From Bean to Bar – Organic Chocolate-Making Workshop in Cusco

Travelling in a foreign country it’s always good to try the local produce. When it comes to delicious local produce, what’s better than chocolate? Nothing, it seems. Apparently the Aztecs, Mayans, Spanish, Irish and Dutch thought so too. All the better when it helps local farmers.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about cocoa and the process of making chocolate. Awhile ago on the internet I stumbled across a chocolate museum in the heart of Cusco. Now that we have arrived in Cusco, the ChocoMuseo  became one of the number one items on my ‘to do’ list and through their chocolate-making workshops I could do just that.

Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, which extended from Ecuador to Chile. In the high jungle of their empire cocoa plants florished. The Mayas brought cocoa from these parts to Central America where it became an important currency. The greatest legacy that the Mayas left behind was their discovery of the cocoa plant and the liquid gold they produced by roasting and grinding the brown beans and mixing the bitter paste with water, chilli and spices.

When the Aztecs gained control over Mesoamerica they turned cocoa into a form of currency, and it soon ruled their vast trade empire. Eventually the Aztecs introduced the cocoa currency in Mexico and under the rule of Aztec emperor Montezuma it became a precious commodity.

The Spanish first discovered this treasure during their conquest of the Americas during the 16th century, when Cortes defeated Montezuma in 1521. Cortes ordered that all Aztec wealth be shipped back to Spain, and of course this included the precious cocoa beans. The Spanish however, found the cocoa drink too bitter for their liking and started to add milk, sugar and cinnamon to the recipe. And so cocoa became a major commodity too for the Spanish.

When the cocoa drink was introduced to European nobles in the 17th century, it became so popular that the trend started to spread. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that new techniques and recipes were developed and it became available to a wider common public. Cocoa became chocolate and its worldwide popularity grew.

Today, Peru is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world after Côte d’Ivoire and the 13th largest exporter, 60% of which is produced in the rainforest areas of the Eastern Andes.

In 2007 the world market recognised the quality of Peruvian cocoa leading to higher earned prices for Peruvian growers, especially for organic and fair trade products.

Chocolate’s popularity has also led to its disgrace. Throughout the last century it has become scarce and expensive, and demand has been higher than supply, which has led to even greater rise in production. This has been a problem for cocoa farmers who have often been exploited and paid unfairly for their produce. In turn large-scale production has led to the inhuman treatment of workers and child labour in developing countries.

The ChocoMuseo is a free museum dedicated to the sweet, brown stuff, including its history and a look at how chocolate is produced. Hidden in the corner of Plaza Regocijo, the ChocoMuseo is one of the sweetest places in Cusco.

The ChocoMuseo works with local cooperatives to produce certified organic precious beans. Their network includes a total of 98 cocoa farmers with a total of 140 hectares.

During the workshop we learnt about the whole process of producing chocolate, ‘from bean to bar’ – from cultivating, fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding the beans to conching, refining and finally moulding the chocolate. The cost is 70 soles for two-hours of chocolate bliss.


For something a little different the museum also organises homestay tours to local plantations where you can meet the farmers and see where the beans are produced. Produced in the high jungle north of Cusco, the tour ends with a trip to the nearby magical Machupicchu.

It’s a great way to truly appreciate where your next bar comes from and you get to take your produce home with you. Then of course there’s licking the spoon at the end!

2 Responses to “From Bean to Bar – Organic Chocolate-Making Workshop in Cusco”
  1. jackluc says:

    le fondanrt au chocolat de Tonio doit désormais être fait avec du chocolat de Cusco. J ‘ai hâte de le goûter en avril prochain !

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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