How We Became Certified Chocolatiers at Granada’s Choco Museo
Hi, my name is Dana Carmel, and I’m a chocoholic. I’ve been “using” for the majority of my life, and I don’t think that I’ll ever overcome my chocolate addiction – not that I ever want to! Whether it’s in the form of ice cream, candy bars, coffee, cookies, or milk, a chocolate treat can turn my whole world around. Whether I’m happy or sad, chocolate always puts me in a better mood, and when I’m pre-menstrual and inconsolable, I can’t think of a better fix!
So when I came across the Choco Museo as I was researching things to do during our recent jaunt to Granada, Nicaragua, I couldn’t resist the chance to learn how to make chocolate. I had to take part in their ‘Beans to Bar’ workshop which gives participants a hands-on opportunity to transform cacao beans into their very own chocolate bars! So following a busy morning spent exploring an active volcano and Lake Apoyo, shopping for the perfect hammock, and discovering the artistry of a local potter, Jave and I made our way to the Choco Museo a few blocks from our hotel for a late afternoon workshop.
Committed to producing artisanal chocolate in countries where cacao grows, Choco Museo has locations in Peru (Cusco and Lima), Guatemala (Antigua), and the Dominican Republic (Punta Cana and Santo Domingo).
We arrived a bit early for our scheduled workshop, so we had a snack at the onsite café to fill the time.
Soon enough, we were introduced to our instructor for the day, Ali, who explained that she’s interning at the Choco Museo before she starts university in Managua. Her internship entails teaching the workshops, and I must say that she was a very knowledgeable and engaging teacher. Johanna, who recently moved from Austria to Nicaragua to learn Spanish and to work at the Choco Museo for a year also participated in the workshop with us as she was still learning the ropes.
The banner hanging above us outlined the beans to bar process.
First, Ali explained that in order to enhance the flavor, the cacao beans are fermented for 2-7 days to get rid of the seed coat. To ferment, heaps of beans are laid flat on a dry spot and covered with banana leaves. Next, the beans are dried in the sun for 5-10 days. Then, the beans are roasted which is when our participation in the process kicked in.
As we stirred the beans over the fire, Ali explained that there are three ways to know when the beans have been properly roasted – the color will deepen to a dark brown, the smell will become richer, and the beans will start making a crackling or popping sound like popcorn. The Maya used to dance around the fire as the beans were stirred and roasted chanting, “Baté, baté, chocolaté.”
Soon enough, our beans were fragrant, dark, and crackling, so we moved on to the winnowing process which basically entails removing the shells or skins from the beans.
Then, we began to grind the beans with a mortar and pestle. While I thought that the goal was to grind them down to a powder, Ali explained that we would actually grind them to the consistency of a paste. I was having some troubles, so one of the other Choco Museo employees stepped in for me and engaged Jave in a little competition to see who could grind the beans the fastest.
Next, Ali used the paste to make three different types of hot chocolate for us to sample: Maya, Aztec, and European. She explained that the Maya added pimento, cinnamon, honey, and hot water to their chocolate. The Aztecs used all of the same ingredients, except they also added red pepper. When the Europeans got their hands on chocolate, they understandably went nuts for the stuff. However, they opted not to use any pepper or honey and instead added sugar and milk to the mix. We all agreed that the European version of hot chocolate was our favorite since it’s sweeter, and because it’s what we’re all used to.
Finally, it was time to make our chocolate bars, and we had the freedom to add whatever we wanted to our bars! While I added M&Ms to mine and topped it with peanuts, Jave added rum to his – lots of it! Ali told us that we’d have to come back and pick up our packaged bars the next day so that they’d have time to set overnight in the fridge.
And with that, we completed our chocolate-making course with certificates to memorialize our lesson. It’s good to know that in dire circumstances, I now have the know-how to feed my addiction from scratch!
The Verdict: The next day, we picked up our bars and wasted no time to unwrap and munch on them. Mine was divinely rich, and after a few bites, I’d satisfied my craving. Jave’s bar on the other hand was a bit of a disaster as he used entirely too much rum!
Plan Your Visit to the Choco Museo
- In addition to the ‘Beans to Bar’ workshop, the Choco Museo offers a workshop on how to make chocolate truffles and ganache as well as special workshops covering a variety of topics including: how to sculpt chocolate, how to make chocolate cupcakes, and how to cook with chocolate or cacao.
- The ‘Beans to Bar’ workshop was $19/person plus 15% tax.
- If you have time, take your chocolate-making curiosities a step further by touring a cacao plantation for a day or by participating in a cacao farm stay. The Choco Museo can help you make arrangements.
- You can purchase gifts in the museum’s store or you can buy their chocolate products online.
- Contact any of the Choco Museo’s locations to sign up for your workshop or tour of choice.