A couple of weeks ago at this time, I was roasting, shelling, and grinding cacao beans to make my own chocolate bar. In Nicaragua. In 90°F, sunshine-filled bliss.
Today, I’m staring out the window at horizontally flying snow in Chicago. Another 6 inches, and still going strong. The only source of sunshine is straight out of my Nicaraguan memories, so I’m going to live inside of them for a minute.
During our stay in Granada, we spent a couple of hours at ChocoMuseo, a small business dedicated to making chocolate where cacao beans actually grow. In addition to Nicaragua, they have shops in Dominican Republic, Peru, and Guatemala. They sell various kinds of chocolates and things, but they also offer a hands-on workshop that starts with fermented, unroasted cacao beans and finishes with full-blown chocolate bars. There are a few steps – roasting, cracking, grinding, conching, tempering, and molding.
Large chocolate manufacturers usually spend several days conching the chocolate, a process that mixes and refines the flavor of the chocolate, making it less bitter and smoother in the mouth. Tempering comes next, the tricky process of bringing chocolate to certain temperatures, up and down, so that when it is molded the fat molecules are perfectly in place, giving the hardened chocolate a pretty sheen and a nice snap.
At ChocoMuseo, the conching process is cut down to 15 hours, and they forgo tempering all together, recognizing that it is futile to try to control chocolate in an non-air conditioned room at 90°F. The end result is a chocolate that is grittier and drier than what I’m used to, with a marbleized, matte finish. The workshop itself was very fun, informational, and well worth the price of admission, even if the finished product wasn’t ethereal.
I brought home a bag of Cacao Husk Tea after sampling it in the store. As the name says, it’s a bag of cocoa bean husks, packaged and re-purposed, instead of discarded after the cracking step of the chocolate-making process. Pretty brilliant, and pretty delicious, too. The husks get steeped in very hot water, just like tea. It delivers big cocoa flavor, and since it is made with water and not milk like most hot chocolates, the pure chocolate flavor isn’t masked by dairy notes.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve done a bit of reading about cacao husk tea. Turns out it’s full of antioxidants, flavanoids, and vitamin D, as well as theobromine which is a mild,ting mood booster. So let the snow fall just a little longer. A mug of steamy Cacao Husk Tea and the memory of sunny Nicaragua take the sting out of winter.