Explore the Ancient Origins of our Premium Cacao

Tabasco - it’s not just about sauce! Our delicious cacao comes from a single origin - the historic hacienda Jesús María in Comalcalco, in the state of Tabasco on Mexico’s Gulf coast. Let us take you on an exploration of this fascinating region to discover when, how and why it became the world's tropical origin of richly flavored, premium quality cacao and chocolate.

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Explore the Ancient Origins of our Premium Cacao

Archaeologist, Explorer, Cacao Connoisseur

The renowned Danish explorer and archaeologist, Frans Blom, led the first Tulane expedition over more than 1200 miles of mountains and unexplored rainforests in southern Mexico and Guatemala. The six-month expedition, which passed through Tabasco, home to the ancient Maya and the previously unknown Olmec civilization, was one of Frans Blom’s greatest triumphs as a researcher and explorer. (Image courtesy of the Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University)​

“Never will we forget the delicious cup of steaming, foaming chocolate that our hostess put before us- not chocolate or cocoa such as we get at home…but a beverage made from the freshly roasted bean. No one knows how good chocolate is until he has tasted it at Comalcalco.” Frans Blom, 1925

Comalcalco was the first Maya city explored by Blom on the expedition, and Blom was the first to excavate the city, unique amongst Maya cities because it was built of clay bricks, rather than the ubiquitous limestone. Late in the afternoon on the last day, Blom stumbled upon the remains of a great burial chamber, complete with nine sensational stucco figures on the wall. This find cemented Blom’s professional reputation as a pioneer in the field of Maya studies and pointed to the regional importance of Comalcalco, as a thriving center of cacao and pottery production from the 6th to the 11th centuries.

Shortly after making this discovery, Blom tasted and savored cacao from Comalcalco, served, as it had been for millennia, as a delicious drink with a rich foam on top.

For over 3000 years, luxurious, high quality cacao has been produced in Tabasco.

The Cradle of Mesoamerican Civilization

According to linguists, the word “cacao” or “kakawa” comes from the Mixe-Zoque language of the Olmecs, Mesoamerica’s “mother civilization”, who first domesticated the cacao plant in the Tabasco region of Mexico’s Gulf coast around 1000BC. The Maya took on the word “kakawa” from the Olmecs in the period 400BC-100AD, from whom they also learned about cacao cultivation and processing.

The Maya had a specific hieroglyph for cacao or “kakawa”, represented by a fish. The word for “fish” was pronounced “ka” in classic Maya. The sound was doubled in the hieroglyph to represent the sound “kakawa”.

The Maya Lords of Chocolate

Cacao came to represent wealth, power and rulership in Maya society and culture, which flourished in the lush tropical lowlands of southern Mexico and Guatemala in period 250-900 AD. It was the Maya who first developed cacao into a key element of courtly life, feasting, and ritual display, as well as a highly valued gastronomic commodity. It was prepared in a vast array of drinks and gruels, mixed with maize, flavored, for example, with flowers, honey, vanilla, chile, zapote seeds, achiote paste, and allspice (Pimenta dioica), and served in exquisite ceramics, inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for cacao. The foam which was produced by adding foaming agents and pouring cacao from a height during its preparation, was considered the most desirable part.

The Aztecs imbibed cacao as a cold aromatic beverage – in contrast to the Maya who drank it hot.

From the Maya to the Aztecs

Following the collapse of classical Maya civilization around 900 AD, the Chontal Maya of eastern Tabasco developed a canoe-born trading empire based on the production and sale of cacao, which extended from the cool highlands of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico to the Gulf of Honduras. They supplied cacao to the Mexica also known as the Aztecs, who rose to power in the Valley of Mexico in the 14th century. Cacao came to have enormous economic, gastronomic and symbolic significance in Aztec society. But, strict sumptuary laws made cacao consumption the exclusive preserve of the nobility, merchant and warrior classes.

Cacao beans were used as money in the Aztec empire and millions were stored in the royal treasury.

The Spanish Encounter

The Spanish first encountered cacao in the Gulf of Honduras in 1502, when they captured a Maya trading canoe, most likely belonging to the Chontal Maya of Tabasco. But they did not know how it was used. So, it was not until they entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) in 1519 that they learned about the taste and value of cacao, and became the first “chocoholics” of Europe.

The Hacienda Jesús María

The hacienda Jesús María in Comalcalco, Tabasco - next to the Maya city explored by Frans Blom in 1925 - has been in the Cacep family for five generations.

In such a varied natural environment the trees grow strong and healthy, and the hacienda does not use pesticides or artificial fertilizers.

Ecological Production Methods

Cacao is produced using traditional methods of silviculture. Young cacao trees live alongside other plants, including the older “mother” trees, which provide them with the shade they need to survive naturally. They also house the midge populations which exclusively pollinate the delicate five-petal flowers that grow on small cushions on the trunks. The rich ecosystem is home to iguanas, snakes, squirrels and monkeys, as well as a wide variety of trees and plants, such as mango, cinnamon, vanilla, coffee and allspice.

Ancient Origins, Modern Traditions

The ripe cacao pods, which make a characteristic sound when tapped, are harvested approximately five months after pollination and split open to reveal the fresh cacao pulp that surrounds the seeds.

During fermentation, the beans briefly germinate, later to be killed off by the high temperature.

The seeds are fermented for 5 to 7 days to remove the mucous. After fermentation, they are dried in the sun, toasted at 120-130 degrees centigrade, and the husk is removed, before the nibs are ground in to the raw “cacao paste”. This can be processed in to cacao butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate or selected for consumption as cacao nibs.

The Criollo almendra blanca variety, which is native to Tabasco, has a fruitier aroma, twenty per cent more cacao butter and fewer tannins than the more common forastero and trinitario varieties.

Superior Quality and Flavor

The hacienda combines artisanal traditions with modern knowledge to perfectly capture the rich aroma of the processed bean. Increasing the period of fermentation raises the acidity of the product; toasting for 30 minutes gives a light flavor, 45 minutes a medium roast and 60 minutes a bitterer more intense flavor. The incorporation of the Criollo almendra blanca variety of cacao, gives a softer, sweeter finished product. The hacienda Jesus Maria has managed to expand production of the Criollo variety to 30 per cent of its trees, to give a more authentic, high quality and fully rounded taste to the processed cacao, which is reflected in the complex flavour of our delicious cacao nibs and cocoa powder.