Ceremonial Cacao: What Is It & How Is It Different from Bean-To-Bar Hot Chocolate?
Mindfulness, awareness and spiritual healing.
With all that has happened around the world in the past two years, there was never a higher demand for joyful moments of relaxation and self-reflection. And what’s better than pairing spirituality with the most delicious food of all?
Here is where cacao ceremonies come into play: during these rituals, cacao is used as a mean to connect with others, recharge the soul and look inward to heal any stagnant emotions.
Cacao is attentively prepared for the occasion as a healthy and energizing beverage to be enjoyed, shared and celebrated. The settings for cacao ceremonies can vary from yoga studios to dedicated retreats in the forest, or they can even be performed at home as a daily routine.
The keys for a successful cacao ceremony are quietness, focus, good company with a shared intention, and a great cacao to begin with!
As with any other spiritual practices, cacao ceremonies are often the object of questions, doubts and curiosities. Many chocoholics are still wondering: what is ceremonial cacao and how is it different from regular bean-to-bar hot chocolate?
Let’s find out…
Ingredients & Preparation
In the bean-to-bar realm, hot chocolate can be prepared in 3 different ways: using cocoa powder (where the cocoa butter has been pressed out of the cocoa liquor, leaving the powder with 10-15% fat from the original 45-50%); using hot cocoa mixes (where cocoa powder is combined with other ingredients like sugar, powdered milk and spices); using dark chocolate (in the desired cocoa percentage).
Ceremonial cacao doesn’t follow any of the aforementioned methods. The main intention of this specific beverage is to leave cacao in its most natural state, retaining all the precious nutrients that it can offer (antioxidants, healthy fats, minerals).
Therefore the process is kept short, light and simple: the fermented and dried cocoa beans are roasted at the gentlest temperature possible; the husks are removed from the nibs (sometimes even manually); the cocoa nibs are ground/refined into a paste. The paste is then roughly mold into a block that is ready to be used for ceremonial cacao. The block is something close to regular 100% cacao chocolate, but without conching nor tempering.
Not only the basic ingredient for the cocoa beverage differs from regular hot chocolate, but also the preparation of ceremonial cacao is quite unique.
Traditional hot chocolate (whether craft bean-to-bar or industrial) is usually made by warming up water, milk or a plant-based drink into a pot on the stove and then adding the cocoa powder, the hot cocoa mix or the dark chocolate, with the addition of a sweetener and optional spices, until all the ingredients are well amalgamated and the desired texture is achieved.
Ceremonial cacao practitioners prefer to use a blender instead (although other methods like a whisker or boiling on a stove are still allowed). The block of 100% cacao is first cut into thin shavings. These are put into the blender together with the preferred liquid (water, milk or plant-based drink) that was previously heated up.
Since one of the focuses of ceremonial cacao is health for the body and mind, the added ingredients will be specific spices like cayenne pepper, ginger and cardamom, and superfoods like maca powder and turmeric depending on the desired outcome for the ceremony (energising, relaxing, meditative). For the same reason, also the sweeteners will tend to be more on the holistic side, like dates, agave, maple syrup or coconut sugar, avoiding all sorts of highly refined sugars.
True ceremonial cacao also tends to be organic, vegan and ethically traded.
Consistency & Flavour
While bean-to-bar hot chocolate is appreciated for its smoothness, creaminess and richness, ceremonial cacao has a totally different texture. Because the starting raw material is less refined, and usually many powders and spices are added, the consistency of ceremonial cacao is thick, grainy and dense.
Fans of ceremonial cacao seem to appreciate this rough consistency, as it reminds them of the ancient beverages from the Maya and Aztecs rather than modernised European hot chocolates.
The flavour of ceremonial cacao varies a lot based on the cacao origin and process, together with all the added ingredients.
Use & Purpose
Regular bean-to-bar hot chocolate is often seen as a decadent moment of indulgence. Whether it is kept simple with just water and a sweetener, or enriched with creams and spices, a cup of hot chocolate is consumed almost like a cup of hot tea to accompany a break in the afternoon or an energising morning.
Even if regular hot chocolate can be used for a moment of self-reflection, ceremonial cacao holds deeper intentions. Meditation, healing, connection with others or oneself, celebration and awareness are just some of the purposes associated with ceremonial cacao. This is why this moment is often accompanied by specific rituals, chanting, yoga, prayers and/or silence.
If a cup of hot chocolate can be enjoyed while reading a book or working at the computer, ceremonial cacao is meant to be enjoyed with full focus and attention until the very last sip.
To sum up, ceremonial cacao is less processed than regular 100% dark chocolate (light roast, no conching and no tempering), contains more cocoa butter than regular cocoa powder, and is not already blended with sugar and other spices like hot cocoa mixes.
However, it is always good practice to conduct further research on every single brand of ceremonial cacao to make sure they are offering a natural product as they claim to do.
Other than the cacao beverage itself, the most important part is to make a ceremony out of cacao, celebrating the food of the Gods while we enjoy a moment of self-reflection, awareness and mindfulness.
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