Latin American tour August 2008 – Day 7 – Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

After enjoying Antigua for far too short a time, and a quick goodbye to Emily Stone in the morning, Edgar Chávez picked up Lourdes, Kate, Tom and I to take us to Quetzaltenango, another well known centre of artisanal chocolate production, where Edgar has his own family run chocolate factory, Chocolate Imperial. After about a three hour drive through impressive scenery and a lot of hill climbing, we arrived at the factory and family home where we were given a warm welcome and lunch.

Edgar’s extended family and workers were decked out in traditional costume, and after lunch served us hot chocolate and bread. About then we were joined by a TV camera crew, filming Chocolate Imperial and our visit for national TV, to be broadcast later that day. So with our filming and photography the visit turned into a bit of a paparazzi session.

After hot chocolate, we were given a demo of the traditional method of chocolate making, using a metate. Though no longer used for actual chocolate production, Edgar keeps the stone on to give visitors like us an idea of the ‘real thing’. I managed to have a go myself, which was fun and the cause of much amusement. So I asked the next logical question – can I have one? It turns out that as metates are now little used, people were giving them away. Edgar promised to see what he could do.

The TV company left and we moved on to watch the factory in action, which is centred around two grinding machines reducing roasted and hand peeled cacao into liquor. After the first few times through the machine, sugar is added – about three to one, sugar to cacao.

When the liquor mix has reached the right consistency, the mix is collected in a large bowl, which is upturned to empty out the soft liquor. This is cut and weighed into the right bar size chunks, then hand patted into bar moulds. Finally a vibrating table is used to remove air bubbles before the moulds are emptied and the chocolate left to set for about a day. Being liquor rather than liquid, conched chocolate, there’s no need to let the bars set in the moulds before they’re removed.

Our Chocolate Imperial visit was a very memorable, beautiful experience, which will stay in the memory for a long time. At the end we all exchanged goodbyes and chocolate gifts, then Edgar took us back to our hotel.

We must have had too good a time that day, because the hotel was like a prison. Actually, it really was a prison, converted into a hotel. Still felt rather like a gaol though – my room had no windows and was rather headache-forming. Glad to leave the next morning.

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