We took a chocolate tour during our trip to Belize. Take a look at all the fun we had!
A few months before we traveled to Belize, I read Bean-to-Bar Chocolate and was immersed in the craft chocolate world. It was fun to learn about how quality beans become quality chocolate, how chocolate makers are changing the world, and how the chocolate industry is evolving. I’ve become a big advocate for supporting cacao farmers and enjoying the high-quality product that comes from their work. Cacao farmers and chocolate makers have been doing this for a long time but the growing interest in craft chocolate is showing the value of their products. All of this background made the chocolate tour in Belize a must-do for me.
The first thing I want to clear up is the difference in the terms Maya and Mayans. Mayan is used as an adjective for the language, while Maya is a noun and descriptor for everything else, including the people. If you’re like me, you’ve been saying it wrong your whole life, and everything you’ve learned has re-iterated that mistake. Many times, “Mayan” is used because it sounds better or we think it’s the plural version of Maya. Search “Mayan” on the internet and your search results will direct you back to “Maya” because the internet knows what’s up. Every mention of “Mayan ruins” should be Maya ruins. Now you know!
Before I tell you about our tour, let me share some history. Mayas used cacao beans, the “food of the gods” to make drinking chocolate, which was thought to help you get closer to the gods. It was also a part of special occasions like weddings. Eventually, cacao beans were so valuable, they were used as currency. It’s safe to say, chocolate has been a tradition in the Maya culture for a long, long time. We were honored to be shown around by Mayas who have had the traditions of farming and chocolate making passed down through generations.
In the Cacao Bean Farm
We started our tour where the magic starts – at a cacao farm. We saw the pods on the trees and how the pods also interestingly grew from the strong trunks of the tree. See the small pods in the photo below? We learned about how another type of tree with tall trunks and leafy branches were grown alongside the cacao trees for shade.
Cacao farming is a fruitful endeavor in Belize, and you can find craft single origin bars by chocolate makers with international reach. Chocolate from Belize is known for its fruity notes. All the chocolate starts from these raw cacao beans, which tasted sour and sweet, a long way from the finished product!
From Bean to Bar
After a walk around the farm, we went back to the Che’il shop for owner Julio Saqui to show us how to make chocolate! Making chocolate takes a lengthy and careful process, and we got to make two small bars. While modern metal machines help with the process these days, the historic stone seems to put more magic into it. Making chocolate gave me a lot of appreciation, as only making by hand can do. We tried our hand at grinding the fermented, dried, and roasted cacao nibs!
After grinding the nibs into liquid, a bit of sugar was added and ground again. The liquid was scooped into molds and put into the freezer. About 10 minutes later, chocolate bars! Since there are no additional hardening ingredients in the chocolate, it melts very fast, but don’t worry, we ate them quickly! 😉
Sadly, if we had bought more chocolate bars, we would have a melted mess by the time we got back home. I opted for cacao powder, and I used some of it to make this Texas Sheet Cake. It was incredibly rich!
Julio is incredibly passionate about chocolate and is a smart business owner. Little by little, he’s earned international recognition for his endeavors, created solutions to help fellow chocolatiers in Belize, and built up his business. But the most important thing is the chocolate. He’s in-tune with quality and knows there’s a better story than solely focusing on quantity. His chocolate-making tactics might be “old school” to some, but when you taste the result, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing. You can’t replicate that magic.
It was a special afternoon learning the story about Maya chocolate and getting a peek into the culture and traditions. Taking a chocolate tour can easily be seen as a “touristy” thing to do but it’s more about sharing the Maya history and supporting a local cacao farm and chocolate maker. For me, it also involved bringing my recent book knowledge to life. This adventure is available in several parts of Belize, and I recommend you taking the adventure if you get the chance. If nothing else, be sure to taste the chocolate while you’re there!
To follow Julio and Che’il, give them a like on Facebook!
The fun doesn’t stop. See all my Belize posts here!
P.S. Want to read more about craft chocolate? Check out this post!