Chocolate Fridays

Minca, Colombia

Location No.: 132

Time spent there: 09/05/17 – to present

“Viernes de Chocolate”, they didn’t happen every Friday but it was often enough to be a routine we knew and looked forward to. Every now and then my mom would show up with chocolate, usually on a Friday or at least that’s when I remember it to be.

She wasn’t very affectionate when we were growing up, she loved us in ways that I didn’t understand and at times I couldn’t feel her motherliness. Providing for us was proof enough for her and maternal duties were completed with many hours of hard work and earnest sacrifice.

However, we had chocolate. Sometimes it was chocolate-peanut bars, or chocolate ice-cream or ingredients for homemade chocolate cookies. Chocolate Fridays were always unannounced, always a surprise and a welcomed fleeting moment of peace and happiness in our often turbulent home.

Chocolate brought out a side of my mother that was rare. I can summon up the images of her tired smile as we relished her gifts. Chocolate as an offering of affection, a bridge between our hearts, a fix to our familial stress and a language of unspoken words. The exchange, our metaphoric embrace, the momentary light in her eyes. I remember all that better than the taste of the chocolate itself.

Earlier this week, I visited a small organic cacao farm in northern Colombia. Eighty-five years ago, Señor Cardenas, a man who could barely sign his name purchased a gorgeous tract in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with breathtaking views of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea.  Along with his sons and grandsons he worked the land producing coffee, cacao and avocados. His grandson, Eugenio and his wife Ana run the small farm today.

Cacao trees grow a tiny fragile flower. Only 2% of them are pollinized resulting in pods, the home of the precious cacao beans. Each bean is covered with a fruity flesh that tastes like mangosteen or lychee and Eugenio instructed me to not bite the bean as I savoured its surrounding sweetness. Before the beans are processed they are high in theobromine making them poisonous; but after they are fermented, sundried and roasted they have one of the world’s favorite flavors.

Eugenio slow roasted a batch of cacao beans for us in a contraption he built from a YouTube video and then ground them into 100% cacao paste. The room filled up with a strong aroma of chocolate as he boiled the paste into hot water and milk. I held the cup of hot chocolate in my hands and brought it close to my face. Steamy chocolate full notes hit my senses, snapshots of my mother accompanied them, invading me with bittersweet nostalgia. My taste buds longed for the intoxicating food of the gods, my heart longed for time with my siblings and those Chocolate Fridays long gone.

Cacao in its purest form is dark, bitter, an acquired taste rich in vitamins and minerals that contributes to health and wellness. In order to make chocolate, one must add a sweetener like honey or sugar and for a more palatable chocolate milk is added. Flavorful chocolatiers mix in ingredients like coffee, ginger, dried fruits, sea salt, chili and even insects.

I don’t know all the intricacies of chocolate but over time, I’ve come to understand my mother’s love during my childhood as 100% cacao. It was pure yet it was so raw. It was hard to consume when it wasn’t processed into chocolate yet it sustained us. It was a survival love, like the flowers from the cacao tree. Perhaps, she only knew how to grow the cacao but didn’t know how to make the truffles so she just gave us our treasured Chocolate Fridays.

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The view from La Candelaria, coffee and cacao farm in Minca, Colombia.
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Cacao pod
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Eugenio, in his tour room showing us the chocolate process from pod to cup. He built the small roasting machine after watching YouTube videos.
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Inside the pod, the prized cacao beans.
My mom and I during my last visit earlier this year. We lived through a lot, we lost someone we both loved, we are learning how to make chocolate. 

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