Brett & Rob, ChocXO's in-house cocoa hunters, took a trip to southern Mexico in February to source beans and learn about the birthplace of chocolate. Before we learn about the trip itself, let's learn a little bit about the United Mexican States. Similar to the United States, Mexico is a federal republic made up of thirty-one states and one federal district. (We have a federal district too! Washington, D.C.). Cacao grows primarily in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, so that's where Brett and Rob went. The majority of the trip was spent in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. According to Lonely Planet, San Cristóbal is surrounded by dozens of traditional Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages and at the heart of one of the most deeply rooted indigenous areas in Mexico. Despite that, and maybe because of it, San Cristobal is also a big tourist destination.
Now onto the trip (as told by Brett and transcribed by Sasha).
Both Rob and I fly out in the morning, but from two separate locations (I fly out of California and Rob flies out of Vancouver). We meet up in the Panama Airport for our connecting flight to Tuxtla, Mexico. It is a long grueling day of travel and we arrive late that evening. We are greeted at the airport by our guide and translator for this trip, Gerardo. We got in touch with him thanks to our boss and fearless leader, Richard Foley. The two of them worked together years ago to help bring Tabasco beans into the United States. We hope he can help us do the same this trip. Gerardo has rented a car and drives us the two hours from Tuxtla to San Cristobal.
We are exhausted when we check into the hotel, but we are also very, very hungry. The three of us head into the street to find grub. We wander into a hole-in-the-wall taco shop, and start to order. We get classics like carne asada (steak), along with lengua (tongue), tripas (small intestine), and ubre (udder). We really want to experience the birthplace of chocolate and that means taking risks. Truth is, all of the food was delicious and the perfect way to end the day.
Full, and happy, and even more exhausted, we return to the hotel and collapse in our shared room, ready to start a new day.
I wake up excited. Rob wakes up hungry. Today is the day we get our hands on some Tabasco cacao beans-- the incentive behind this entire trip. Gerardo takes us to meet Hernan. Who is Hernan? Let's just say that Hernan has his hands in every part of San Cristobal. He owns distilleries, cacao plantations, a jade museum, a shop in town, and a travel business. He is a certified Mayan priest. If you need something, he is the guy to help you get it.
We meet up with Hernan for breakfast at a small local joint that he owns. In fact, this is where we get our first taste of cacao nativo (a hot drink made of cacao & sugar) and pozol (a cold drink made of cacao & masa). The drinks are amazing and absolutely unique to our palates. Yet, this is as common to drink in Chiapas as an iced coffee in Orange County. Hernan teaches us the traditional way to drink these drinks, explaining the history and the purpose behind the cups.
The trip is going great so far. We have experienced so many new things in the first 12 hours, and we can't wait to translate it into chocolate. Rob gets down to business and starts talk beans (with Gerardo's assistance in translating). When will we try the Tabasco beans, how long will it take to export them, and how soon can we see the plantation? Blame it on translation issues, but takes us halfway through breakfast to hear the truth:
"Oh, I sold all the Tabasco beans."