Mesoamericans called it food of the gods. From central Mexico down to Honduras, where the cacao tree grows native, ancient Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs would gather the oblong fruit and break open its pod to reveal the sweet, gummy white bubbles of pulp. The pulp was delicious, but it was the cacao seeds at the center that they were after: Small, bitter brown beans that they would roast, grind and make into a drink that would have an effect not unlike coffee thanks to trace amounts of caffeine and theobromine.
“They would feel this uplift, almost a high,” says chocolatier Tyler Shane (tylershanechocolates.com). “It brought them closer to the divine.”
Shane, a culinary school graduate who worked at Christopher Elbow, produces chocolate in the European style: beautiful bonbons in flavors like chipotle-apricot and dulce de leche, some painted with Frida Kahlo’s likeness, and thick bars made with mole spices or maíz and lime. Her creations are an homage both to her own heritage (her father is Latino) and the origins of chocolate.
“Cacao is beyond chocolate,” Shane says. “Cacao holds histories and rituals and ceremonies—that’s where it all started. I want to pay tribute to that tradition.”