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Chocolate Lovers Unite!

Zoe Zizzo

At the Denver Botanic Gardens, a family workshop was held for chocolate lovers big and small called “Chocolate: From Beans to Cocoa.” Melissa Gula, Assistant Manager of Families and Children’s Programs, walked us through the exciting hands-on process of turning cocoa beans/seeds into hot chocolate.
Cocoa starts as a bean/seed that is swiftly chopped down from a tree with a sharp knife attached to a pole. They crack the rough, yellow seed pod open by hitting it forcefully with an object. When the hard shell is broken, a freshly cut pumpkin aroma abounds. Sweet, gooey, white slime coats the white, penny-sized seeds. The seeds are taken out of the cacao bean pod and are covered with banana leaves which helps to speed up the fermentation process. The beans are then shipped to factories all over the world to be roasted.
We even visited a chocolate tree (theobroma cacao) located in the Tropical Conservatory and experienced the warm, humid climate that is similar to it’s natural environment, near the equator.
During class, we had the experience of grinding cacao beans which extracted the natural oils. We tried out 2 different hot cocoa recipes. First, we made the hot cocoa as the Aztecs created. It included no sugar unlike the hot cocoa of today and included cinnamon. This drink tasted sour and bitter. Although it smelled close to what we drink today, it tasted quite different. We then created a modern day recipe including powdered milk, sugar, and cocoa (from beans we grinded) which we sampled and took home in a canning jar. We compared it to the Aztec one and agreed that the modern flavor was much more palatable.
Aztec Recipe: 1 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate; 2/3 cup hot water; 1 tsp. vanilla extract; dash of cinnamon
Modern Recipe: 2 cups powdered milk; ½ cup sugar; ½ cup cocoa powder; 6 cups hot water
A chocolate taste test allowed us to sample 5 different types of chocolate and determine which had greater masses of cocoa in them. This sampling ranged from the highest percentage of cocoa to lowest (baker’s chocolate 100%, dark chocolate 86%, bittersweet 60%, milk chocolate at least 10%, white chocolate has cocoa butter). Students noticed that the aromas were quite alike, but the tastes varied drastically. Most of the attendees enjoyed the chocolates with a lesser percent of cocoa, and a higher percentage of sugar and other add-ins, especially the younger crowd. Children exclaimed, “EEEWWW!!!”, “ICKKK”, “Get it off of my tongue!!!”, and “GROSS!” in response to tasting the bitter, baker’s chocolate.
If you are interested in spending quality family time while learning together, check out other workshops offered at: http://www.botanicgardens.org/programs/classes-lectures.