Coffee and chocolate

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Mexico has given the world so many wonderful things! Avocados, tomatoes, tacos, tequila, Mexican wrestling… But of course the best gift from this part of the world would have to be chocolate! I was surprised that chocolate as we most commonly know it, that is to say, processed chocolate bars, are not actually particularly popular or abundant in Mexico. This is because traditionally chocolate is taken as a hot liquid beverage, not unlike that other delicious treat, coffee.

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Typical ingredients of traditional Mexican hot chocolate – whole fermented toasted cacao beans, pepper, cinnamon, vanilla.

Oaxaca is quite famous for its hot chocolate, but the small state of Tabasco, in the south-east, accounts for 70% of Mexican cacao production. I spent a very limited time in Tabasco (which has nothing to do with the famous sauce- it is actually from the United States) but luckily my visit involved a very enjoyable and informative visit to a cacao farm and chocolate factory.

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The cacao farm. They grow their own vanilla in there too.

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A cacao pod – I had no idea what they looked like. The kids thought I was a bit silly that I didn’t even know what cacao was!

At first it didn’t look like I’d be learning much about chocolate production at all. I rocked up at the closest farm to my Couch Surfing host’s place, only to be told that the guy who normally shows people around was busy that day, and they couldn’t very well make special arrangements just for me. Fortunately, the guy from the farm, Manolo, was busy getting ready to take a group of school children on a tour of another nearby farm, and kindly invited me along with them in their tram.

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The kids were from a nearby village and the tour was part of an arts project. The teacher was a lovely lady – we got along very well.

It worked out for the best, as this other finca, Cacep, has a much more complete set-up. We took a very informative tour through the process of making chocolate, from the growing of the trees to the harvesting of the cacao pods to the on-site chocolate factory to the final packaging. Unfortunately there was no free tasting but I did buy a few samples at the end.

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Our tour guide was very good. Here she is showing us the inside of the cacao pod. You can suck the white flesh off the beans. It’s a bit sweet.

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All the equipment traditionally used to make hot chocolate.

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All the kids took turns grinding up the cacao – it looked like hard work, so I let the kids do it!

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Pure ground cacao with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper (for a bit of a kick). Just mix with water or milk and there you have it! Or do as we did and eat it straight from the hand.

After my short stop in Tabasco, I headed north to the state of Veracruz. The port city of the same name is the only part of the gulf of Mexico that I saw on my trip, and a not particularly inspiring part at that. But inland from this fairly nondescript city is the state capital of Xalapa (pronounced Ha-la-pa), which is smaller, prettier and has a few nice things to see in the area. It is also an area of coffee production.

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A square in the old centre of Xalapa

After the heat and humidity of Veracruz the mountain climate of Xalapa was a nice change. It was misty and atmospheric, with narrow hilly streets and an attractive old centre. There also seemed to be a lot of cultural activities on and generally a fun vibe about the place. I think I could live in Xalapa.

I took a day trip to the nearby town of Xico (Hee-co), which is surrounded by coffee and banana plantations. Following the instructions of my CS host Erén I jumped off the bus prior to town and walked about a kilometre and a half through eerily silent and misty banana and coffee plantations, passing couples harvesting their coffee beans by hand and a couple of older village women who gave me enourmous smiles upon seeing this lone wera trekking down a deserted road. It was great.

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A misty cobbled road, to where?

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One of my favourite weird signs – “We will report to the authorities anyone caught throwing rubbish or dead animals”

The walk was worth it – I arrived at the Cascada de Texolo (Te-sho-lo), a beautiful waterfall with no one around. There were several paths and rivers to explore, and some hectic stairs to tackle as well. Afterwards I was glad to be offered a lift up to town with three women on a road trip from Mexico city, they saved my legs!

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My first view of the Cascada de Texolo. Gorgeous. And you know how I feel about waterfalls- can’t get enough of them!

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I basically had the whole place to myself

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Gorgeous scenery

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A very secure looking rest stop after a big climb up from the valley.

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As one of my friends said, did you go to Jurassic Park??

The town itself of Xico was small and quaint, but I didn’t spend much time there – only long enough to wander the main roads and get a little look at the place. I only had one day and I also wanted to check out the nearby, larger town of Coatepec (Kwo-te-pec), and I am so glad I made the time for it. I found Coatepec to be a beautiful little town, with good food, attractive plazas, and plenty of places to buy the local coffee.

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One of Coatepec’s main roads. It was a bustling little place that I didn’t manage to capture very well in my photos.

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I love a good church plaza – preferably with lots of trees and benches

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Colourful colonial streets of Coatepec

All in all it was a very brief but also very enjoyable visit to Xalapa and surrounds. I took some Veracruzano coffee with me that I have yet to try, but I’m sure it’ll be delicious. You can rest assured that the chocolate I took from Tabasco is well and truly gone by now!

Are you a coffee person, or a chocolate person? Or do you love both, like me?

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