People have been telling me for years that I need to either settle down in Baracoa, Cuba, or at the very least pay a visit there so that I might sample authentic Cuban chocolate. Following my graduation from the university, I did just that, devoting a good portion of my six weeks in Cuba to exploring the tranquil beach town of Baracoa. The city is considered to be the center of the chocolate industry in Cuba since practically all of the country’s cacao is produced there.
It also ended up being my favorite city on the whole island, and I’m going to tell you why you should consider making it your favorite, too. That is, if you want to find out all there is to know about the cultivation and production of Cuban chocolate on the island itself.
Cuban Cacao Pilgrimage to Baracoa
I went all the way to Baracoa in order to bring back as many chocolate-based candies and snacks from Cuba as I possibly could. There is still part of my stockpile of Cuban chocolate left, despite the fact that I have already consumed half of it due to stress eating and eating it all. I already can’t wait to go back to the east coast of Cuba at the height of harvest some years from now to observe what, if anything, has changed in the world of Cuban cocoa. I can’t wait to go back to the east coast of Cuba.
The first two full days that I spent in Baracoa were devoted entirely to searching for the desserts that were described before, and I do not regret how I used that time.
Even while none of our experiences at the Cuban restaurant we visited for the first time in this town were particularly memorable, the restaurant’s decor included cacao pods, and we had a few chocolate-based sweets made in Cuba. The fact that the restaurant’s interior was themed after the sea was only fortuitous and had nothing to do with the establishment’s overall design was the most amazing aspect of the establishment. Cacao farming was one of the first agricultural endeavors in this, the first city in Cuba, therefore the tradition of cacao production is deeply ingrained in the people of Baracao.
Cuban Chocolate Tasting
We were very unimpressed with the exhibits and the little museum at the Casa del Cacao when we visited it on one of the first days of our trip in the city of Baracoa proper. Consequently, throughout the course of our week in Cuba, we went to three separate cacao estates and sampled six distinct kinds of Cuban chocolate. Even while several of the chocolates from Cuba were tasty, none of them stood out as exceptionally exceptional.
However, given the primitive processing equipment that is accessible on the tiny farms that are located outside of the city, I am not surprised to see that the quality is so poor. However, it makes me hopeful about the future of cacao in the nation, particularly as the impending reforms begin to take effect and as our understanding of the processing of cacao continues to advance. During the course of the tour, we visited three different cacao plantations and discovered that Cuba cultivates a wide variety of chocolate varieties. This implies that every single bar of Cuban chocolate, regardless of whether it was created on or outside the island, has the potential to have its own unique flavor.
Cacao research is given enough attention in the form of whole departments at several agricultural institutes around the nation. Therefore, when technical advancements from the outside world become accessible on the island, I foresee significant adjustments in the future towards the production of chocolate that is more consistent and of higher quality in Cuba. But for the time being, all I can say is that I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to see the existing process of producing chocolate in Cuba, before it was significantly altered by other factors.
Finding Cuban Chocolate
The picture that you see above is the traditional kind of chocolate that is produced in Baracoa and sold all around the city. The majority of persons we asked put the price at one CUC. Because it contains PGPR, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about giving it a try; if they’re going to substitute their cocoa butter with anything else, then it’s probably not worth my time to test it out. Because we were interested in purchasing chocolate made by locals on their own farms, we went out of our way to locate such producers.
We decided to ride our bikes the short distance from the city to the plantation, which is just a few kilometers. You’ll see the chocolate factory that was established in Che Guevara’s honor just a little bit before you get to the Sendero. This is the location of the chocolate factory in Cuba. Due to the fact that it is operated entirely by the government, tours are not available (surprise surprise). In other words, it’s nothing more than a lovely picture op, which is what Cuba has grown renowned for.
El Sendero: The Heart of Cuban Chocolate
Finally, at midday, we arrived to El Sendero, where we were greeted by an official government tour group, which had, of course, been given priority when it came to hiring a guide. Because we were still required to pay the entrance fee of $2 CUC per person, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to educate the friend who is traveling with me about the cultivation of cacao beans and the transformation of cacao into chocolate. This is a subject that I am particularly knowledgeable about because I spent three months working on a cacao plantation in Ecuador. It seems that we came around a month or two before the subsequent harvest of the year, which explains why there were not as many trees. Cacao plants, to everyone’s good fortune, produce fruit continuously throughout the year.
In the image to the right, you can see balls of pure cacao paste beside a grater that is used to get a fine powder. This powder is then combined with milk to make the regional variation of hot chocolate. That little cottage had the most incredible aroma. The cocoa butter is contained in the smaller jar to its left.
After we had concluded our self-guided tour of the vegetation, signage, and buildings of the finca, the manager of the plantation took the time to answer all of my numerous questions about the different species and provided a broad summary in Spanish of how everything is processed in Cuba. To ensure that you make the most of your stay at this location and get the most out of your visit, it is essential that you have at least a basic understanding of Spanish, have access to a translator, or have a friend with you who is fluent in Spanish.
The last thing that was served to each of us was a free cup of chorote, which is a traditional chocolate drink made from ground cacao and coconut milk that is produced locally. Rumbumba is the nighttime version of chorote, and the main difference between the two drinks is that rumbumba contains local rum. We took a little jar of unprocessed cacao butter and a ball of cacao paste with us before we left so that we could prepare some hot chocolate. Later on, we came saw both of them being offered for sale in a different location. I am going to guess that the majority of the items offered are created locally, most likely in the only chocolate factory in the nation.
Local Chocolate in Cuba
The second plantation that we visited on that day was Rancho Toa, which we visited as part of the Ten Dollar Tour that we designed and ran the following day. The Sendero was a pleasant way to begin our journey, but the trip to Yumur village, an official government excursion, provided us with a far more comprehensive perspective, and I enthusiastically and totally recommend it. Despite the fact that she had a nail go through her foot the day before, our tour guide, Indira, spoke English, French, and German quite well and was really pleasant to be around. I can assure you that the Cuban people have a high level of resilience.
Our tiny tour group of three visited a local cacao plantation on the other side of Baracoa, and she explained to us the process of raising cacao trees, and then showed us the step-by-step of how this local farmer makes real Cuban chocolate from her cacao beans. We also saw and tasted fresh cacao from the farm, still one of my favorite flavors ever.
It was delicious chocolate, the best I had in Cuba, and had only cinnamon and local honey added for flavor. I bought a couple of gifts from the mustachioed owner as I sipped on the exceeding sweet Cuban-style mocha, explaining to our wide-eyed guide that I was already planning on bringing back a ridiculous amount of Cuban chocolate. So it was fine that I continued counting out the tiny bars of chocolate and adding them to the large plastic bag filling at my side. It’s part of my budget, I explained to her, and showed her the cacao pods tattooed on my hip.
Both women were very knowledgeable about Cuban chocolate and the local cacao industry, as I’ve come to expect most of the Cubans I run into to be. Most of the guides they have working the government tours can answer any question about their city or find someone who can. In Baracoa, I learned more about Cuban command-economy cacao production as well as the dearth of and yearning for information about the outside world and the processes there.
Indira taught us about Cuba’s way of doing things, while I told her about how it was different from what I had experienced in Ecuador and Guatemala. It’s amazing to tell people about a world they’ve largely only heard about. I can still pictu
Our small tour group of three people went to a local cacao plantation on the opposite side of Baracoa. The owner of the plantation gave us a detailed explanation of how cacao trees are grown and then demonstrated us, step by step, how a local farmer manufactures authentic Cuban chocolate from her cacao beans. Additionally, we got to see and taste fresh cacao straight from the farm, which is still one of my all-time favorite tastes.
Cinnamon and honey from the area were the only flavorings added to the chocolate, but it was still quite tasty and the best I tasted in Cuba. I explained to our guide, who was looking at me with wide eyes, that I was already planned on bringing back an absurd quantity of Cuban chocolate, and I purchased a few of presents from the mustachioed owner while I was sipping on the very sweet mocha prepared in the Cuban way. Therefore, it was appropriate for me to proceed with the counting out of the little chocolate bars and adding them to the huge plastic bag that I was filling up at my side. I told her that it was a part of my budget, and I showed her the cocoa pods that were tattooed on my hip as evidence.
Both of the ladies were highly knowledgable about the local cacao business as well as Cuban chocolate, which is something that I have come to anticipate the majority of Cubans that I come into contact with to be. The majority of the tour guides that they employ to provide government tours are able to provide an answer to any query about their city or know where to locate someone who can. In Baracoa, I gained a deeper understanding of the Cuban command economy’s role in the production of cocoa, as well as the country’s desperate need for knowledge about the workings of the outside world and its institutions.
Indira shared with us Cuba’s method of doing things, and I explained to her how it was different from the ways things were done in Ecuador and Guatemala, where I had previously lived and traveled. It is an incredible experience to inform people about a world about which they have mostly only heard. I can still remember her happy smile and her hands as she held out the bowl of fresh cacao and made an offering gesture toward the fragrant flowery seeds.
re her smiling face, and her hands, holding out the bowl of fresh cacao and gesturing to the sweet floral seeds in offering.
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Which location do you most look forward to exploring first? Have you ever ever upon chocolate in any unusual places?