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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My New Year’s Resolution – Eat More Dark Chocolate!

A new year is upon us, resolutions have been made. Exercise more, go vegan, cut out the booze, eat more chocolate.

Yes, you heard me correctly. My resolution is to eat MORE dark chocolate. Much more!

MRP_1803Now obviously, being a chocolate taster / chocolate festival planner / chocolate educator, I am certainly coming from a pro-chocolate bias. However, on my journey to learn all I can about the all-powerful substance, I have learnt a lot about its health benefits, along with the benefits to the small chocolate makers business, the cacao farmer and the planet, in buying more of the good stuff (less of the bad).

What do I mean by the good stuff?

I’m referring to craft (or fine) chocolate. Chocolate which has been handmade in small batches by artisan makers who pay close attention to every step in the process. From sourcing the beans, to bringing out the distinctive flavours from each variety of bean.

Similar to craft beer, fine wine and speciality coffee, there’s no official definition of craft/fine chocolate. The way I define it is:

    1. It celebrates the diversity of the cacao origins and flavours from around the world.
    2. It prioritises ingredients of the highest quality.
    3. It respects and pays everyone in the supply chain fairly.
    4. It has an ingredients list which is minimal (ideally just cacao and sugar for a dark).

When you start to learn about chocolate, it’s impossible to ignore the fact the mass produced chocolate is, largely speaking, a blob of preservatives, additives and sugar. Cacao is far from the star ingredient. So instead of celebrating the diversity of the cacao bean, and taking us on a journey of exciting flavours, every bar is as predictable as the one before.

It’s not just the quality of the finished product that makes craft chocolate a much better choice. There’s also the ethical factors involved. In a nutshell:

Craft chocolate makers generally source their beans directly from the farmers or through a cacao farming co-operative. This means that the cacao farmers receive a fairer price for their labour – it may surprise you to learn that sometimes this can be 3 or 4 times higher than the Fairtrade price (or even higher).

Having this direct connection with the farmer also enables the chocolate maker to know for sure that ethical practices are in place on the farm.

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But, it’s not just for ethical reasons that I wish to buy and eat more dark chocolate in 2020. I also have science on my side! There is a ton of research out there telling us that cacao is unbelievably good for us… Here is just a snippet of what I found.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. It is proven to have positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity.

Chocolate is one of the few foods that taste awesome while providing significant health benefits. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet!

Studies show that dark chocolate (not the aforementioned congealed blob)…

    1. Is nutritious – Quality dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a few other minerals.
    2. Is a powerful source of antioxidants – A study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries.
    3. May improve blood flow and lower blood pressure – The bioactive compounds in cocoa may improve blood flow and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.
    4. May reduce heart disease risk
    5. May protect your skin from the sun – flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
    6. Could improve brain function – Dark chocolate may improve the function of your brain. Flavonols have neuro-protective effects. In other words, problem-solving, memory and general cognition skills are kept sharp when we eat chocolate or drink cocoa. 
    7. May reduce diabetes risk – Eating a little dark chocolate every day reduces your insulin resistance, which means you’re less likely to develop diabetes.

I hope that this has given you just a few more reasons to buy and eat fine quality dark chocolate in 2020. If you would like some inspiration for bars to try, Cocoa Runners is a good place to start (www.cocoarunners.co.uk) or you can email me on hello@celebratecacao.co.uk.

Happy New Year!

Interview – Lisa from the Chocolate Tart

What got you interested in chocolate?

I had an event catering company. I was a recommended caterer in The Lord Chancellors Residence in The House of Lords, cooking events for the government, senior judiciary and charities.  I was honoured to be invited a number of times to cook for the Queen. On the first occasion Eton Mess was requested for her pudding. I made cylindrical, wafer thin chocolate cups to serve it in. So many of my chefs didn’t know how to temper chocolate which gives the fabulous shine and snappy structure to the chocolate  – and I wasn’t too good at it either!! So I started to research. I got quite obsessed and then the idea of sharing my knowledge with a chocolate school was born! Initially I imagined only teaching other chefs. But right from the beginning I had students who just loved chocolate or wanted an experience and a lovely memory!
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How long have you been running chocolate workshops?

I started The Chocolate Tart in 2007.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is meeting so many lovely people. Everyone coming into the workshop is celebrating something, having a treat or just simply “me time”. I get quiet groups, noisy groups, groups of total strangers who all have the love of chocolate or creativity in common! I love the mix and have made many good friends through my work.

You are running the Knackali making workshops? What are Knackali, and what skills will we learn?

Knackali are chocolate discs set on edible cocoa butter screen printed transfer paper. The pattern is embossed on the underside of the chocolate as it sets. The discs are decorated with a selection of toppings. We have everything from mini candies, crystallised flowers, fruit and nut. You will learn how to make these gorgeous little mouthfuls so that they look professional and are packaged for you to take home and show off to friends and family.
Lisa is running her popular Knackali making workshops throughout the festival this weekend. If you would like to book a space, click here to visit the booking page!

Interview – Ali from Truly Scrumptious

What got you interested in chocolate?

I have always been fascinated by the art of chocolate making so after trying a few truffle recipes, I decided I wanted to know more and enrolled on my very first course.  YouTube and recipe books only taught me so much and there were questions I had that online tutorials couldn’t answer.

When did you first make chocolate?

About 3 years ago when I was just playing around with some recipes.

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How was your first attempt at making chocolate?

Not brilliant, hence the reason for enrolling on a course!

How and from where do you source your ingredients?

My ingredients are sourced as locally as possible. For example, I use a terrific vanilla paste that it manufactured locally from the ‘Little Pod Vanilla Company’.  My chocolate is sourced from suppliers who, in turn, source an array of ethically produced couverture chocolate. They are mindful of the carbon footprint and all of the chocolate is fair trade!

Anything you are particularly proud of about your products?

I won the Runner Up prize for best new business at the Exmouth Chamber of Commerce business awards. The parties I run are unique and equally fabulous in their own right with many reviews from parents. The chocolate I use is very delicious and I only like to use natural ingredients.

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What’s your best-selling product?

My parties are by far my best selling product!

What are your ambitions for the future?

To increase my party areas and recruit party chocolatiers to run the parties in other areas. To be the No 1 chocolate party supplier throughout the south west.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Milk chocolate all the way, followed by dark.

If you would like to talk to Ali about booking a children’s chocolate party, she will be at the Exeter Chocolate Festival running the chocolate lollipop decoration station!

Interview – Annie from the Chocolate Pizza Company

What got you interested in chocolate pizzas?

I love the fact that chocolate pizzas are what I call ‘a happy product’, they always make people smile. After being given the opportunity to take over The Chocolate Pizza Company from the previous owner, a good friend of mine, I jumped at the chance of a new challenge and the thought of playing with chocolate all day was an exciting prospect. So I made the change from teaching to running my own business in order to create a better work/life balance.

When did you first make chocolate & how was your first attempt?

The transition in the early days was a steep learning curve, and with the guidance of my friend I made my first chocolate pizza in April 2014. The art of tempering is not an easy one to grasp quickly but with a great tutor and lots of practice, I was improving. The family enjoyed lots of rejects in the early stages. Since then I have developed my skills and have three different sized tempering machines which help me to produce the large amounts needed, all in my specially built chocolate workshop.

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What achievement are you most proud of?

Once I had grasped making chocolate pizzas, I decided to become more adventurous and started experimenting with flavoured bars and shards which I sold at events. It was at one of these events that I was approached to retail my bars and shards at a local garden centre. I am proud to say that three years on, that retailer still stocks my chocolate and I have acquired several more outlets since.

I entered my Dark Chocolate Raspberry Shards for the Taste of the West awards this year and was very pleased to receive a Silver award. Apart from that I get a great deal of pleasure form the compliments I receive from customers when they have received a chocolate pizza in the post, and also listening to positive comments when they taste my flavours at events etc.

What’s your best-selling product?

When it comes to the chocolate pizzas, my ‘Totally Stuffed’ is the most popular but I have recently launched a ‘Big Breakfast’ Chocolate Pizza which is hot on its tails.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I hope that my business continues to thrive and that I can gain more retail outlets over time, whilst still enjoying making chocolate and get excited about our new creations and flavours.

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What’s your mission statement?

The Chocolate Pizza Company is about providing something a little bit different whether it be an unusual gift in the form of a chocolate pizza, or a delicious unusual chocolate flavour combination. I am proud to place ‘Made in Devon’ on my products and being a sole business venture love the fact that I am the contact throughout the process, therefore providing a great personal service.

My personal statement however would be ‘Do what makes you happy and live life for today’. I feel this reflects in my business too.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Oh so much to choose from! I am a sucker for my Salted Caramel Honeycomb, Cornish 71% Sea Salt Shards and White Chocolate Raspberry Bars, so it is clear that I like all types of chocolate. I do find that I eat more dark chocolate nowadays though. However, my guilty pleasure when stopping at the petrol station is to grab a Chunky Kit Kat!

You will be able to get your hands on Annie’s Chocolate Pizzas and other products at the Exeter Chocolate Festival, but if you can’t wait until then you can buy online by clicking here!