The aroma of dark, caramel-y chocolate greets us like a warm hug, the smell wafting through the upper walkway, down the stairs, and into the plaza, marking the way to the ChocoMuseum’s less-than-obvious entryway.
Inside, a workshop dedicated to melting and molding Peruvian chocolate starts to our left, future chocolatiers decked out in chef’s caps, and we veer right into a room of tables overlooking Cusco’s magnificent architecture, today, saturated in color thanks to the rain.
Poul hands us beans in their various stages, the super raw bean almost like crunching into chalky espresso chocolate, unsweetened and ripe with caffeinated energy. Quite tasty, actually, how the Incas and Aztec enjoy this delicacy, grinding it up with a hint of cinnamon, a dash of heat, to consume as a sacred beverage.
Fascinating to recall that the reason we call it cocoa–or, is it cacao?–is a mispronunciation of the x’s and xl’s of the bean’s native tongue, original spelling a far cry from today’s moniker.
When the taste first hits the European palette centuries ago, it is definitely a curiosity but not yet an infatuation, becoming one only after the higher echelons of society marry cocoa bean with beaucoups or sugar, chocolat chaud à l’ancienne and then truffles and then little bonbons off limits to most of the world’s population until just now.
Today, I compare and contrast Peruvian chocolate to what my mind remembers as chocolate from elsewhere, and wow, it’s actually quite good, roasted and deep in flavor, sugars caramelized and cocoa bean left in its full expression. Less silky smooth than Belgian and Swiss chocolate, it carries a hint of nuttiness and toffee I find quite pleasant.
Armed with cocoa beans in pockets to power us through the day–seriously, it’s like RedBull or 5 Hour Energy–we cleanse our palettes with cocoa tea–oh, yes, chocolate tea is actually totally decent–and carry on.