Coca to Cocoa – Colombian Chocolate

Colombia is known across the world for its fantastic coffee, but it is less well known that Colombia also produces some of the world’s finest chocolate – 95% of Colombia’s cacao exports are considered “Fine Flavour” by the International Cocoa Organisation!

The regions of Arhuaca, Santander, Tumaco, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta are regularly producing prize-winning cacao, so I think it’s high time that the country got the recognition it deserves.

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Until relatively recently, Colombia’s cacao production has been predominantly meeting their own demand for drinking chocolate. They became completely self-sufficient in cacao in the 1980s. Most of the cacao is grown is grown in the Choco department on the Pacific coast which is largely Afro-Colombian.

Although production has increased by tens of thousands of tonnes in recent years, they still don’t export a massive amount in comparison to other cacao growing countries. This is largely due to internal conflict which has affected the country for decades, fuelled by the cocaine industry.

The Colombian government has provided incentives and subsidies to farmers who are voluntarily giving up farming coca in favour of cacao. High demand and high international prices for cacao are making it a worthwhile move for the farmers.

This programme was part of a 2016 peace treaty, ending half a century of war between the government and the revolutionary armed forces which controlled the cocaine business. More than 80,000 farmers signed the treaty, which was created by the former President. His successor, however, has shown less enthusiasm for the terms of the agreement, leaving many farmers feeling forgotten.

Farming the illegal coca allowed the farmers to afford to put their children through school. Although despite the clear financial incentives, many are leaving due to fear of violence from drug trafficking groups.

Many Colombian farmers are in need of a sustainable alternative to coca, and there are a growing number of groups in the country involved in teaching local people how to cultivate cacao.

There are a small number of companies making fine chocolate at origin, such as ‘Cacao Hunters’ and ‘Tibitó’. They are not readily available to buy in the UK, with my main sources being out of stock of both brands at this time. But there are many other brands around the world making fine chocolate with Colombian cacao.

Colombian chocolate is known for it’s spiced cherry notes, and deep cacao flavour. In the interests of research (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it) I have tasted a few of these bars. If you are interested in reading the tasting notes, you can click on the links below to take you to the individual post:

Willie’s Cacao – San Agustin 88%

Michael Cluizel – Plantation El Jardin 69%

I would say they make for a perfect winter chocolate. If you want to get your hands on any of the bars I tasted, you can purchase them online at either Cocoa Runners or the Chocolate Trading Company.

Sound and Ceremony – My First Cacao Ceremony

I have wanted to attend a cacao ceremony since I first heard about them several years ago. I’ve seen them advertised over the years, but have never been able to make it for one reason or another. Recently a Facebook event popped up for a Sound and Cacao Ceremony which was happening locally on the very next day! I was determined not to miss out this time, and so I roped in a babysitter and booked my ticket straight away.

I did a little bit of reading about cacao ceremonies, and I discovered that they are a type of Shamanic healing (one of the oldest holistic healing practices), which has been used by ancient cultures worldwide for centuries. But unlike some other Shamanic experiences, cacao ceremonies don’t have hallucinogenic or “out of body” effects. They are rooted in rebalancing the energies within us, and restoring good health.

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The description of this event was so compelling, it sounded absolutely wonderful. The post claimed that I would “Discover the deep heart-opening enrichment of cacao before surrendering into serenity with a guided meditation leading into the angelic healing sounds of alchemy crystal singing bowls”. Sounds irresistible doesn’t it?

The session was organised by Tansy, who runs meditation sessions at the venue, and Wendy from ‘Ananda Rising’. Wendy bought the crystal bowls and the cacao along.

When I first arrived at the yoga and meditation studio, I was struck by how hot it was inside the room (coming in from the cold January air), and then how peaceful the space was. The room was lit only by tea lights and candles dotted around. The yoga mats were positioned in a semi circle around some gorgeous glass bowls in an array of colours, and next to each mat was a glass of cacao.

I felt a little apprehensive, as I had never been to a group meditation session before and wasn’t sure what I would be asked to do! But as soon as Tansy began to talk in her super-soothing voice, I was able to relax. We started by closing our eyes while Tansy drew a card (she also does Tarot readings) which would set the intention for the evening. The card she drew was ‘insight’. She placed the card next to the candle in the centre of the room.

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Next, we slowly drank the warm cacao. It was quite a large glass, but fortunately it was not at all bitter as I had expected. It was smooth, and unsweetened. After the session, I was able to ask Wendy about her preparation of the cacao. She told me that she cooks the cacao for an hour, adds in her own special blend of Mexican spices and rose, and sings to it while it cooks.

Once we had finished our cacao, we lay down on our mats with our heads towards the centre of the room. Tansy began to guide us into meditation, slowly, gently into a deep state of relaxation. I was surprised at how easily I was able to drift off, while being simultaneously surprised that I didn’t fall asleep! At one point, Tansy said to imagine feeling your edges (or outline) disappear and I could literally feel myself melting into the room. During this part of the session I had some very clear visualisations which felt exciting and I wanted to stay in this space forever (like when you’ve just woken from an amazing dream)!

Very gently, Wendy began to play the crystal singing bowls. The sound was incredible, it was as if the sound was moving all around me, while a particular note gave a physical pulling sensation and one felt as though the sound was actually stroking my forehead. After what seemed like hours (I could have happily lay there all night), Wendy marked the end of this part of the session by chiming some soft bells quietly around the room.

Tansy then brought us back to the room step by step until we were all sitting up and rubbing our eyes. The general feeling in the room was “Wow, can we do it again?” I was glad of the heat, as after an hour and a half of lying on the ground I would have been freezing otherwise.

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We then chatted about our experiences, and I learnt that the bowls were crafted from gemstones and minerals, such as Ruby and Peridot. Wendy practices sound healing with people who are dealing with serious illness such as cancer, as sound therapy is so powerfully healing on a cellular level. She also works with those in their final moments of life. The bowls really do guide you towards a deep state of harmony, peace and bliss.

That evening I felt refreshed, invigorated, and absolutely wide awake (not surprising given the massive hit of cacao) but this feeling carried on throughout the next day also.

It certainly was a unique and beautiful evening. An experience not to be missed, and one which I hope to repeat again very soon.

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