Today we made chocolate. In Spanish. We’re in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, Guatemala. This is our third week of total Spanish immersion. We’re staying with the Santiago family in a home stay. For 5 hours of each day we’re taking Spanish lessons and, so today we’re making chocolate in Spanish.
Our school, the Sol Latino not only teaches us how to read, write and speak Spanish, they get us involved with many different cultural activities. Or rather they give us the opportunity to join in. There are activities Tuesday through Thursday afternoons. There’s usually a dance class on a Friday evening and a visit to somewhere outside the city on a Saturday morning. We’ve tried everything so far. Apart from the second dance class, having figured out after the first that it wasn’t working for us.
Making Chocolate in Spanish
On Wednesday this week there were a LOT of sign ups. Usually for the activities there are perhaps 6 in total. Today we had 10. This was, after all, the making chocolate workshop. And it was hands on. We would not only get to understand the process of making chocolate in Guatemala, but we’d do it. From roasting the cocoa beans, to melding it into a shape and of course tasting it.
Our activity began in the school and was led by one of the teachers, Sheni. As we sat around a table she explained a little of the history of chocolate in Guatemala.
History of Chocolate
Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate. You’ll find the fabulous smelling chocolate museum in Antigua which even if you don’t take their chocolate making class at 180 Quetzals a pop, the smells and free samples in the attached store are well worth it. The story of chocolate is related around the inside of the store/museum and its free. Alternatively take a food market and chocolate tour with Viator and experience a bit more of yummy foodieness here in Guatemala
Ancient Mayans were the first to use cacao beans for culinary purposes. They worshipped chocolate calling it the food of the Gods. It was also revered for its aphrodisiac qualities. Around 1750 the Europeans figured out ways to mass produce chocolate and so the world’s love affair with chocolate became mainstream. There’s much more on the history of chocolate over here.
Where Cacao Beans come from In Guatemala
Cacao beans grow in two main places here in Guatemala – the pacific coast or Alta Verapaz in the north of the country.
The Process of Making Chocolate in Spanish
Roasting the Beans
First we roast the beans in a pan on the stove. It’s at this point where I wish, once again, that we could bottle up the smells of our travels and send them back home. This smells divine. All we are attempting to do with this process is make it easier to peel them off. So we all take a turn at stirring the beans. Or rather at inhaling the smells.
Shelling the beans.
We then split the beans between us and shell them. There are a few that are eaten at this point. It’s kind of like chocolate but not. It’s better than not. Mostly the beans just pop out, the ones that Sheni brought with her and that were cold when we started shelling them are much harder to do.
The Chocolate Factory
After we’ve shelled the beans we go for a short walk. We end up at the end of a Callejon (a dead end street) not far from the school. As we open the door and file in, we are surrounded by the smell of chocolate. This is the home of a chocolate making machine. It’s run by the family who live in the house. Today they’re not making chocolate for sale because one of the women is sick, but she’ll help Sheni with the process.
Our Ingredients for Making Chocolate
Along with our chocolate we’ve bought a huge pot of sugar. Sugar here in Guatemala is much less refined than at home in Europe. Its course and chunky. Our ingredients for this batch of chocolate are two times as much sugar as there are chocolate beans. That feels like a huge amount of sugar! Measurements here in Guatemala are in pounds and ounces for weights. They sell beer in litres and half litres and they sell gasoline in US gallons, while measuring distance in kilometres. A journey however is measured in time between destinations, not distance. (after you’ve taken your first chicken bus or camioneta you’ll completely understand this!)
The Chocolate Making Machine
Our cacao beans are poured into the top of the machine, it grinds and slightly heats them, so that what comes out of the bottom is a sticky kind of paste. It’s not melted as such, it’s more of a warm sticky powder. Sheni scrapes the machine output area and stirs in the sugar to the mix and then it goes through again.
The second time, the mixture is a mush of regular coarsely granulated sugar and ground up slightly melted cacao beans. She scoops it all into what looks like a well-used plastic washing up bowl. A few of us spot, at this point, a moving piece of protein with 4-6 legs and a hard outer shell walking across the inside of the machine. We choose to ignore it as Sheni starts mixing the cacao paste together in the bowl.
Manually pounding the Chocolate Paste
Next she takes an old smooth brick and starts pounding the mixture in the bowl. This goes on for five minutes, during which time another student gets to help. Then the solid pastille of choco mix is tipped into a couple of bags. It’s warm to the touch. Pleasantly so. And so comforted by this we head back to the school, stopping only for Sheni to buy some bread rolls en route.
It’s a tradition here to take your hot chocolate with bread and she wants to make sure that we’re rewarded for our work on the chocolate making.
Hands on Making Chocolate in Spanish
On returning to the school we’re each given a plate and a portion of the chocolate pastille. Now, says Sheni, we have to pound it. This apparently makes a difference to the texture of the chocolate and as this is the chocolate we’ll be taking away with us, we all want to make it the best that we can. And so we pound and shape it. Finally we add a defining mark to our own personal bars.
Our freshly made chocolate bars are left overnight to harden up and we collect them in the morning to enjoy.
Our chocolate making experience isn’t over, however. Sheni has added her portion of the chocolate paste to a pan of boiling water and provides us all with hot chocolate. That’s how you make hot chocolate here – you simply dissolve chocolate in hot water. Sometimes if you want it fancy you add milk. Our hot chocolate comes complete with a bread roll to dunk in it. Heaven.
Where to Eat and Drink Chocolate in Xela
The fanciest drinking chocolate we tasted here in Xela was at La Luna. Go. Try it. You’ll be spoiled for life.
The fanciest nicest eating and drinking chocolate that you can take home head on to Dona Pancha’s store here the tiniest bar, with a variety of flavours will make those around you jealous.
As for the chocolate here in Guatemala, I can highly recommend it. Much of it that we’ve tasted has a granulated texture, where you can taste the pieces of sugar. Much of it is just pure heaven. I haven’t spotted a bar of Cadbury’s yet. However, I don’t think they have anything to worry about, its hard work making it yourself, and ASocialNomad chocolate isn’t about to hit the shops quite yet, so you’ll have to make do with this virtual bar.
P.S. Of course our homework for school the next day was to write about our chocolate making in Spanish of course!
Making Chocolate in Spanish Resources
- We studied at the Spanish School Sol Latino
- Choco Museo and Foodie Tours with Viator
- Best place to drink chocolate in Xela – La Luna. although the Blue Angel runs a close second.
- We are learning Spanish with Sol Latino in Xela
- We’re also using Duolingo for around 45 minutes a day
- We’re attempting to read a Spanish dual reader in Spanish and English – buy it on Amazon
- Our guidebook in Guatemala is Lonely Planet Guatemala
- Read about our homestay experience