A Guide to Colombian Chocolate: From Coca to Cocoa

Our local insider Erin has the tough gig of finding out how Colombians make chocolate, the history behind the sweet treat, and traditional ways to enjoy it.


Photo © iStock/dwart

Cocoa crops in Colombia

Chocolate has always been one of the most valuable commodities in the world, but in the last few years, cocoa prices have begun to rise around the world.

Colombian chocolate, in particular, is gaining popularity. In the wake of the African Ebola outbreak of 2015, cocao was prevented from being exported from Africa, which led to a global shortfall and a rise in prices.

Although prices have now begun to fall again, this spike in interest have led many local farmers to realized the crop's profitability, with many even replacing their coffee plantations.

In some parts of Colombia, cocoa have also started to replace coca – which is made into cocaine – as a legal crop which pays well.

Today, cocoa (or cacao) is grown in many parts of Colombia. Almost every region has its own artisan brands created in small batches and sold at farmers markets and small health food shop throughout the country.

Experience flavors which range from earthy/bitter/caramel to sweet/floral/vanilla. The observant traveler can even find them in small local cafés too.

From cocoa to chocolate

If your travels take you through Cartagena, be sure to stop in and visit the Choco Museo, where you'll learn all about the Colombian cocoa history, tradition, and how it's processed.

Much like coffee, chocolate is toasted, de-husked, and ground into a paste. It is then transferred to molds to create all sorts of beautiful and tempting designs.

To create sweet chocolate, it must undergo an additional process of grinding and separation of the cocoa butter from the cocoa mass.

Many artisan processes in Colombia will leave the cocoa mass 100% intact. Some may even add cinnamon, clove, and panela, or partially refined sugarcane, as a sweetener.

Chocolate for breakfast? Yes, please!

In Colombia, chocolate is prepared as a hot breakfast drink with panela, or bricks of sugar, that melt in hot water. It's served in a special pot with a slight neck called an olleta.

Once the panela melts, the chocolate is added and then stirred with a bolonillo – a special stick with a wooden ball on the end of it – designed to break up the chocolate and help it dissolve.

Often, milk is added either in place of the water or as an extra addition to help cool it faster.

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