Cocoa Fe: Chocolate in Santa Fe

In the classic children’s book, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” chocolate is made in a mysterious factory populated by tiny men running around who mix, stir, churn and occasionally sing about chocolate. The reality of cocoa and its origins in the U.S. is far different than some Technicolor work of fiction, but none the less entertaining. Cocoa comes from beans grown in certain parts of the world. How it came to North America first began in South America.

Cocoa Then
To go back to its origins, when Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1518 he found Montezuma and his Aztec subjects drinking large quantities of chocolate, more actual cocoa than the refined chocolate we know today. There were 12 species of the cocoa plant which grew on the languid shores of Mexico, and the Spanish fell in love with it, and, as Spain conquered everything in sight, cocoa beans were sent back to Spain where they were introduced to the Europeans for the first time.
17th Century Cocoa Cup

Therefore chocolate became an integral part of the Spanish way of life in the New World and as the Missions from Texas to New Mexico and California were established chocolate became a considerable staple of everyday life. Mission documents record the important use of chocolate for prestigious guests and the padres routinely drank hot chocolate first thing in the morning. Cocoa at that time was also a valuable commodity and many storage vessels had locks on them such as shown in these photos. In fact this storage jar and cocoa cup date from the 17th century and are on display, along with a few other historical cocoa items at the New Mexico Museum of History. People covet chocolate today, and clearly they did half a century ago.
17th Century Cocoa Storage Jar

Chocolate Now
These days chocolate is imbedded into our lives is a variety of forms: hot cocoa, bittersweet, and white chocolate, to powder sprinkled on tiramisu, to a rub for meats. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there are four chocolate shops to visit and it’s always good to know you can get hand made chocolates, truffles and other cool cocoa-inspired treats wherever you go. But, the most interesting representation of cocoa is a small shop, Kakawa, located in downtown Santa Fe. This former residence, now a store, creates individual chocolates, but most cool of all creates what they call “authentic Meso-American and historic European chocolate drinks.” Owner Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett) helms this six year-old concept. There are hardwood floors and this space is homey and comfortable where folks hang out and drink cocoa while checking email or just chatting. They roast their own red chiles used in some of the drinks (elixirs they call them) and make small batches of chocolates, and use water, not cream, to mix into their drinks as this is more historically accurate.

Bag 'O Chiles For Roasting
They use agave nectar as opposed to sugar or corn syrup because is it not only healthier, but also represents the historic reality of Mayan cultures who used agave plants in their cooking. Should you find yourself in Santa Fe, stop in to Kakawa, as they are located right downtown. Yes, the individual chocolates are very good, but I wanted to sample the drinks. Their “Zapoteca” is unsweetened cocoa, but not bitter, however it is thick and potent. Their “Chili” utilizes Ancho chilis, agave, Mexican vanilla and it hits your palate with bittersweet, then the spicy chili kicks in and slowly takes over. If you think of these drinks in terms of American hot cocoa, you’ll miss the point. These are sturdy drinks, thick and probably unlike what you’ve ever had before. And the cool thing is that you can, in a way, taste history since drinking chocolate goes back at least 500 years!
Kakawa Owner Tony Bennett

There is actually a Santa Fe chocolate trail, a loose collection of four chocolate shops, not a trail really at all. But the point is that while in this historic city, one of the oldest cities in the U.S., you can sample modern and historic iterations of chocolate. In fact, kind of interesting, When the Palace of the Governors was built in 1610 in downtown Santa Fe (and still standing mind you), it was only 92 years prior that Cortez was sipping his first cocoa drink in Vera Cruz. Should you find yourself in Santa Fe, make it a point to stop in Kakawa, as they are located right downtown. You can also check out the other chocolate places: The Chocolate Smith, C.G. Higgins, and Todos Santos

To learn about cocoa in Santa Barbara, California visit: www.CervinsCentralCoast.blogspot.com, and enjoy your cocoa!

Drink Historic Cocoa At Kakawa

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