Chocolate in Mexico
Tired from the long flight from NYC to Mexico City, via Cancun , my energy level spiked as I meandered into a Mayordomo chocolate shop at the airport.
Smelling the recently ground chocolate, marveling at the piles of cocoa beans I aimed directly for several small dishes set out on the counter filled with dark, thick chocolaty pudding with mini-spoons jutting straight up, as if aiming directly for my mouth. Thinking how wonderful that my first taste of Mexico would be chocolate soufflé, I eagerly picked up the little bowl and happily, yes, greedily, stuffed the spoon into my mouth. Instead of the sweet, warm, chocolate soufflé I had expected, I had bitten into a spicy mole . Grimacing, I wanted to spit it out. I hastily replaced the little container on the display case. As I backed out of the store, I saw the attendant removing my mini-spoon, and setting the same bowl out for the next gluttonous customer, with a new mini-spoon!
Despite that first sample of Mexican chocolate, Mark and I did have several enjoyable chocolate moments following that. Indeed after our friends Miriam and Luis picked us up at the bus station in Oaxaca close to midnight—where I again had time to browse in the local Mayordomo shop
Luis made us a delicious Mexican hot chocolate, a concoction of ground sugar, cocoa beans, cinnamon and almonds that he had milled at his favorite chocolate store.
Within 24 hours of our arrival, Luis whisked us to Molinos Y Chocolate in the small town of Tlacolula de Matamoros , where every few weeks, he has the ingredients prepared for his daily hot chocolate. As is the local custom, Luis placed his order with the owner of the very small 2.5 meter square shop, specifying the ingredients and the quantities. Florentine Antonio Andres,
who also grinds coffee beans, combined one kilo cocoa beans (from Chiapas or Tobasco), two large sticks of cinnamon and a few almonds into the loud, electric grinder, which within seconds oozed out the warm, liquid chocolate into the 7.5 kilo sugar waiting in the pan below as you can see in this video Mark took:
Most locals use much more sugar, two kilo sugar to one kilo cocoa. Florentine, who drinks chocolate only a couple of times a week, mixes all of this together by hand (no plastic gloves) and scrapes every drop into a styrofoam container. He promised that the following week he would grind the cocoa with peanuts for us to try.
Back at the house several hours later, we poured the still melty chocolate into a cookie pan, let it cool, and scored it into tablets.
We were contentedly supplied with the makings for our hot chocolate for a week or more of breakfasts. The following Sunday’s outing to the very clean, very orderly but very large Sunday market at Tlacolula, had us tasting new bright orange fruits, tossing back flavorful mezcal , buying hand carved gourds, eyeing the roasted grasshopper piles, measuring two foot long sticks of cinnamon, meandering our way back to Florentine’s shop for the new batch of chocolate. This time, not only did he add the peanuts but he ran the mix through the grinder several times to create more of a powder.
Florentine pays 50-60 pesos for the kilo of cocoa beans and sells it, with sugar and the other ingredients for 120 pesos. To add flavor he sometimes grinds the shell of the cocoa bean into the mix as well. He explained that the grinding stones have to be replaced once a month in the busy Christmas season.
Chocolate contributes to the celebration of Christmas. During the pre-Christmas Soledad processionals through Oaxaca’s downtown, costumed marchers tossed…
small pellets of ground chocolate wrapped in pastel tissues tied with ribbon to the viewers.
In Oaxaca proper we saw several stalls where chocolate was ground to order in and around the food markets. The larger, local companies such as Soledad, Mayordomo and Guelaguetza also sell packaged bars—mostly for drinking chocolate, as well as mole, chocolate covered coffee beans, and small bars for eating. On Mina Street Soledad and Mayordomo alternate several stores, with Guelaguetza just around the corner. The street offers several chocolate grinding opportunities.
I hear that Mayordomo plans to open a museum. Because they produce under rabbinic supervision, with a hechsher , I brought Mayordomo chocolate bars for tasting at the Hazon Food Conference in Asilomar and for my Reform colleagues at the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis.
While exploring in Mexico, we found very little eating chocolate. Yes, in Mexico City the Ferbach store next to our hotel sells it, L’atelier du chocolate takes orders, and the Sanborn’s department store showcases truffles. However, every restaurant, or café offered drinking chocolate, made either with water or milk. It was very hard to resist the local custom of dunking a pastry or a churro in it. At the end of the trip, we agreed that our favorite hot chocolate was Luis’s with that at Café Tacuba taking a second place. Café Tacuba, in the capital, memorializes the place of chocolate in Mexican and Old World culture through its beautiful murals.
The lower left corner has some text (translated by Miriam):
Europe transforms the cocoa into tiny delicacies—subtle, finely worked, and decorated—whose shiny surfaces give off brilliant flavors and aromas.
Inside, soft fillings, white foam; solid portions of dried fruit, liquidy creams with alcoholic flavors, crispy bits, delicate fresh and juicy fillings.
But the tradition of soaking up the chocolate with churros, cookies and sweet rolls—asemitas, cocoles, chimisclanes, and chilindrinas—has not been lost, and here in this "Café Tacuba" the chocolate makes a beautiful, soft foam as stipulated by [the Aztec god] Quetzalcoatl.
Author of posters, José Luis Curiel
For two rabbis Mexico City on Christmas Eve presented a bit of a dilemma. We decided to attend a mass at the Cathedral and follow that with a hot chocolate at El Moro, well known to locals as a chocolate only café (with a selection of four types of chocolate) open 24/7/365. We double checked earlier on the 24th that it would indeed be open later that night. We arrived at El Moro after the mass. To our huge disappointment, it was closed.
Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
On the Chocolate Trail, I found amazing stories of mothers and chocolate from World War II. Immigrant Lisa Hoffman reminisced about how her mother insured she had the skills, including chocolate making, to survive. “I carried inside of me all of the lessons my mother had worked so hard to get for me. I could makeRead more ›
Chocolate Trail Broadens: “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” Travels
I am very excited that the NYCs Bernard Museum exhibit, “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” based on my book, On the Chocolate Trail, will now be forging new paths as it travels around the country. We selected On the Chocolate Trail as the book title for a number of reasons. First, it evokes the diffusion ofRead more ›
Talking Chocolate in February
Recent media featured projects on the chocolate trail in celebration of Valentine’s Day and “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” at the Bernard Museum, NYC. Of course, Florence Fabricant’s mention of the exhibit in the New York Times was a highlight. Now, these stories just within the last two weeks: In The Jewish Love AffairRead more ›
Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes
As temperatures drop, these three historical recipes for drinking chocolate beckon with rich warmth. Bicerin: This very unusual, rich, layered drink of chocolate, coffee and cream, a specialty of Turin, Italy, connects us with memories of the earlier days of women drinking chocolate at the time of Mass. Bicerin is still served at a caféRead more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- Announcing Second Edition: On the Chocolate Trail
- Bat Mitzvah Wants Fair Trade Israeli Chocolate
- Book Optioned: Museum Exhibit
- Bringing Buckeye Candy to Experts
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Expo
- Chocolate Made My Lunch: Nashville
- Chocolate, Coffee, Tea and Me
- Election 2016: Winning Fudge Brigadeiros
- Hunting for Chocolate: Fancy Food Show, NYC, 2016
- Labor Day in our Chocolate
- Local Chocolate in the South
- No End to Chocolate Exhibits Part III: Visits #3, 4 & 5
- Of Chocolate Exhibits There is No End: Part 2
- On the Chocolate Trail in Brooklyn
- Seriously Tasting Chocolate
- Super Food Chocolate for Super Bowl Sunday: Three Recipes
- That Time Jews Smuggled Chocolate to France — and a Recipe for Basque Chocolate Cake