Nicaragua has a long history of cocoa consumption, so what better way to celebrate the local culture than to go on a chocolate making course? It is very important to be a polite and considerate visitor after all.
The museum in Granada is very small being just a couple of rooms with lots of information and pictures on the walls, some beans and nibs you can touch and smell, and an inner courtyard with a couple of cocoa trees. You can look around for free or stop and get something at the cafe (the chocolate milk is excellent) but the area is quite thick with midges as these are kept to fertilise the trees.
The main attraction is a chocolate making course which lasts a couple of hours and is run several times a day. There are quite a few steps involved in the processing starting with the fermentation of the beans to develop their flavour, followed by drying them. This takes up to a week so the course starts with already dried beans which we took over to a stone wok for roasting over a fire.
The roasting is done at about 70 degrees C and takes 5 minutes or so, during which time the beans tend to jump around quite a bit and even out of the large wok we were using. You can tell when they are done when they start to smell all chocolatey, after which we let them cool for a few minutes before breaking the shells open by hand to extract the nibs which are already quite nice to eat.
We ground the nibs using a pestle and mortar which turns them into a thick paste called cocoa liquor which can be used directly in several drinks. We made a Mayan drink using water and cinnamon, and an Aztec drink with added vanilla and chilli which was churned until it was frothy. Finally we made a Spanish drink which is like the Aztec drink but uses milk instead of water. These were all quite delicious.
To make chocolate bars the liquor is refined (further ground) and then churned for 10 hours with sugar, before being tempered to give it a nice shine when it sets. That would have been a long wait so we took some pre-churned chocolate and added some ingredients before pouring it into molds. I added chili powder and Helen chose almond flakes. That marked the end of the course, and we were asked to come back a couple of hours later to pick up the bars once they had set in the fridge.
We had a lot of fun making the drinks and working with the cocoa, well worth doing if you ever get the chance.