When I was researching about Peru prior to my visit, I was very excited to discover that the country is one of the leading chocolate producers in Latin America. The Andean Mountains seems to have the perfect weather to grow cacao trees, so the country is able to produce more than enough cacao beans for both local production and worldwide export. With this, there are several chocolate companies in Peru one of which has classes teaching visitors how chocolate is processed from pod to liquid gold. Remember, the Incan Empire is one of the Native American cultures that introduced chocolate to the conquistadors which means Peruvians had even been enjoying chocolate centuries before the Spanish occupation.
I found a company called Choco Museo that offers classes to visitors on how they process chocolate from pod to beans to hot chocolate, chocolate bars and even chocolate tea. The company has multiple locations around the country however not all of them offer these classes. The branch in Cusco which is located at the old city center is one of the locations that offered chocolate classes. The one I signed up for was called from pod to bean.
It turns out that chocolate beans come from chocolate pods. When one opens the pods, the bean inside are covered in a white, cottony film that separates each bean. After removing all the beans from the pods, the beans are dried which is one way to remove the film. Once the beans are “uncovered,” it is time to roast the beans.
For our class, we used a traditional clay roasting pot used by the Incans for centuries. When roasting, keep stirring the beans until they get some color. Allow the beans to slightly cool before cracking the shells open. Be sure to save the shells when you crack the beans open after roasting them to make chocolate tea.
What’s inside the bean is a thick, dark and semi-soft bean ready for grinding. For the class, we used a hand-crank grinding mechanism similar to a meat grinder. Grinding the chocolate manually may not be something people often do and sometimes is a two-person operation. The result will look like a dark brown thick paste ready for tempering or in our case, making hot chocolate.
To make the hot chocolate, all you have to do is add hot water to the chocolate paste. Use a pitcher to add the water and paste together, and with a wooden tool that looks like an old-fashioned butter churner, mix the chocolate and hot water with both hands using a spinning motion. The result is a thick and delicious hot chocolate.
Our instructor then showed us how tempering is done however it was demonstrated in a small industrial scale. He showed us a small tabletop tempering machine that could cost thousands of dollars. To make chocolate bars, we used already tempered chocolate from this machine as tempering can take hours. Our instructor gave us molds to make chocolate bars and disc and flavorings such as raisins, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, coffee beans, honey and other great fun fillings like gummy bears and sprinkles. We did not add any sugar or milk. The tempered chocolate ready for candy-making was pure dark chocolate with a very slight bitter taste. Once we added the flavorings and the chocolate in the mold, we placed them inside the refrigerator to set for about an hour. The result is a delicious, handmade concoction of good Peruvian chocolate.