Rescuing Chocolate: How Cacao in Mexico is Being Reborn
In the state of Tabasco, Mexico, biologist Alma Rosa Garcés Medina is leading a bean-to-bar cacao revival.
The lush plains of Chontalpa, a region in the state of Tabasco on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, are known for the production of cacao, the seed that becomes cocoa and chocolate. “Cacao par excellence,” stresses conservationist and artisan-chocolate maker Alma Rosa Garcés Medina. The effusive 59-year-old biologist has been working with cacao farmers in Tabasco since 1990.
Cacao was first consumed in modern-day Mexico roughly 3,000 years ago by the Olmecs, the forerunners of all Mesoamerican cultures. They fermented, roasted, and ground the seeds into a paste for a cacao version of atole, a corn-based beverage that is still made throughout Mexico today. Yet despite this long history, sustaining the crop has been a challenge. In 2007, months of rain flooded Tabasco. Farmers were unable to harvest their cacao; many abandoned their fields for good. Garcés Medina was among those who stayed. She helped to establish the Chontalpa Cocoa Presidium, which supports farmers who use traditional techniques to grow Criollo cacao, a local variety. Producers now are able to sell directly to chocolate makers, such as Italy’s Guido Gobino, who prize the cacao for its rich mouthfeel and tangy fruitiness. These connections not only improve livelihoods—they also instill a sense of pride. Especially for Garcés Medina. “I found cocoa,” she says, “and cocoa found me.”
Where to get Chontalpa chocolate
Visit: Chocolate Maya (52-55-2842-9234) in Mexico City.
Order: Guido Gobino Chontalpa chocolates at chocosphere.com.