Every woman's dream:
a Chocolate dress

Detail from a mural depicting parrots,
gods, and cocoa pods

Chocolate services, with bates, the
carved wooden sticks for whipping the liquid

European chocolate services, very ornate

Mano y metate, stones for grinding the beans

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