In Mexico, chocolate is both a legacy and an everyday indulgence

To understand Mexico’s chocolate tradition is to walk through its culture.

The Philippines and Mexico share a rich history in cacao and chocolate. As a chocolate enthusiast, this was one of the main reasons why I was looking forward to traveling to Mexico City for the first time.

I was hoping to learn more about the history and origin of cacao. To do that I needed go to where it all began. Delving deeper into the history of chocolate, I found a fascinating connection that spans oceans and centuries.

Chocolate holds a significant place in the daily life of Mexicans. It is used in a variety of dishes and sauces. Perhaps the most famous, Mole Poblano is a complex sauce made with chocolate, chilies, and other ingredients. Chocolate is also used in desserts like flan, churros, and chocolate tamales. A chicken dish, for instance, might use dark chocolate.

Chocolate and cinnamon sticks from Oaxaca, Mexico

Another variety of mole is Mole Coloradito. Like Mole Poblao, it uses a blend of chilies, spices, and other ingredients, but is distinguished by its reddish color  from the addition of tomatoes and ancho chilies.

Then there’s Chocolate Tamales, which is made with masa (corn dough) with savory or sweet fillings mixed with cocoa powder. On the streets of Mexico, you can buy one of its most popular snacks, Tacos al Pastor with Chocolate, which is a modern variation of tamales for added depth of flavor.

Mexico City, Mexico. Photos by Treena Tecson

The Mesoamerican history of chocolate (a region in the southern part of North America extending to the Pacific coast of Central America) dates back to the time of the Olmecs, an ancient high civilization (1200 BC and 300 BC) that existed prior to the Mayans and Aztecs.

In 1521, the Spanish conquistadores brought cacao and the tradition of drinking chocolate to Spain where it quickly became the beverage of choice among the elite.

Cacao found its way to the Philippines in 1670 via the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. The Philippines was one the of the first countries in Asia to grow cacao and it was believed to be the Criollo cacao varietal that was cultivated at the time. As a colony of Spain, the Philippines harvested cacao and consumed the chocolate beverage we commonly refer to as tableya.

Chocolate hopping

Mucho, Chocolate Museum

Today, Mexico City has a vibrant chocolate scene showcasing tradition and innovation. My chocolate journey began with a visit to Mucho, Chocolate Museum, a boutique museum in Colonia Juarez that celebrates Mexican chocolate with historical artifacts, a sensory exhibit of aromas, a collection of molinillos, packaging materials, antique production molds and a room literally filled with Mexican chocolate discs.

The chocolate room was my favorite section because I was literally surrounded by the sights and  smells of chocolate. After the tour, I purchased some award-winning single origin craft chocolate bars including ones inspired by Mole (a savory Mexican sauce made with chiles, spices and nuts) and Tejate (a corn and cacao beverage), as well as Chocolate con Pinole (cacao powder made from fermented Criollo cacao beans of Chiapas blended with toasted corn and cinnamon).

Next stop, Que Bo! by Chef and Master Chocolatier JoséRa Castillo, who combines traditional Mexican flavors with innovative techniques, resulting in visually stunning chocolate bars, bonbons, truffles, macarons and indulgent chocolate beverages.

At Que Bo, each creation is made with cacao that’s locally sourced from independent farms. I purchased craft chocolate bars and tasted some interesting bonbon flavors such as guava, passion fruit and pepper, banana, lavender, tamarind and mango. Que Bo means “how good” in the Catalan language.

Dichoso (or Happy) Cacao was on my list because they have a curated selection of craft chocolate bars from cacao producing regions in the Southern part of Mexico. The shop also offers hot chocolate, coffee, mole spice mixes, botanicals, molinillos and more.

The staff at Dichoso was helpful and knowledgeable about the chocolate brands they carry and can help you find the right one. In my case, I was looking for some unique single origin and Criollo bars. The brands that caught my attention were Hecho, Anima, Mama Pacha and Metiche.

La Rifa

At La Rifa, I was fortunate to meet one of the co-founders, Monica Lozano, who was kind enough to give me a tour of their bean to bar production and, of course, we both geeked out on cacao and chocolate. La Rifa means “the raffle” or “the lottery” and true enough, they had a winning selection of Mexican craft chocolate bars, drinks and desserts. They work with cacao farmers and families in the Southern part of Mexico  (Chiapas and Tabasco) and advocate traceability, agroforestry conservation and biodiversity.

La Rifa produces chocolate bars that capture the essence of Mexico’s terroir. With flavors ranging from nutty and earthy to fruity and floral, each bar is a testament to the authenticity and simplicity of two ingredient (cacao and Piloncillo) single origin craft chocolate bars.  

This is the first shop I have been to that offers fermented cacao and unfermented washed or “lavado” cacao as options on the menu for drinking chocolate which is apparently common in Mexico since the fermentation process was only introduced in the 1960s.

The shop also prides itself in providing specifics about origin, harvest, drying and fermentation. They use Piloncillo or raw cane sugar which is common in Mexican cooking. This type of sugar is unrefined with a brown hue and deeper flavor similar to molasses. Also known as panocha an ingredient that is also widely used in the Philippines.

Chocolate beverages

In addition to exploring chocolate shops, I tasted a variety of chocolate beverages. From the traditional hot chocolate with hints of cinnamon and cardamom to Tejate, a Oaxacan drink made with corn, cacao, mamey sapote seeds and rosita de cacao, and the popular Champurrado, a warm, thick and comforting drink made by combining corn masa with cacao mass, milk, cinnamon and piloncillo (raw cane sugar), often served for breakfast.

We share a similar version in the Philippines known as champorado, made with glutinous rice instead of corn masa, cooked with cacao, milk and sugar and served for breakfast or as an afternoon treat.

As this was my first trip to Mexico, I know that I have only begun to explore Mexican culture and heritage particularly in relation to cacao and chocolate. This journey allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for shared traditions, flavors and stories where the past meets the present and inspires the future. Looking forward to where my travels will lead me.

The new lifestyle.