“In your wildest dreams you could not imagine that such things could happen to you! Just wait and see!”

– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

By: Victoria

A Bumpy Start

On our first afternoon in Nicaragua, my son bashed his head in the pool. He had to have a couple of stitches and wasn’t allowed to get his head wet for a week. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great start to our holiday! Not only had we planned to go surfing in Popoyo but all the hotels we stayed in during our time in Nicaragua came with beautiful swimming pools. It was a bitter pill to swallow for a seven-year old!  As we drove back to our hotel from Granada’s little hospital, I asked our driver, Pablo if we could stop somewhere to buy him an ice cream or chocolate bar – a treat I had promised him as he was getting his forehead stitched up. Pablo suggested the Choco Museo, a South American chain of chocolate houses we had also found in Peru.

Nicaragua with Kids: The Choco Museo, Granada,

Getting a post-hospital treat in The Choco Museo, Granada

The Choco Museo

Housed within the boutique hotel, Mansion de Chocolate (Granada’s largest intact colonial mansion), our visit to the Choco Museo proved to be an effective antidote to a traumatic afternoon! Although Nicaragua has been growing cacao for centuries, it is only now that it is emerging as a world-class cocoa producer. The aim of the museum is to inform visitors about the history and production of chocolate. It also contains a small café and gift shop.

We kept our post-injury visit short and blissfully sweet but decided to return again on our last afternoon. This time for the ultimate endorphin fix, the ‘Cacao Bean to Chocolate Bar’ workshop!

The Cacao Bean to Chocolate Bar Workshop

At first, I was reluctant to sign the kids up. The workshop – a delectable class that combines the history of cacao with hands-on chocolate making fun – runs for 1.5 to 2 hours. I wasn’t sure if it would hold their attention for that long. But thanks to the animated workshop leader, Ismael (Choco Museo’s answer to Willy Wonka!), it exceeded all expectations.

Take a video tour of the Choco Museo workshop

 

 

Stage 1: The Cacao Tree & Roasting the Beans

After a brief introduction to the cacao tree, Ismael kicked things off by performing a tribal dance around the fire on which the cacao beans roasted. Presumably a nod to the Mayans and Aztecs who were the first people to discover the secrets of cacao. (Watch the video above for a demo!)

“The cacao bean’, Mr Wonka continued, ‘which grows on the cacao tree, happens to be the thing from which all chocolate is made. You cannot make chocolate without the cacao bean. The cacao bean is chocolate. I myself use billions of cacao beans every week in this factory.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

 

Nicaragua with kids: Choco Museo, Granada: An introduction to the cacao tree.

Choco Museo: An introduction to the cacao tree.

 

Stage 2: Winnowing, Grinding & Making Chocolate Drinks

Following the roasting of the beans, Ishmael took the class through the next steps: winnowing the beans and grinding the ‘nibs’. At this stage, the aim is to produce a thick paste called cacao liquor.

With this paste they made and compared various chocolate drinks, using Mayan, Aztec and Spanish recipes. Part of the fun was guessing which ingredients Ishmael had added to his various samples. At one point I had to make a dash to the in-house café to get them both water after they identified one of the mystery spices as hot spicy chilli pepper!

“Something crazy is going to happen now, Charlie thought. But he wasn’t frightened. He wasn’t even nervous. He was just terrifically excited.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

 

Choco Museo: Winnowing the roasted beans. Nicaragua with kids

Choco Museo: Winnowing the roasted beans

Choco Museo: Grinding the nibs. Granada. Nicaragua with Kids

Choco Museo: Grinding the nibs

 

Stage 3: The Chocolate Bar

The final stage of the chocolate making process is ‘conching’. This step, which further refines the paste, is done by machine. The smooth, glossy chocolate it churns out had us all itching to stick our fingers in it. After adding some optional ingredients to the mix (in our case, almonds and marshmallows) the children poured the paste into a mould. The most challenging step lay ahead of us. We had to wait for the bars to set!

“All the most wonderful smells in the world seemed to be mixed up in the air around them – the smell of roasting coffee and burnt sugar and melting chocolate and mint and violets and crushed hazelnuts and apple blossom and caramel and lemon peel …”

Charlie in the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

 

Choco Museo: Making a chocolate bar. Granada. Nicaragua with Kids

Choco Museo: Making a chocolate bar

 

Stage 4: Chocolate Consumption!

Choco Museo, Granada. Nicaragua with kids: Discovering that chocolate tastes even better if you've made it yourself!

Discovering that chocolate tastes even better if you’ve made it yourself!

All good things come to those who wait and I can honestly say that what they made was delicious!

 

 

A Bit of History! 

For my children, signing up to this workshop was in many ways like winning the fifth Golden Ticket to Wonka’s chocolate factory. On a darker note though, this popular children’s book also reflects a troubled period in Nicaragua’s history of chocolate production. After the European colonists arrived, production took a dramatic turn. When disease and mistreatment wiped out an estimated 90% of the Indian population, African slaves were brought over to strengthen the work force. In Dahl’s first edition of his book, the Oompa Loompas were a tribe of African pygmies. Dahl never intended for his depiction to be racist but sympathised with his critics and revised the book accordingly.

“Look here,” I said (speaking not in English, of course, but in Oompa-Loompish), “look here, if you and all your people will come back to my country and live in my factory, you can have all the cacao beans you want! I’ve got mountains of them in my storehouses! You can have cacao beans for every meal! You can gorge yourselves silly on them! I’ll even pay your wages in cacao beans if you wish!”

Willy Wonka, Charlie in the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

 

Reading inspiration!

 

Step Aside, Switzerland! 

Prior to our Choco Museo visit, I always associated the best chocolate producers in the world with the likes of Belgium, France and Switzerland. (Ironically, not Spain who initially had the head start!) Another aim of the Choco Museo is to turn this global spotlight onto some of their cacao suppliers, such as those in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Nicaragua. And going on what my kids produced, I’d say that the likes of Godiva and friends may want to watch their backs!

 

The Bean to Bar Workshop: What you Need to Know

Rates

  • Adults USD 21
  • Children under 12 are USD 12.
  • Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. The accompanying adult also has to pay the full rate regardless of whether they participate in the workshop or sit on the sidelines.

 

Other chocolate tours: 

  • The Choco Museo also offer a full day Cacao Farm Tour. This includes a boat tour of Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua (dropping off at La Calera dock), followed by a horse ride from the dock to the cacao plantations, lunch, a swim in a natural pool, a horse ride through tropical forest to thermal pools and another dip before returning by boat to the marina at Granada.
  • Rates. Up to 3 participants: USD 89 per person. 4 participants or more: USD 75 per person.

 

Website: Choco Museo Website

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Nicaragua with Kids: The Choco Museo bean-to-bar chocolate workshop, Granada

 

To view all our blog posts in the Nicaragua with Kids series see our Family Guide to Nicaragua. 

Nicaragua family guide

 

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