Culture

Here’s The History Of Why Costa Rican Cacao Is Spiritually And Culturally Significant

It’s truly impossible to imagine growing up in a world without chocolate, and I’m not talking about Hershey’s. Really rich, dark chocolate was used medicinally in my house. If I had any type of feeling or was crying, my mother wouldn’t say a word, walk away, and come back with chocolate.

Join me on my own adventure in learning the history of cacao with a Costa Rican indigenous tribe, los Bribri.

Any good Costa Rican chocolate is made by hand.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. CaribeansCR. 21 September 2018.

Only in the last 100 years or so have traditional cacao farmers started letting the cacao cool into molds, como Hershey. Super traditional farms will roll the freshly stone-ground cacao into little cigarillos and the texture is more crumbly and dynamic.

Cacao trees are native to tropical Latin America.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The cacao fruit pods themselves were used as currency in some Aztec and Mayan cultures. Mayans even had an annual festival in honor of Ek Chuah, the cacao god that brought them the sacred fruit used for medicinal and spiritual rituals.

Pero Puerto Viejo is one of the few places that creates single estate bean to bar chocolate.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

Every farm and every tree will produce a different chocolate taste. The liquid sunshine and high elevation jungles that exist in Costa Rica allow for some of the best cacao beans in the world to flourish. My girlfriend and I traveled to Puerto Viejo, an Afro-Caribbean beach town, known for its intact indigenous culture, big waves and cacao.

First, we met with a shaman (“awa”) at the Bribri indigenous reserve.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

He explained to us that this cone shaped structure represents the Bribri’s connection to the Universe and to God. They have always known that the world was round and the structure symbolizes the round earth we sit on that points directly to God and our higher spiritual selves.

The Bribri is a largely matriarchal society.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They are the only ones who can inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao drink that is essential for their rituals.

In just the last few years, the Bri Bri have started to write down their language and teach it at the schools to maintain their culture and continue to pass it down to more generations. They are the voting majority of the Talamanca province of Costa Rica and make a living selling cacao, bananas and plantains, while living off the land.

This is what the inside of a ripe cacao pod looks like.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

I know, I wasn’t expecting that either. The white coating surrounding the beans themselves tastes like mango or yogurt, depending on who you ask. It’s very tart and very delicious, and the source of cocoa butter.

The first step is to ferment the beans over a fire for five days.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The first being tradition. The truth is that the Bribri do tend to suffer from lung issues because of all the smoke inhalation over the course of their lives. The other reason is that most roofs are made from a native plant called suita. The rising smoke deters bugs from making the roof their home.

Then, they leave them out in the sun to dry for 22 days.

CREDIT: Lindsay Fendt / The Tico Times

That’s how the cacao starts to brown and develop its rich flavor. That’s also how you develop la paciencia. ????

In Bribri mythology, the cacao tree is a woman and Sibu (Dios) made into a tree.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

Cacao branches are forbidden to be used as firewood and only women are allowed to make the sacred cacao. It’s only used in ceremonial purposes, like when a girl gets her period for the first time. You can support Bribri women by buying their organic, hand made chocolate.

Then, the beans are roasted over a fire for about 8 minutes.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The beans have to be constantly stirred the whole time. As the stirrer, I can tell you that it is labor intensive to be in 90 degree heat, over a fire, with smoke blowing up in your face, while you quickly stir.

The traditional next step is to grind the cacao beans with a stone.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Many years before, they used the huge wooden pillón you see to the right. My first boricua thought was “Ummm, I could use that much mofongo.”

The beans are then tossed to separate the shell and prepare for further grounding.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Because the shells of the cacao are much lighter than the dense bean inside, they naturally just fall onto the earth and are used as fertilizer. What’s left is the pure cacao, ready to be ground even further.

Today, they use a metal grinder to create the paste.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

This is 100 percent pure cacao you’re looking at. In this form, it is made into a ceremonial drink, but it too bitter to eat raw. We had it sandwiched between some sweet banana slices.

There are several non-profit organizations you can support to aid the Bribri.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They use every shred of the land to build their homes, necklaces, dye their artisan crafts and more. El Punte, however, offers educational assistance and micro-loans to families to help them become even more self-sufficient.

This is my face after one cup of drinking chocolate.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

After boiling a pot of water seasoned with fresh canela from the ground and some organic sugar, you add the creamy paste and stir. Cacao is said by the Bribri to have six medicinal properties, one of them being a mood-lifter.

In this part of Costa Rica, you can find a few shops that offer beer, wine and coffee + chocolate pairings.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

This is the traditionally rolled chocolate I mentioned earlier. We came to Cho.co in Puerto Viejo after a surfing lesson and this pairing was everything we needed.

However, cacao has only recently started to make a comeback after a devastating fungal epidemic.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

Fifty years ago, there were at least 20 cacao plantations that supported Costa Rica’s economy. Today, most of that land is clear-cut cattle pasture. The Caribbean replanted the loss of cacao trees with banana plantations. Many of the locals told me they boycott Dole and La Chiquita bananas because of their pesticide use that is harming locals.

Eighty percent of cacao crop was lost in the 1970s.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The center is a healthy cacao bean, while the others are infected with the monilia fungus. European colonizers responded by planting cacao in Africa, which now produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao’s lesser variety, half of which come from conflict zones.

Costa Rica is leading the genetic research to find a fungus-protected strain of cacao.

CREDIT: PatMc7 / TripAdvisor

They are testing Costa Rica’s known strains of cacao against the murilio fungus and offering the strongest strains to local farmers.

My parting advice to you: go to Puerto Viejo and buy seven times as much chocolate as you think you need.

CREDIT: Whitney M. / TripAdvisor

These small plantations have their own varieties of cacao that produce distinctly different flavors. Go to Caribbeans and taste test chocolate from the 15 plantations that have cropped up in the last decade or so. You’ll find a favorite.


READ: You’ll Never Look At Chocolate The Same Once You Find Out Its Brutal History

Share this story with all of your friends by tapping that little share button below!

Mexico Plans To Reopen Cancun To International Tourists But It’s Not At All Prepared For Visitors

Things That Matter

Mexico Plans To Reopen Cancun To International Tourists But It’s Not At All Prepared For Visitors

Omgitsjustintime/ Instagram

There are millions of people just itching for a vacation right now, and Cancun wants to welcome visitors with open arms. However, there’s a huge problem with their plan. Most of the country is still in a severe phase of the pandemic – with all 32 states reporting daily increases in confirmed Covid-19 cases.

In cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, even locals aren’t allowed to venture far from their homes and restrictions on shopping, dining, and exercising are still in full force.

However, the country’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), has resumed his cross-country travels and is trying to portray a ‘new normal’ – the problem is little has changed to prevent further outbreaks.

Cancun is aiming to open its doors to tourists from June 10 – but it makes zero sense given the actual situation on the ground.

Quintana Roo, home to the famed beaches of Cancun and Tulum, will resume activities next week – according to the governor, Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez. The state, which depends heavily on tourism, has lost over 83,000 jobs in the last few months due to the pandemic, and with reopening the state could see an economic rebound. However, that entirely depends on the success and implementation of safety measures.

In a press conference, the governor said that tourists could start arriving in the Caribbean destination as soon as June 8th. He added that tourism is an essential activity and that there is no other of greater importance in Quintana Roo “and we are going to fight for it to be considered that way.”

He stressed during the public address that for the opening to happen by June 10th, protocols and hygiene measures must be followed to protect workers and tourists from Covid-19.

And he has good reason to reopen. According to a new survey by Expedia, ‘Cancun flights’ is one of the top 5 searches on the platform. In the same survey, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Isla Mujeres (all located in Quintana Roo) were announced as three of the most internationally sought after destinations.

Meanwhile, AMLO has launched a cross-country tour touting the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions.

Credit: Rebecca Blackwell / Getty

President AMLO also held his daily press conference from the state of Quintana Roo to mark the beginning of Mexico’s economic reopening and resume his tours across the country.

But this too makes zero sense. Yes, the government has mandated that states can begin lifting restrictions – if they’re no longer declared ‘red zones.’ However, every state in the country is still in the red, with many seeing peak infection numbers.

It’s just the most recent example of confusing messaging from the president.

Credit: thatgaygringo / Instagram

While AMLO is eager to get the country reopened and put Mexicans back to work, Coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country. Mexico has now recorded the seventh-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker, with nearly 10,000 virus-related fatalities and almost 100,000 confirmed cases. Testing in the country is low and health officials acknowledge that the numbers are likely much higher.

The federal government unveiled a red-light/green-light system to implement reopening procedures state by state. But currently every state is still in ‘red-light’ phase – meaning stay-at-home orders are still in full effect – making AMLO’s messaging extremely confusing.

Time and time again, the president has downplayed the virus outbreak and has criticized stay-at-home orders for harming the economy.

Keep in mind, however, that non-essential travel between the U.S. and Mexico is still largely banned.

Since March, all non-essential travel has been banned between the U.S. and Mexico. However, that ban is currently set to expire on June 22. It’s possible both sides could extend the travel ban, but given AMLO’s rhetoric it isn’t likely he’ll keep the country closed to tourists for much longer.

However, it’s important to point that out even if you technically can travel – right now you really shouldn’t. In much of Mexico, confirmed Covid-19 cases are on the rise with many cities across the country just now entering it’s worst phase.

Nonprofit United We Dream Is Crowdsourcing Immigrant Recipes For A Fundraising Cookbook

Culture

Nonprofit United We Dream Is Crowdsourcing Immigrant Recipes For A Fundraising Cookbook

unitedwedream / Instagram

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, people have spent a lot of time in their kitchens cooking food to bring them comfort. One unique thing about the self-isolation is that people are having to figure out how to make things stretch or substitute some of your usual ingredients. United We Dream wants to make sure they can do something good with all of the recipes we have created.

United We Dream wants to use your recipes to create some good.

According to an Instagram post, United We Dream is putting together an undocumented cookbook. In the spirit of sharing recipes and cultural moments, United We Dream is asking for people to submit their recipes.

“At United We Dream we believe in the power of art and culture to change hearts and minds and June is the perfect time to tap into our cultural creativity,” reads the United We Dream website. “On Immigrant Heritage Month, we want to celebrate our community through a joyous art form that every household does: cooking!”

The money is going to be used to help the undocumented and immigrant communities.

Credit: unitedwedream / Instagram

According to Remezcla, 100 percent of profits from the book will go to the organization’s National UndocuFunds. United We Dream launched the National UndocuFund to deliver financial assistance to undocumented people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely that the fund will need to do some extra lifting to help communities recovering from recent looting and rioting that has rocked the U.S. in recent days.

“We know that nothing brings people together quite like food,” reads the United We Dream website. “The dishes that immigrants create, no matter how simple or complex, allow people to experience cultures other than one’s own and all the joys and pleasures that come with it.”

The cookbook is already getting people excited.

Credit: unitedwedream / Instagram

There is something to be said about people getting creative in the kitchen during this pandemic. Outings are limited because we are all staying home to slow the spread. There are also people who are still not at work. That is why we have had to get creative to make our food last.

“Today, times are tough because of COVID-19, but many working-class and poor households are embracing their creativity to create meals that both sustain their households and bring a moment of peace and comfort,” reads the United We Dream website. “We want to create a cookbook that reflects our diverse community and inspires memories of joy, comfort and togetherness!”

United We Dream understands the power of food.

Food is a unifier. Everyone eats and food is one way to connect with your culture. It is also a wonderful way to share your culture with other people. Sharing your food and culture with people is a special way to let your friends into your life.

The organization is still taking recipe suggestions. If you want a chance to give more people a look into who you are and your culture through food, click here to share a recipe.

READ: Colorado Organization Raises Money To Offer Relief Checks To Undocumented People In The State