Cacao Santa Fe – Chocolate Art & Culture

At Cacao Santa Fe Chocolate Factory and Coffee House, light is being shed on the art and culture of chocolate — from bean to bar, (or elixir) — and many other tasty creations. Immersive experiences are something we all want more of these days, and losing oneself for a couple of hours in the aromatic culinary world of authentic, hand-crafted chocolate is one I’m up for…any time!!

I spent a fun two hours with Cacao Santa Fe’s co-owner Melanie Boudar, in her Food of the Gods Workshop, sipping a delicious elixir and learning fascinating facts about the complex journey of cacao and the careful alchemy this creative process entails. I now see chocolate from a whole new perspective. It’s a minor miracle this stuff ever evolved from the tough-shelled, curiously large, and colorful pods into the delicacy many of us crave.

Cacao trees and pods in Hawaii.

The name of the substance in chocolate we know as “Theobromine” originated in ancient Greece from the words “theo” meaning god, and “broma” meaning food. And we all know that its wondrous “feel good” effects are simply darn good for the soul!

Inside a cacao pod there’s a fibrous fruit, the bean is within the fruit.

Melanie Boudar is an award-winning chocolatier. She traveled extensively in Latin America, working on cacao farms cultivating and harvesting the beans. She learned first-hand about the origins of chocolate, the sensitive balance required for the ideal growing environment, its chemistry and highly important fermentation process.

“I love the ‘culture’ of chocolate,” she said, “the international friendships I’ve made, along with it being a happy business. We are farm to table so the variety of tasks keeps it fresh… Chocolate is finicky, it does not behave the same on any given day, given temperature and humidity. It requires a lot of patience to ‘read’ and work with chocolate, especially tempering it. I love that I can read chocolate and bring out its best.”

The Tasting Wheel and Workshop Set Up at Cacao Santa Fe

Like a fine wine, chocolate offers many varieties of flavor, aromas, textures, and subtle back notes, which are influenced by the culture of its region of origin. In the workshop, you’ll take a “flight” around the Tasting Wheel that includes such exotic locales as Ecuador, Hawaii, Madagascar, and even Vietnam, and back home to delicious Santa Fe. You’ll see, smell and taste the creation of a delicious elixir made fresh just for you. And you’ll understand chocolate on a level you couldn’t have imagined.

Raw Cacao Beans ready for grinding into nibs.

The raw beans are ground up, and the lightweight shells removed, leaving shiny, dark nibs. The nibs are then ground again into something resembling pasta.

After the nibs are ground, they look like pasta.

After tasting a freshly-made elixir, I can understand why this little treasure was considered currency in some historic cultures, and it is said that it was once instrumental in preventing a battle on our own New Mexican soil. It seems the food of the gods calmed the savage beast.

After grinding the chocolate from pasta to powder, Melanie made a deliciously seasoned elixir.

“I enjoy making the different elixirs from our Hawaiian ingredients,” says Melanie, “It’s like any good chef finding the perfect marriage and proportion of ingredients.”

Today’s giant brand-name chocolate factories fill their bars with so many additives that the original goodness has been far removed from the sugary candy that has reigned for many decades. I admit I’ve been a chocoholic my entire life, but my exposure to the real deal has me appreciating the intricate process and world culture that puts the authentic works of art at Cacao in a class of their own.

In 2008, Melanie started her award-winning Sweet Paradise Chocolatier brand in Wailea, Maui. She creates beautiful artworks with a variety of flavor-filled truffles and chocolates.

A Special Valentine’s Gift Box of such yummy flavors as Ganela (a rich cinammon ganache with a caramelized milk chocolate), and Piñon Juniper to mention a few.

Melanie recently returned to New Mexico to open Cacao Santa Fe, inspired in part by the archeological discovery of chocolate in ancient pottery sherds found in the Chaco Canyon Pueblo ruins. Today she and Cacao’s co-owner, Derek Lanter, help support a group of farms that cultivate cacao trees in Maui, Belize and South America, bringing them to Santa Fe to make into delectables.

Derek Lanter has a long history of success with chocolate, and coffee also.  He ran his family’s specialty coffee business in Berkeley, California, and later managed an award-winning Waialua Estate Chocolate and Coffee company that flourished under his care. One of his many roles at Cacao Santa Fe includes bringing his coffee expertise to his creations of fine single origin coffees “for discerning palates.”

A Selection of Specialty Coffees available at Cacao Santa Fe.

Chocolate’s history is extensive and fascinating, and there’s no one better to tell you about it than native New Mexican Mark Sciscenti, who joined the Cacao team in 2016.

Mark is well known in Santa Fe as a chocolate historian, artisan chocolatier, and pastry chef. His passion for chocolate inspired his founding of Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe in 2005. Mark left Kakawa in 2009. His passion for chocolate remains pure and strong as he offers Chocolate History Classes at Cacao. Mark makes more complex elixirs based on historical drinks using various chiles, fruits and spices from around the world. He also makes many of the special pastry creations available in the Cacao coffee house, such as the dark and delicious flourless torte that held me captive for a while.

There’s a careful alchemy involved in the making of world-class chocolate, and the team at Cacao Santa Fe has the gift. They bring unique flavor combinations and artistic creations to the taste buds that linger in memory. One of my current favorites is Hibiscus with Lime and Prickly Pear. Its smooth texture accompanied by a tangy citrus sparkle on the tongue is definitely one I’ve not encountered before, but one I keep going back for.

Beans that made the cut all the way to these delicious bars.

The farm to table, organic process of chocolate from bean to bar is grabbing the attention of foodies and taste adventurers around the world. I recommend you make your next adventure a fun one that stimulates the taste buds and feeds the soul at Cacao Santa Fe Chocolate Factory & Coffee Shop. The shop is filled with a wide variety of goodies for sale, the coffee shop always has delicious elixirs, desserts, coffees and more. They offer a number of workshops, tours, and tastings for groups and individuals. The pricing is approximately $35 – $59 per person (depending on the class), with discounts for seniors and children 8 – 12 years-old. You can find their schedule here and book through this link.

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For more information on Santa Fe, where to stay, and things to do, go to: Travel Guide & Concierge.