This past Thursday, I went to a presentation given by Juan Cho, from Belize, who came to Hanover College to talk about his family business and culture, and teach us how to make chocolate from scratch. His small family operation, called IXCACAO Maya Belizean Chocolate, is located in Belize, in the community of San Felipe Village. The kind of chocolate he makes is organic, with 80% of cacao in its composition, being very different and a lot healthier than the chocolate we buy here in the U.S.
Juan started his presentation by explaining the name of his business in relation to Maya culture. IXCACAO means the Queen of Cacao, Goddess of Fertility and Happiness in Maya. Juan also said that he considers his wife, Abelina Cho, who also owns the operation, to be his Queen of Cacao as well. While he was explaining a little bit about his family business and showing pictures of his farm, hot cacao was passed around to every student. Different from the hot chocolate we are used to, hot cacao has a bitter taste. After trying the pure form of hot cacao, we added a little bit of milk and sugar. It tasted amazing!
After tasting the hot cacao, Juan taught us the process of making chocolate. He started out by giving each of us five grains of cacao beans, which we had to take out the shell. Then, he collected all of the beans and put them in a bowl. He mixed them in the bowl by doing an up and down motion and making the beans jump (like making pancakes), and more shell came out of the bowl. He showed us the final result of pure cacao beans, passing the bowl around so we could smell the amazing scent of pure chocolate. Following that, he explained us how to operate the stone tool he uses in his business, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Although he could not find the equivalent of that stone tool here in the U.S., he used a similar tool to demonstrate the process. To end the presentation, we all tasted a piece of the chocolate bar he makes in Belize. Composed of 80% cacao and organic sugar, the piece tasted like dark chocolate and it was not very sweet, but still delicious and way healthier than the chocolate bars we consume here!
Beyond making chocolate, I learned a lot about Maya and Belize culture and language. It was so interesting to get to know about Juan’s business and home country, and to be able to taste what pure chocolate is like. It is when I have the opportunity to have cultural sharing experiences like this one that I realize how amazing it is to study abroad.