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Recovering Mexican cacao

A young Mexican entrepreneur sets to reclaim the culture of cacao in our country
La Rifa, chocolate shop – Photos: Ivan Stephens/EL UNIVERSAL
27/10/2017
18:24
EL UNIVERSAL in English/Alejandra Mendoza
Mexico City
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There is a very unassuming shop in Dinamarca 47, in the Juárez quarter in Mexico City. At a first glance, it looks like another coffee shop, but what takes place inside is anything but.

Out to greet us is a modest young man who eagerly asks us to take a sit on the lovely outdoor tables of his shop, decorated in a simple but organic fashion which creates a very earthly atmosphere.

Daniel Reza, the chef and owner of the chocolate shop La Rifa, doesn't hesitate to offer us a hot beverage, made of 100% Mexican cacao.

“Water or milk?” he asks, as he sets hands to the task and begins to melt the chocolate bars.

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Childhood flashbacks cross the mind, recalling the classic cup of hot, foamy cocoa served with a nice piece of Mexican sweet bread – no marshmallows, that is not the custom in this country.

Just to try something else, something new, we order a hot chocolate with water. Daniel smiles knowingly and says he will prepare a cup of each.

“Please, drink,” he says with a wide smile on his face, wanting us to taste the beverage while it's still hot. The first sip is enough to know this is nothing like grandma's chocolate. It's a bit bitter and acidic, and yet, it's surprisingly tasty.

“It's made from one of our most popular chocolates – 70% cacao, 30% sugar,” he says, and it is then we fully appreciate the shop is filled with chocolate bars and cacao seeds, decorated – given the season – with traditional cempasúchil flowers and skulls. All that's missing is a nice sweet bread, and Daniel is happy to oblige.

“We also bake these here,” he says, as we step further inside his shop to find racks filled with chocolate bread, cakes, biscuits and...pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

We all eye watch as Daniel slices the bread in half, separating top from bottom, and fills it with a clotted cream he himself prepared as well.

“Now, please, enjoy!” he adds cheerfully and proudly as he sets the bread and the hot chocolate with milk down for us to savor.

And what a treat it really is. The creamy filling enhances the many flavors of the pan de muerto – anise and orange blossom. The acidic nature of the cacao seeds compliments the sweetness of the bread perfectly. It is truly a fantastic experience.

Yet what amazes us the most is the passion this young man in his late twenties has for cacao.

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“The only chocolate we know is the one marketed by big-name brands, the one we can find in a supermarket, the powdered chocolate we buy to prepare hot beverages. But chocolate is much more than that.” Having savored his hot beverages, yes, we can all agree.

Daniel opened his first chocolate store in 2013, in the picturesque quarter of Coyacán, but he worked for several restaurants before that. It was throughout his formation as a chocolatier and chef that he became curious about cacao and chocolate, and decided before long to make it his life project.

“Chocolate has much more notes than wine, it's a product which has flown under the radar for a really long time, but it seems people are just beginning to notice its potential, they're beginning to look beyond creole seeds and finding there is a wide diversity which has been explored very little,” he states when discussing the cacao and chocolate scene in Mexico.

This is one of the reasons why Daniel travels often to the south of the country to meet with cacao producers from Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco.

“They were surprised when I told them I was interested in the other seeds, the ones they rarely sell,” Daniel recounts with amusement, because this is exactly what he is trying to achieve – rescue the natives cacaos of Mexico, their culture of chocolate, and through the transformation of the cacao seeds into chocolate, “transform many realities in Mexico.”

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