The Oaxacan region has over 145 different villages that all specialize in a different artisan craft. Each of these is more elaborate and stunning than the last and you can easily spend days wondering from town to town watching the women and men doing their magic in the same way they have been doing for generations . Over lunch today we stopped at Copal Magico in San Martin Tilcajete, a town known for Alebrije or small wooden figures carved in Copal wood and painted with intricate designs. Here we were able to see the process they use to create these wooden pieces but Roxana, the co-founder of Copal Magico, also taught us how to make Oaxacan Estofado from scratch which we devoured over lunch.
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After lunch Roxana took out some raw cocoa beans and showed me how to make hot chocolate the old traditional way. No one does it this way anymore because it is very time consuming and requires a huge amount of strength. She told us stories of how when they used to have weddings they would have 15 women set up with stone mutates or grinders, grinding chocolate by hand. The Wednesday before the wedding would be called chocolate day because all the women would come together to prepare the chocolate. Then every day until the wedding as they were doing preparations for the ceremony and party, they would start each day off offering friends and family hot chocolate and sweet breads. The tradition continues today but they just bring their ingredients to the mill.
We took the raw cocoa beans and put them on the comal, a traditional Mexican stove top, to roast on medium heat, strirring them constantly to make sure they roasted evenly. After we took them off the heat and let them cool we easily peeled off the outer layer of the cocoa beans leaving just the chocolate. This was placed on the stone metate along with a generous amount of very aromatic Mexican cinnamon and the work began. A flame placed under the metate keeps the surface relatively warm so the chocolate mixture stays more liquid and easier to mix. Once sufficiently mixed a handful of sugar is added and the resulting mixture is ready to be mixed in to hot water and enjoyed.
It was no surprise that the resulting hot chocolate was really nice. I enjoyed it while admiring the Alebrijes that they make at Copal Magico. They use copal wood which is also used to create the incense used in churches. Depending on the size and shape of the branch they choose to hand carve a different type of animal, it can take weeks, even months to complete some of the more elaborate pieces.
Verdict: I had originally considered buying myself a metate to try making chocolate mixes at home by hand. After seeing how much work this is I think I’ll stick with the pre ground chocolate. Great experience. Copal Magico, San Martin Tilcajete, Mexico