There’s not much in this world that’s better than chocolate. The taste, the smell, the melty texture…right now I want some (and I’ve only just had my morning coffee). But how many of us actually know the story behind chocolate, where it comes from, how it’s made, or why it takes the form of a bar today as it does?
Chocolate may not be the first thing that crosses your mind when you come to Peru, but this is what makes Chocomuseo all the more interesting. If you’ve been to Peru you’ll know about ceviche and pisco, but did you also know that the grow cacao here in the Amazon? Did you know that the Incas used to eat the cacao fruit but spit out the cocoa bean? Did you know that the ancient Mayans used to mix chocolate with blood and drink it before battles? No? Then you’ve come to the right place!
The lovely Janet invited me to one of Chocomuseo´s workshops at the Plaza de Armas (main square) site, where I got to learn, experience, and savour chocolate as never before, gaining a new respect and love for the delicious sweet. My chocolate workshop was ‘Beans to Bar’- a two hour treat that took me from the Ancient Mayan jungles, to Queen Isabella of Spain’s kitchen, to Nestle´s discovery of the bar form that we recognise today as chocolate. My guide was the knowledgeable Gonzalo, who manages to maintain his enthusiasm for chocolate despite a lactose-intolerance (aww!).
The workshop starts with an introduction to the cacao fruit itself, which is cultivated in the tropical Peruvian Amazon. The husk of the fruit isn’t used, but it is the beans inside that are surrounded by a pulp that we want! Then…over to the kitchen to do some chocolate-making!
First, we had to toast the beans and de-husk them, leaving just the raw cacao that we ground into a paste. As this is a truly interactive experience, I did the toasting and the grinding myself (well…Gonzalo took over the grinding part, as a girl can’t work too hard on vacation!). The leftover husks were brewed into a subtle chocolate tea, which you can purchase in the shop as well. And then with our raw cacao paste…on to some history and more tasting!
Who had chocolate first? The Ancient Mayans of central America were the first to use the cacao fruit for this purpose. As mentioned, the Incas of Peru had the fruit, but spat out the chocolatey bean…they definitely missed out there! (But I’m sure the mounds of gold compensated). The Mayans didn’t eat chocolate though, they drank it. This was a special drink mixed up by the shamans, who would mix the cacao paste with chilli, honey, water, and a dash of their blood. Warriors would drink this before going into battle, believing that it would give them the strength of the gods. I got a chance to mix up this drink myself, minus the blood which we substituted for paprika (although Gonzalo told me it was bird’s blood which I genuinely believed, just to show my naivety!). This drink definitely had a kick!
After the Spanish had arrived to the Americas, they took this chocolate drink home with them. However, Queen Isabella didn’t like the bloody, spicy mix, so asked her chefs to make it more palpable. This resulted in a milky drink, mixed with cinnamon and cloves- starting to look more like the chocolate we have today.
Eventually this became an industrialised production, with machines doing the heavy mixing work. As the story goes, one day a chocolate maker named Mr. Nestle left his machine on by accident, and when he returned in the morning the drink mixture had been churned into a hard form of chocolate. He then went on the experiment with this, eventually creating the chocolate bar we now know and love.
What a fascinating history of chocolate! But lastly, the best bit of the day…making my own chocolate creations! Chocomuseo have a range of fillings for your own artisanal chocolates, which made me feel like a greedy child and I had to control my sprinklings. The chocolate is poured into moulds (by you) and left to set so that you have a tasty reminder of your workshop to give as gifts (or let’s face it, just eat yourself the minute you leave Chocomuseo).
As great as playing with chocolate is (and I could do that all day), a highlight of this workshop is learning about the origins of chocolate and getting to taste and experience them first hand. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, and certainly makes a visit to Chocomuseo and a workshop a top choice for activities in Lima.
If you’re passing by the Plaza de Armas (or Miraflores and Barranco, where they also have museums), stop in and have a look around. There are loads of lovely chocolate samples to taste, and a range of chocolate products from teas, to Marmalades, to body moisturiser…even some chocolate condoms (which I’m told are a cheeky best-seller).
Once your senses are filled with the chocolatey power, give in and book a workshop. I took the beans to bar workshop which takes 2 hours. If you have less time, there is also a ‘Mini chef’ workshop which is a shorter version of my experience. For those who are really adventurous, Chocomuseo even offer a tour to the cacao plantations in Cusco where you can see the chocolate farms first hand!
To find out more, visit Chocomuseo at:
Beckie is a volunteer with the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.