What makes chocolate so desirable? Chocolate is divine! It has become one of the most exquisite delicacies to savor and a main ingredient for fine cuisine, baking, and chocolatiers around the world. Eating chocolate is a pleasure that most people on the planet love having, including myself. When people describe this pleasure, whether it is a piece of a chocolate bar, chocolate cake, chocolate gelato or ice cream, they do it with joyful facial expressions, describing the texture, flavor, quality, and quantity. In the class, “Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food” at Harvard Extension School, Prof. Carla D. Martin lectures about the origin of cacao in Mesoamerica, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. She also lectures about cacao’s preparation, its use, the artifacts used, production of the chocolate paste, and the industrialization era when cacao was discovered.
In this blog, I will introduce the vessel Coco Chocolatero as one of the artifacts that was created during the colonial era in Venezuela. This artifact has historical significance because drinking hot chocolate using the coco chocolatero was a ritual, and a passion, among the Venezuelan elite social class. During the discovery and growth of cacao, Venezuela was a top producer and, to this day, still produces a rich and excellent cacao (Presilla 75). The enjoyment of drinking one of the best chocolates in the world allowed the elite people to use these vessels with elegance and prestige during the colony time. These vessels became so important in the lives of the Venezuelan elite, that they were written into the wills as Carlos F. Duarte presents in his book The Art of Drinking Chocolate (Presilla 32).
To my knowledge, there are no specifications on how the Coco Chocolatero was made in the colonial time. However, in 2013, the Fundacion Reto Aguas Abiertas (Open Water Foundation Raga) in Paria, State of Sucre, Venezuela, decided to rescue the value and tradition of the Coco Chocolatero by making a contemporary version of it. Mr. Jose Manuel Raga, director of this foundation, states “…it is an exclusive object, forgotten in Venezuelan daily life from over 300 years ago, which we decided to rescue from our memory and reproduce it in a contemporary version so that people enjoy the select taste of treasuring the Coco Chocolatero or drinking a good chocolate in the style and privilege of a Great Cocoa” (Fundacion website). Through a phone conversation on March 7, 2017, I spoke with Jose Manuel Raga in Venezuela to ask him about the process of making this vessel. Jose Manuel very kindly guided me through the steps taken to make the Coco Chocolatero. It is made from a hollowed-out green or yellow coconut, he said, and the process to make one is lengthy since it takes several steps. Inside, there is a nut with a hard brown shell covered with long bristle-like strands of hair. The nut is cut in half, the white hard meat inside is scooped out and it becomes an empty hard shell. This shell is brushed repeatedly and uniformly in and out with a thick brush until the brown hairs disappear from the shell. The next step of the artisan is to use the lightest to sand the shell until is smooth and even in texture and appearance. He also informed me that to preserve the natural color of the shell inside and outside, it is important to polish it with coconut oil. To beautify this vessel, a silver or gold ring is placed around the opening of the vessel as well as a handle on each side of the shell. Finally, the shell is centered and placed on a base to be permanently held.
Photo of coconuts taken by me, 2017e459
The Coco Chocolatero rises again after three hundred years as a valued piece of cacao’s history in Venezuela, projecting pride for the fruit that continues to be a desired jewel for many other countries around the world. The love that plantation workers display in their daily routine for cacao, and the legacy that their ancestors began centuries ago by passing the lessons learned from generation to generation, is a very significant reality among all the cacao plantations workers thus making them a powerful force. The cacao pods are always waiting on land to be processed, and thanks to the willingness, hard work, and kindness of the plantation workers, Venezuelans and the rest of the world have enjoyed a high-quality cup of chocolate!
Courtesy of Fundacion Reto Aguas Abiertas
Before being able to make the first Coco Chocolatero, there had to be a necessity for its use. Chocolate is what fills this large vessel, so how exactly is chocolate made? It is derived from cacao and the history begins with a tree called the Tree of the Food of the Gods as Michael Coe writes in The True History of Chocolate (17). Cacao pods are not uniformly shaped and their size varies. The pods ripen, turning their green skin into beautiful tones of red, yellow, orange, and light green accentuating the ridges in the skin. It is quite a spectacular change to see. Despite the natural beauty of the cocoa pods, the white pulp inside is the gem of this long-lasting fruit that produces chocolate, which is considered a diamond.
The fresh pulp from the cacao pods are first harvested, then dried, fermented, roasted, and finally grinded. These are the steps required to make chocolate. “Working with cacao is hard work and a long process. Talking about cacao is philosophy, very rich and oxygenating” says Pedro, a plantation worker in the book Historias que Laten en Choroni by Liza Lopez (18). The process of creating chocolate is not as simple as it sounds in the description. It is laborious work that requires much patience and dedication. As time passes and innovation progresses, the world will still continue savoring the new creations of chocolate all while holding on to the roots from which it comes from; cacao.
Photo of Unsweetened Cocoa taken by me, 2017e459
S.D., Coe, 2013; M. D., Coe, 2013. The True History of Chocolate. London, Thames & Hudson, Ltd.
Lopez, Liza. Historias que Laten en Choroni: 16 personajes, 16 historias. Fundacion Casa Nacional de las Letras Andres Bello. Caracas, Venezuela, 2013.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Teen Speed Press, 2009.
Raga, Jose Manuel. Telephone interview. March 7, 2017.
Fundacion Reto Aguas Abiertas. Jose Manuel Raga. Paria, State of Sucre, Venezuela. 2013.