La Brunca: Chocolate
Upon reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a young child, I somehow got it into my head that chocolate makers were bizarre old men with a penchant for traumatizing greedy children. And though it has been many years since I have held this belief, I had always secretly wondered who does make the chocolate of the world. It is for this reason that the days following Steven’s announcement about our upcoming excursion to the chocolate makers became sped up and blurred together as I eagerly anticipated the day that I would finally learn how the ‘sausage’ (or chocolate) was made.
The day came, and as I stepped off the bus into ASOPROLA (Asociación de productoras, la Amistad) I could almost hear my younger self saying, “I told you so.” The building I saw before me looked like it had escaped from my childhood storybooks: the floor was a mosaic of glimmering stained glass, the ceiling dipped and soared as if I was standing on the ocean floor looking up at the waves, and the walls – there were none. As if this wasn’t already enough to make any fantasy-loving teenager nearly pass out, there, in the corner of the room sat a spiral staircase encased in curvaceous cement and ornate stained glass that looked like something straight out of a fairytale. At that moment I was sure that the eccentric old man of my childhood would walk out with a plate of truffles and an oompa-loompa entourage. However, after a few minutes of this not happening, and after being told to start walking along the road back towards ASOMOBI, I began to wonder if we would actually get to meet actual chocolatiers.
We must have walked for half an hour up the main road before we finally came to a stop. What stood in front of us was not the entrance to a mysterious factory, but a normal and mundane house. However, as we followed our guide to the back of the house, I finally saw it: rows and rows of cacao plants behind a machine cranking the chocolate into a paste. I was slightly shocked; even though I knew there would probably not be a river of chocolate and a forest of gummy trees, I did not expect to see a thriving chocolate plantation in the backyard of an otherwise normal house.
After we had taken seats on the benches surrounding the kitchenette, our guide motioned to one of the chocolate makers and he began to explain how the process worked: after harvesting the cacao beans, they were put into a covered bucket and left to sit and ferment for forty-eight hours. Then, they would move the bucket periodically for the next three days until the beans were ready to be toasted and ground. At this point, a bucket with toasted cacao beans began to be passed around and when it got to me, I almost couldn’t believe how amazing they tasted. They were bitter, but somehow rich with hints of fruity sweetness. I ended up taking four more to munch on as people started forming a line to grind the chocolate. After I took a swing (or crank) at it, the new guide started explaining how, after grinding the beans, all they need to do is spin them inside a machine for six hours, add milk and sugar, mold them, and voila: chocolate! I was not only surprised at the simplicity of the process, but how sustainable it was. In its own way, it did kind of seem like magic.
They then began to hand out their chocolate syrup on individual lemon leaves, and as I took a sip, I almost couldn’t believe how delicious it was. The additive-riddled brands of chocolate of my childhood had taught me there was always something other than milk and sugar that made the chocolate taste so rich. But after three subsequent refills of this delicious syrup, this idea was immediately disproved. The chocolate-covered smiles around me seemed to agree, and after I thought the taste could not possibly be topped, they began to pass out their artisanal hot chocolate. I cannot describe what I tasted, I can only say that it was, by far, the absolute best that I have ever drank in my entire life, and probably ever will. After several shots of this life-altering hot chocolate (and many more stains on our t-shirts) we were told that we had to leave. Even though I was sad to go, I knew it was probably for the best as my stomach was not as happy as I was with all the chocolate I had ingested.
As we walked back to the bus at the end of the day, I felt slightly more complete than I had the day before. One of the biggest mysteries of my childhood had finally been solved, and I could finally rest easy knowing that it was, in fact, not sinister old men making chocolate, but friendly pioneers of sustainability who not only uplift their community with their profits, but serve as a testament to how sometimes the biggest things come in the smallest packages.