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The Health Benefits of Cacao: History and Science

The Health Benefits of Cacao: History and Science

Introduction

Did you know that during ancient times cacao (which is natural and unprocessed chocolate or cocoa) was believed to have various health benefits and was prescribed as a medicine to cure or prevent certain ailments and diseases? Did you also know that modern scientific studies suggest that cacao can in fact have positive health benefits? In this blog post, we survey the history of cacao as a perceived health food, discuss the modern scientific evidence regarding the health benefits of cacao, and then summarize the scientific evidence behind cacao husks (also known as cacao shells), which are used to brew a special drink called cacao tea.

Ancient History of Cacao as Health Food

For thousands of years, cacao has been believed to have numerous health benefits. In fact, due to its perceived health effects, cacao was considered to be a food of the gods, an association that gave rise to the scientific name of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, from the Greek words theo (god) and broma (drink).[1]

One of the earliest references to the perceived health benefits of cacao dates back to 1552. In that year, a document called the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis (Latin for "Little Book of the Medicinal Herbs of the Indians") was published. This document, also known as the Badianus Manuscript, was an ancient Aztec herbal manuscript, describing the medicinal properties of various plants used by the Aztecs. The Badianus Manuscript described the perceived health benefits of cacao and listed the many ailments that the Aztecs believed could be treated with cacao. Research has shown that the ancient Aztecs identified approximately 150 medicinal treatments involving the use of cacao.

Shortly thereafter, in 1570, the Spanish doctor and explorer Francisco Hernandez travelled to the New World on a scientific expedition for the purpose of studying medicinal plants, including the cacao tree from which cacao beans are derived (and from which chocolate is made). During this expedition, Hernandez documented the fact that the ancient Aztecs used cacao beans to treat a multitude of different ailments, including fever, sore throats, cough, chest pains, fatigue, dental issues, stomach pain, diarrhea and much more. Hernandez also observed that in order to treat these ailments, cacao would often be mixed with other ingredients, such as plants roots and tree bark, in order to create a medicinal chocolate drink.

Modern scientists have obtained some epidemiological evidence of the beneficial effects of cacao from the indigenous Kuna Indian population of the islands of Panama. This population has been characterized by a low prevalence of atheroscleroris, diabetes, and hypertension. Studies suggest that the ‘secret’ behind the good health of the Kuna Indians is their daily intake of homemade cacao drink. Interestingly, studies show that these traits disappear after the migration of Kuna Indians to urban areas on the mainland of Panama and subsequent changes in the diet, namely the consumption of less cacao.[2]

Health Benefits of Cacao

As it turns out, modern science does support some of the perceived historical health beliefs in respect of cacao. In particular, the recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds in cacao has stimulated a wealth of new research on its effects in ageing, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation and artherosclerosis.[3]

In particular, studies have shown that cacao beans contain large concentrations of flavonoids known as epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins.[4] Flavanoids are antioxidant compounds which studies have shown can help prevent clogged arteries, promote healthy blood flow, and improve cognitive function.[5]

Interestingly, studies have also shown that cacao has the greatest concentration of flavonoids in almost any food that we eat, greater even than tea and wine.[6] Further, studies have found that cacao is rich in special kind of flavonoids called procyandin flavonoids, and that the levels in cacao are comparable to the levels in procyandin-rich apples.[7] Over the last two decades, numerous studies have reported on the health benefits of cacao flavonoids.[8]

In addition, many studies have demonstrated positive relationships between cacao flavonoids and a healthy cardiovascular system.[9] In particular, antioxidants in cacao have been found to inhibit plasma lipid oxidization and prevent oxidative stress, which has in turn been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Accordingly, some studies have suggested that daily consumption of dark chocolate could be an effective preventative strategy for patients with cardiovascular issues.[10]

Studies have also shown that cacao can have the effect of lowering blood pressure. In particular, a large-scale, long duration study in the Netherlands found that men who consumed cacao regularly over the course of 15 years had significantly lowered blood pressure than those who did not. The exact mechanism behind these effects is not known, but researchers suggest that it may arise from the presence of flavanoids in cacao, as discussed above.[11]

Studies have also found that cacao includes significant concentrations of the methylxanthine known as theobromine, which is a valuable bioactive compound and a central nervous system stimulant.[12] Other studies have found theobromine to be characterized by important pharmacological functions, including anti-cancer effects and muscle relaxant effects.[13] These studies have also shown that theobromine has antioxidant properties.[14] You may be interested to learn that the cravings we sometimes feel for chocolate are caused in particular by the presence of theobromine and other methylxanthines contained in cacao.[15]

Chocolate for Therapeutic Purposes

In light of the science, researches have determined that there is some scientific evidence to justify eating a moderate amount (approximately 2 oz) of dark chocolate on a daily basis.

However, the major criticism against the consumption of chocolate for therapeutic benefit is the high amount of sugar and triglycerides contained in chocolate which would need to be consumed to reach what has been documented to be a potentially therapeutic dose.

As a result, a person that eats chocolate on a daily basis for therapeutic purposes would need to compensate for the additional calories by increasing the amount of daily exercise or reducing caloric intake of other fats, sweets or carbohydrates in order to prevent obesity and the metabolic and cardiovascular risks related to it.[16]

However, there may be a way to obtain the benefits of chocolate while avoiding these negative effects. The current scientific evidence suggests that the beneficial effects of chocolate are attributed mainly to its concentration of flavonoids, especially epicatechin, as well as the presence of theobromine. Accordingly, researchers believe that there may be benefit in direct dietary supplementation with these compounds rather than with chocolate consumption.[17]

In fact, because some flavonoids have a bitter taste, many chocolate manufacturers have established processing techniques for cacao which eliminate the bitterness altogether with flavonoids. Unfortunately, this is typically achieved by the loss or intentional or inadvertent removal of flavonoids during the processing of cacao beans.[18] As discussed in greater detail below, flavonoids migrate away from the cacao bean during the chocolate production process.

Fortunately, as discussed in greater detail below, mother nature has provided us with another aspect of the cacao bean which presents a rich source of flavonoids and methylxanthines without the significant sugar and fat content of chocolate – namely, cacao husks.

Cacao Husks

Cacao husks are the husks or shells which surround cacao beans and are removed during the processing of cacao beans and production of chocolate. For hundreds of years, cacao husks have been used to brew a special tea called cacao husk tea (also known as cacao shell tea). In fact, as described in our blog post regarding the history of cacao, tea made from cacao husks was a particular favorite of Martha Washington, who was the first First Lady of the United States hundreds of years ago.

Cacao husk tea is unique in that it has a delicious chocolate flavor and a natural sweetness despite containing no sugar, carbohydrates or fat. Cacao husk tea is also gluten and dairy free. As a result, cacao husk tea provides an excellent replacement for regular tea and coffee and offers a great alternative to satisfying your chocolate cravings.

In recent years, cacao husks have been the subject of several scientific studies. In one of these studies, researchers qualitatively examined the mineral elements, vitamins, flavanoids, and other nutritional compounds found in cacao husks.[19] Interestingly, these scientists determined that cacao husks had significant nutritional context, including significant quantities of the flavanoids discussed above: namely, epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins.[20]

Studies have shown this to be the case due to certain biological processes which occur in cacao beans during their fermentation and processing. In particular, studies have found that flavonoids, as well as various other phenolic compounds, migrate to cacao husks during the chocolate production process (namely during fermentation and roasting). As a result of this process, cacao husks become “polyphenol-enriched”, meaning that they are enriched with flavanoids.[21]

Studies have also shown a similar migratory effect with respect to theobromine, which is the valuable compound discussed above. These studies have observed that during the fermentation process of cacao beans, approximately 40% of the theobromine content in cacao beans diffuses and migrates from the cacao bean to the cacao husk.[22] The study also confirmed that theobromine is the most abundant methylxanthine compound in cacao husks, followed by small quantities of caffeine and teophylline.[23] As a result, and as confirmed by scientific studies, cacao husks are a valuable source of theobromine.

Summary

While modern scientific studies support some of the perceived health benefits of cacao during ancient times, this does not mean we should consume large quantities of chocolate for therapeutic purposes. The key problem with the consumption of chocolate is the high amount of sugar and triglycerides contained in chocolate. Fortunately, studies have shown that cacao husks contain large concentrations of the beneficial compounds contained in cacao. Studies also show that large concentrations of these beneficial compounds migrate from the cacao bean to the cacao husks during chocolate production.

Cacao husk tea is a unique drink in that it has a delicious chocolate flavor and a natural sweetness despite containing no sugar, carbohydrates or fat. Cacao husk tea is also gluten and dairy free. As a result, cacao husk tea provides an excellent replacement for regular tea and coffee and offers a great alternative to satisfying your chocolate cravings. Learn more about cacao tea and try it for yourself today!

Endnotes

  1. R. Latif, Chocolate/cocoa and human health a review, The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, March 2013, Vol. 71, No. 2, at page 63 (“Latif”)
  2. Latif at page 64
  3. Latif at page 63.
  4. Latif at page 64; Abbe Maleyki Mhd Jalil and Amin Ismail, Polyphenols in Cocoa and Cocoa Products: Is There a Link between Antioxidant Properties and Health?, Molecules 2008, 13 (“Maleyki”) at pages 2191 and 2194.
  5. L. H. Yaoy and M. Jiang, Flavonoids in Food and Their Health Benefits, July 2004, Volume 59, Issue 3, pages 113–122
  6. Maleyki at page 2194.
  7. Latif at page 64.
  8. Maleyki at page 2194.
  9. Maleyki at page 2194.
  10. Latif at page 65.
  11. Latif at page 64.
  12. Latif at page 64; Balentic et al., Cocoa Shell: A By-Product with Great Potential for Wide Application, Molecules 2018, 23, 1404 at pages 6 and 9 (“Balentic”); Maleyki at page 2191.
  13. Balentic at page 8; Maleyki at page 2199.
  14. Balentic at page 8.
  15. Maleyki at page 2197.
  16. Latif at page 66.
  17. Latif at page 66.
  18. Latif at page 66.
  19. Josep Serra Bonvehi and Rossend Escola Jorda, Constitutions of Cacao Husks, Z. Naturforsch. 53c, 785-792 (1998) (“Bonvehi”) at page 785.
  20. Balentic at page 7; Bonvehi at page 789.
  21. Balentic at page 7.
  22. Balentic at page 8; Bonvehi at 790.
  23. Balentic at page 8.

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The Ultimate History of Cacao

The Ultimate History of Cacao

Introduction

Have you ever wondered about the history of chocolate and how it ends up in the chocolate bars that you enjoy? In fact, chocolate has an fascinating history tracing back thousands of years to ancient civilizations in South America. Chocolate even had a prominent role in the founding of America. In this post, we survey the amazing history of chocolate from ancient to modern times, explain how chocolate is grown and made and discuss the more modern advances in chocolate making.

Where Does Chocolate Come From?

Chocolate is derived from what is known as ‘cacao’. Cacao (pronounced “Ka-Kow”) generally refers to the beans of cacao trees before the beans have been processed. Cacao is distinct from chocolate, which refers to a finished product made from cacao beans. Lastly, ‘cocoa’ generally refers to cacao beans after they have been processed and are in powdered form.

You have probably had chocolate bars which indicate the concentration of cacao on the label. For example, a chocolate bar label indicating “60% cacao” means that 60% of the chocolate bar is made from cacao. The higher the concentration of cacao, the deeper the chocolate flavour.

How is Cacao Grown?

Cacao comes from the beans of cacao trees. Cacao trees are only found in special geographic areas. In particular, cacao trees only grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within a limited range of the equator. Cacao trees tend to thrive in areas that receive rain on an almost daily basis and have hot temperatures year-round. This makes Mexico, South American, parts of Africa, and Indonesia some of the best places to grow cacao.

Cacao trees grow in the understory of tropical rainforests, meaning that they grow in the shadow of much taller trees. Because of that, cacao trees are protected from the hot sun while still obtaining the necessary moisture from the warm, humid air.

Cacao trees begin producing fruit, called cacao pods, after approximately three years of growth. Each cacao pod is the size and shape of a small football and generally yellow and green in color. Unlike other fruit trees, cacao pods grow directly on the trunk of cacao trees and on their lower branches. As a result, cacao pods can be easily harvested by hand, which generally occurs several times per year.

Cacao farmers typically harvest cacao by carefully slicing open ripe cacao pods using a machete, which is a large knife. This exposes the cacao beans, which can then be removed from the cacao pods by the farmers. Each cacao pod contains approximately 30 to 50 cacao beans. It takes approximately 400 cacao beans in order to produce one pound of chocolate, which means approximately 10 cacao pods are required for one pound of chocolate.

The cacao beans are surrounded by a sweet white substance known as cacao pulp. Once the cacao beans and pulp are removed from the cacao pods, the cacao beans and pulp are placed on banana leaves or in open boxes so that they can dry over the course of the next several days. This process is known as fermentation (also known as “sweating”), and is the stage at which the familiar chocolate flavour begins developing in beans.

Once the fermentation process is complete, the fermented beans are left to thoroughly dry in the sun before they are transported to manufacturing facilities for the next stage in the process.

How Cacao is Used to Make Chocolate

The process of making chocolate from cacao beans has remained relatively constant for centuries. In brief, the process involves four stages: roasting, winnowing, milling and molding.

The roasting process commences after the cacao beans pass through the fermentation process described above. The roasting process involves heating the cacao beans in an oven for several hours. This process allows the cacao beans to reach their optimal flavor. This process also ensures that any microbes or bacteria contained on the cacao beans during the fermentation process are eliminated.

Once the roasted cacao beans are cooled, the winnowing process begins. While there are more modern ways to perform this step, winnowing traditionally involved placing the cacao beans in baskets and tossing the cacao beans into the air repeatedly. This movement would loosen and remove the thin shells which surround the cacao bean, exposing what are known as the cacao nibs. The cacao shells are also known as cacao husks. As described below, cacao husks have been used for centuries to make an excellent and delicious chocolate tea.

After the winnowing process, the cacao nibs are typically ground down into a paste. This traditionally occurred with the use of a hot stone called a metate. The chocolate maker would hold another stone, called the mano, and use it to grind the nibs against the metate. Alternatively, chocolate makers would use a mortar and pestle to grind down the cacao nibs. As the cacao nibs melted on the hot metate, the chocolate maker would add spices, with the combination being further ground into a paste. Today, the grinding process typically occurs with the help of specialized and sophisticated machines.

In the last step of the process, the chocolate paste produced on the metate would be scraped off and placed into chocolate molds, where the paste would be cooled and solidify. Traditionally, the solidified chocolate would then be sold to chocolate houses, where the chocolate would be grated and placed into a hot liquid (water or milk) contained in a special chocolate pot. Historically, the chocolate house would then use a special wooden stick called a molinillo to stir and dissolve the grated chocolate until it became smooth and frothy. The chocolate drink and its froth would then be poured into a special cup and served to the patrons of the chocolate house. As described in the history of cacao discussed below, cacao has evolved from being served in liquid form to being enjoyed as a solid treat or dessert.

The History of Cacao

Ancient History of Cacao

The history of cacao stretches back thousands of years to various ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. The earliest known use of cacao traces back to the Amazon Basin in an area which is now known as Ecuador. The aboriginal tribes in the area ate the sweet pulp that surrounds cacao beans within the cacao pods. It is believed that these aboriginal tribes fermented the pulp in order to create an alcoholic drink which was used for ceremonial and therapeutic purposes.

The first people believed to have consumed cacao beans was the ancient Olmec civilization, which inhabited in what is now known as southern Mexico. Because cacao beans are very bitter on their own, the Olmec did not eat them the way we eat nuts or other kinds of beans. Instead, the Olmec civilization fermented, dried and then used stones to ground the cacao beans into a chocolate paste. They then combined the paste with water and special spices to create a rich chocolate drink.

The ancient Olmec civilization was followed by the ancient Mayan civilization, which was located in what is now known as Guatemala, Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula. They were in turn followed by the ancient Toltec and Aztec civilizations of central Mexico. All of these civilizations made a special drink from the cacao bean which was highly prized in their societies. The Aztecs called the drink “xocolatl” (pronounced sho-kho-lah-tuhl), which means “bitter water” and provides the origin for the word chocolate. The cacao drink was used in religious and ceremonial rituals as well as in medicine.

Cacao was so important and prominent in these ancient civilizations that it also became a form of ancient currency and central to the economy. In an Aztec market, one cacao bean could be used to buy a tomato, 100 cacao beans could be used to buy a chicken, and 10,000 cacao beans could be used to buy a copper weapon. In fact, the great wealth of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II (also known as Montezuma) was derived from his great stores of cacao beans.

These ancient civilizations so valued cacao beans that they called the cacao tree Theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods”. Cacao beans were so highly coveted that some individuals in ancient times would attempt to make counterfeit cacao beans. We know this because archaeologists have found beans in which the cacao content has been removed and replaced with clay, wax or some other filler.

Discovery of Cacao by the Spanish

Cacao was unknown to Europeans and other civilizations until Christopher Columbus discovered cacao beans in the New World. During his fourth voyage to America in 1502, he encountered an aboriginal Mayan merchant whose boat was filed with what Columbus first believed to be almonds.Columbus ultimately took the beans back to Spain, but, not knowing how the beans were used, nothing came of the discovery at the time.

Several years later, in 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes sailed from Spain to the Aztec capital of Tenochititlan to meet the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma II (also known as Montezuma). The emperor believed Cortes to be a god and greeted him with a frothy and strong ceremonial drink made from cacao beans and seasoned with local spices, including chili peppers, vanilla and annatto. Cortes reported disliking the drink, calling it bitter and nearly undrinkable. However, Cortes eventually came to enjoy the drink and continued to consume it as he explored the American and as he eventually conquered the Aztecs.

In 1528, after Cortes conquered the Aztecs, Cortez returned to Spain. He and his explorers brought stories of the Aztec’s cacao drink, although it does not appear that they brought any cacao beans with them. Years later, in 1544, Dominican friars escorted Mayan nobles to the court of Prince Philip of Spain, who brought with them gifts of cacao for the Spanish royalty. The drink they made from it was bitter and unfamiliar to the Spanish, as it contained a variety of spices unique to the New World.

In 1585, the first commercial shipment of cacao beans arrived in Spain from the New World. In order to make the cacao drink more appealing to European taste buds, the Europeans added familiar spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and anise in replacement of the chili peppers and other New World spices used by the Aztecs. The Europeans also sweetened the drink with sugar, and it quickly became a favourite amongst Spanish royalty.

For the next several decades, cacao was a well-kept secret of the Spanish royalty. During this period, the Spanish court and aristocracy consumed cacao themselves rather than introduce it to other European countries and export it. As a result, the rest of Europe did not become aware of cacao for some time. During this period, Spain founded various cacao plantations throughout the territories it held in the Caribbean.

Cacao Spreads Throughout Europe

As time passed and the supply of cacao in Spain and the Caribbean grew, the cacao drink spread to other European countries. It entered France in a prominent manner in 1625, when it made an appearance at the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, daughter to King Philip III. In that same year, Francesco Carletti, who was an Italian tradesperson and writer, visited Central America and saw first hand how cacao was made. He wrote of his findings, which helped the discovery of cacao spread throughout Italy. Cacao became so popular in Italy that in 1591 Pope Gregory XIII, the head of the Catholic Church in Rome, declared that Catholics could drink chocolate during the holy season of Lent without breaking their fast.

In the early 1600s, the Dutch took control of the island of Curacao, which is an island located in South America off of Venezuela. As a result of this conquest, the Dutch began importing cacao beans back to Holland. This ultimately had the effect of making Amsterdam a leading port in the cacao industry, which is one of the reasons why the Dutch are known for chocolate. The United Kingdom similarly developed a presence in the cacao industry after taking control of Jamaica in the 1650s. Shortly thereafter, cacao became increasingly common throughout Europe.

During the period from 1650 to 1657, cacao was served to the public in what were then known as “chocolate houses”, which were similar to today’s coffee shops. However, given the expense involved in producing and importing cacao beans to Europe, chocolate houses catered to the wealthy. At that time, cacao was an expensive and time-consuming drink to make, which only the wealthy could afford. In 1659, the first French chocolate shop opened in Paris.

Cacao Spreads to America

Cacao was introduced to North America in 1641, when a Spanish ship carrying cacao beans from Puerto Rico to Spain was forced to take refugee in a port in Florida due to bad weather. It is not known what happened to this shipment of cacao, although presumably it was consumed by American colonists in Florida.

The first recorded commercial sale of chocolate in America occurred nearly 30 years later in Boston, Massachusetts. In particular, two women opened a tavern styled as a chocolate house for the purpose of selling chocolate to their customers. It is believed that their chocolate was imported from England, although it likely came as a powder mixed with sugar and pressed into cakes about the size and firmness of a hockey puck.

It is believed that chocolate production began in the American colonies in 1682, which is when the first shipment of cacao beans arrived in Boston from Jamaica. By purchasing cacao directly from Jamaica, the American colonists were able to avoid the costs of high taxes and import duties associated with purchasing cacao through England. As a result, the cacao drink became more affordable in America and became readily available in chocolate houses and coffee shops throughout the American colonies on the East Coast. Accordingly, what was once attainable only to royalty and wealthy aristocrats in Europe became available to all in America.

Chocolate also began expanding through the American colonies in the South. In particular, explorers, missionaries and settlers carried cacao and chocolate as they moved north from Mexico, which was then called “New Spain”. During this period, chocolate was formed into ground, pressed cakes, which made them more portable and less vulnerable to spoiling during travel over long distances.

Cacao and the Founding of America

Did you know that cacao played a central role in the founding of America?

As discussed above, in the late 1600s chocolate became an affordable drink accessible in the American colonies as a result of the importation of cacao beans to the American colonies directly from Jamaica and other locations in the Caribbean rather than indirectly through England, where they would have been subject to various taxes and import duties. During this period, the situation was very different in Europe, where chocolate was still an expensive drink and only available to royalty and the wealthy elite.

In fact, in 1785, Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving as the US ambassador to France and who later became President of the United States, wrote a letter to John Adams, who later also became President of the United States. In that letter, Jefferson extolled the virtues of cacao and expressed his view that it would soon rise in prominence to rival coffee and tea. As Jefferson wrote, “the superiority of chocolate both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain”. As it turned out, both men lived to see the rise of chocolate in America.

In addition to cacao being an inexpensive, nourishing and delicious drink, American colonists had another reason to prefer cacao over tea and coffee: patriotism. In the 1760s, in an effort to help fund its war against France in the American colonies, England imposed several new taxes on many goods that the American colonists routinely imported from England, including tea, which was then a favourite beverage of the American colonists. This greatly angered the American colonies and made the act of drinking cacao a patriotic act of defiance and solidarity with fellow Americans against England.

As a result, many of America’s early leaders consumed cacao. In fact, the first President of the United States, George Washington, and his wife, the first First Lady of the United States, Martha Washington, were very fond of chocolate and often drank it for breakfast.

In addition, Martha Washington was particularly fond of making chocolate tea using cacao husks. She would steep the cacao husks in boiling water, in the same manner as if she were using a tea bag. This made a thinner but delicious chocolate drink which was easier on her stomach than the traditional chocolate drink, which tended to be much heavier and oilier. Cacao tea has a delicious chocolate flavor and a natural sweetness despite containing no sugar, carbohydrates or fat. Cacao husk tea is also gluten and dairy free. As a result, cacao tea provides an excellent replacement for regular tea and coffee and offers a great alternative to satisfying chocolate cravings.

In addition, Thomas Jefferson had a silver pitcher made that was styled after a Roman artifact called an askos which as traditionally used to pour wine. Jefferson and his family used the silver pitcher to pour chocolate drink at his home in Virginia. Clearly, cacao had become a very important part of early American life.

Cacao in the Modern Era

In the centuries that followed, cacao became less prominent as a drink and more prominent as a solid dessert or treat. This was due to various innovations that improved the quality of chocolate and paved the way for today’s modern chocolate making processes.

First, in 1828 the Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten Sr. discovered how to separate fat from cacao beans in a procedure known as pressing. In particular, the procedure involves grinding cacao beans into a liquid, and then pressing out the liquid’s fat, which is a yellowish substance known as cacao butter (also referred to as cocoa butter). Once the cacao butter is removed, the substance left is a form of dry chocolate which can then be ground and pulverized into cacao powder (also known as cocoa). Chocolate makers can then mix the cacao powder and cacao butter in different proportions, along with sugar, in order to adjust the flavour and texture of the final chocolate product. This discovery led to a revolution in chocolate making.

The first modern chocolate bar was produced in 1847 by the English chocolate company known as J.S. Fry and Sons. They blended cacao powder, cacao butter and sugar into a paste, poured the mixture into a mold, and then let it cool and solidify. The result was the first chocolate candy bar, which became immediately popular. However, the chocolate was still rather gritty, unlike the smooth and silky chocolate that we enjoy today.

The chocolate making process was further refined in 1879, when Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt invented a machine that blended for several days the ingredients used to make chocolate. The process became known as conching, because the machine resembled a conch shell. The process had the effect of further grinding and breaking up the particle size of the ingredients, while also mixing and combining them thoroughly. The process also helped eliminate the grit and acidity of the cacao. The result was a chocolate with a smooth and silky texture.

The most recent improvement in the chocolate making process was the discovery of tempering. While the science behind tempering is not yet fully understood by scientists, it was discovered that raising and lowering the temperature of chocolate repeatedly would produce a chocolate bar with a shiny, glossy surface that has a satisfying “snap” when broken in pieces. Without tempering, chocolate bars are liable to have a dull texture and be soft and crumbly. It is believed by scientists that the process of raising and lowering the temperature of chocolate has the effect of aligning chocolate crystals in a special pattern, which changes its appearance and texture.

Conclusion

As summarized in this article, cacao has played a instrumental role in world history, starting in ancient times and through to the modern era. To learn more about the history of the perceived health benefits of cacao and recent scientific studies regarding the health benefits of cacao, please see our article about the health benefits of cacao.

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The Complete Guide to Brewing Tea

The Complete Guide to Brewing Tea

Brewing a cup of tea is an excellent way to start your morning or unwind at the end of a long day. If you are used to grabbing your tea in a to-go cup from a coffee shop or just throwing a tea bag in a mug, you might be intimidated by loose leaf tea and how to make the perfect cup. Once you learn the basics, making tea is easy and fun and much more affordable than buying it at a coffee shop.

In this article we will discuss how to make tea, clear up some misconceptions about making tea, and introduce a delicious and healthy ancient tea you may have never heard of before called cacao tea. We’ll also discuss several ways to brew a delicious cup of cacao husk tea.

How to Brew Tea

Making tea is a simple exercise that can be elevated by using high-quality tea and following a few simple steps:

Warm your teapot and mugs
Fill your teapot and cups with boiling water and let sit for a couple minutes before pouring the water out.

Use only cold water (filtered is preferred)
Fill your kettle with cold, filtered water for best results. Boiling hot tap water or unfiltered water will result in a less delicious cup of tea.

Choose the correct temperature for the water
Certain tea leaves will burn when brewed with water that is too hot, while other leaves will not release their full flavor when brewed in water that is too cool. Water temperature matters!

Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of loose leaf tea per 8 ounces of water
Experiment between using 1 or 2 teaspoons of loose leaf tea to discover your personal preference.

Steep high-quality loose leaf tea rather than tea bags
Loose leaf tea is better quality than tea bags and just tastes better. You will notice the difference right away.

Set a timer to ensure you steep your tea for the correct amount of time
It is easy to forget how long your tea has been brewing, so use a timer to ensure you do not over steep the tea which will result in a bitter taste. Using a timer also allows you to enjoy a consistently perfect tasting cup every time.

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea

Brewing loose leaf tea only requires a few simple items easily found in your kitchen:

  • Boiling water
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Teapot or tea steeper
  • Mug
  • Timer

Before we dive into the specific details of how to make the perfect cup of tea, including how much loose leaf tea per cup, how long to steep tea, and the best tea brewing temperature, let’s clear up some common misconceptions about how to make tea.

Water Temperature
Myth: Use boiling water for all teas
Reality: Experts agree that different teas should be brewed with a specific temperature of water in order to extract the best flavor. In general, tea packages will state the best temperature of water to use when brewing that specific tea. The brew time also changes depending on the variety of tea. It is also important to note that for most teas, if you want a stronger brew, you should use more tea leaves rather than letting the tea brew longer.

Loose Leaf Tea versus Tea Bags
Myth: Tea made with tea bags tastes the same as loose leaf tea
Reality: Loose leaf tea will always produce a superior taste to tea bags. Tea in tea bags are the leftover broken pieces of the tea leaf that is collected after whole leaf tea has been processed. On the other hand, loose leaf tea is rolled whole leaf tea. The whole leaf will have much better flavor than the broken bits.

Myth: Making loose leaf tea is harder than using tea bags
Reality: The difference between how to make loose leaf tea and how to make bagged tea all comes down to a handy little tool called a tea steeper. A tea steeper is a metal strainer that fits inside your tea mug and is used with loose leaf tea to separate the leaves from the boiling water. Brewing loose leaf tea is just as easy as making tea with a tea bag and only requires one extra tool.

Amount of Tea
Myth: It is not necessary to measure how much loose leaf tea is being used
Reality: The ratio of how much loose leaf tea per cup is important from a flavor perspective. Use too few leaves and your tea will be weak. Use too many leaves and your tea can become bitter. In general 1 to 2 teaspoons of loose leaf tea per 8 ounces of water is recommended.

Tea Strength
Myth: Stronger tea can be made by letting the tea steep for longer
Reality: While letting your tea steep longer can make the tea stronger, at a certain point the tea will become bitter. Different types of tea have a maximum steep time. If you still find your tea not strong enough after the maximum steep time, add more tea leaves rather than steeping for longer. This will produce the best tasting cup of tea.

What is Steeping
Myth: Steeped tea is a special type of tea
Reality: Steeping tea simply refers to the process of letting tea leaves sit in hot water for a period of time in order to allow the leaves to release their natural flavors. All types of tea must be steeped to brew a perfect cup of tea. How long to steep tea will depend on the type of tea which will be discussed next.

Guidelines For Making Tea

Follow our handy chart below for some general guidelines to follow for the best way to make tea.

Teaspoons refers to how much loose leaf tea per cup
Brew time refers to how long to steep tea
Temperature refers to the best tea brewing temperature

For reference, the boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit (F).

Black Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 3-5 minutes
Temperature: 200 to 212° F

Oolong Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 3-5 minutes
Temperature: 180 to 190° F

Green Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 1-3 minutes
Temperature: 150 to 180° F

White Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 3-4 minutes
Temperature: 170 to 180° F

Rooibos Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 3-5 minutes
Temperature: 200 to 212° F

Herbal Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 3-5 minutes
Temperature: 190 to 212° F

Cacao Husk Tea
Teaspoons: 1-2
Brew time: 6-8 minutes
Temperature: 212° F

A Different Take on Tea: Cacao Husk Tea

Cacao husk tea is a unique drink in that it has a delicious chocolate flavor and a natural sweetness despite containing no sugar, carbohydrates or fat. The 100% pure tea is made from loose-leaf cacao husks (also known as cacao shells) which surround the cacao bean. Cacao tea is also gluten and dairy free. As a result, cacao husk tea provides an excellent replacement for regular tea and coffee and offers a great alternative to satisfying your chocolate cravings without any of the guilt.

Cacao tea (also known as chocolate tea or cocoa tea) can be brewed several different ways depending on your desired outcome or preference. No matter how you make it, cacao tea is a delicious treat that can be enjoyed any time of day.

How to Brew Cacao Tea

Like most teas, cacao husk tea is straightforward to make at home. You will need a few simple items easily found in your kitchen.

Boiling Water
Ensure your water is boiling hot (212° F) to extract the most flavor out of the cacao husks. Consider using filtered water for best results. Whether filling your kettle or water filter, be sure to always use fresh, cold water from the tap and never use hot water. Let the tap water run for a few seconds to ensure the water is cold. This will help release the full flavor of the husks when steeped.

Start with Cold Water
It may seem intuitive, but the science is clear that, as noted above, you should always make tea by boiling fresh cold water, rather than using warm or hot water from the tap. There are two reasons for this. First, hot water generally does not have a very good taste. Cold tap water generally comes directly from your local water plant, whereas hot tap water is stored in hot water heaters, which are made of industrial grade metal and can leave a metallic taste in your water. In addition, while your water is stored in your hot water heater, it can absorb minerals and sediment that can accumulate in the water heater over time.

The second reason is that there is generally less dissolved oxygen in hot water than cold water, and water (and tea) is tastier when it has more oxygen in it. The colder a liquid, the more gas it can dissolve or "contain". As a result, a cold glass of water has more oxygen stored in it than a warm glass of water. At higher temperatures, the water is less soluble to air, which is primarily nitrogen and oxygen. When water is hot or warm, the molecules in the water move faster, making the water less soluble. Accordingly, for hot water, which is less soluble than cold water, more dissolved oxygen is released.

So, in summary, make sure you boil your water from scratch using cold water. The colder the better!

Cacao Husks
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of water. You can also add more husks for a richer flavor. Make sure your cacao husks are 100% pure with no additives or flavoring. Watch out for preservatives and sugars on the ingredients label!

Tea Strainer or French Press
Like most teas, the husks are not meant to be consumed and can easily be separated from the tea with a tea steeper or french press.

Mug
Grab your favorite big mug and get ready to sip on a little slice of chocolate heaven!

Condiments (optional)
We think cacao tea tastes great on its own, but you can also add cream, milk, milk alternatives, or sugar to your tea depending on your preference.

How to Make the Best Cup

The most common way to brew loose leaf tea is to add the tea leaves to a tea pot or tea steeper. However, there are many different ways to brew cacao tea depending on the desired outcome. Some methods are better for brewing a stronger tea, while others are fast and simple when time is limited. There are also different approaches you can take for how to brew hot tea versus cold cacao tea.

    1. Stovetop 

      For the most chocolatey and intense flavor, try the stovetop method. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of water to a pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, leave the pot covered, and let the tea simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew. Once done, turn off the stove, remove the pot from the heat and pour the tea into a french press or through a tea strainer to separate the husks from the tea and enjoy.

        2. Mug

          Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks to a tea steeper or strainer in your favorite mug and add boiling water. Make sure to cover the mug (this is necessary to keep the water hot, which helps extract the chocolate flavour) and let the tea steep for 6 to 8 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew. Remove the cover and strainer and enjoy!

            3. Teapot

              Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of boiling water to a teapot. Cover and let steep for 6 to 8 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew. If you own a tea cozy, add that over the teapot for best results. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

                4. French Press

                  Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of water to your french press. Fill the press with boiling water, put the plunger back on the press without pushing it down, and let the tea steep for 6 to 8 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew. Gently push down the plunger until it reaches the bottom of the press, pour the tea into your favorite mug, and enjoy.

                    5. Electric Pressure Cooker 

                      If you own an electric pressure cooker and want to make a larger batch of cacao tea, try using this method. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of water to the pressure cooker, cover and lock, and set the pressure to high for 5 minutes. Let the pressure cooker depressurize naturally, strain the tea, and serve hot. This method will produce the most chocolatey and intense flavor, similar to the stovetop method.

                        6. Cold Brew

                          If you would like to enjoy your cacao tea cold you can either refrigerate tea made with any of the methods above, or you can try the cold brew method. To make cold brew cacao tea, add 2-4 teaspoons of husks per 8 ounces of water to a mason jar and top with cold water. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for 16 hours. Strain the husks and add the cold brew tea to a glass with ice and enjoy! Refrigerate any leftover cold brew tea once strained.

                          Condiments

                          Just like tea or coffee, you can add various condiments to your cocoa tea depending on your preference.

                          Sweetener
                          If you would like to sweeten your cacao tea, we recommend brown or coconut sugar. Both sugars provide a caramel-like sweetness that pairs well with the chocolate flavors of the tea. You can also try honey, stevia or white sugar!

                          Creamer
                          Cacao tea pairs well with cream, milk or your favorite milk alternative (mylk). We love the taste of almond or coconut milk with cacao tea! 

                          Spice
                          If you want to enhance the flavour of your cacao tea, try adding a dash of cinnamon.

                          When to Enjoy Cacao Tea

                          Cacao tea is a delicious, chocolatey tea that can be enjoyed any time of day. While cacao tea is caffeine free, cacao husks contain theobromine, which is a naturally occurring stimulant similar to caffeine. Theobromine has a gentle slow-release effect, which provides a delicate stimulating effect over a longer period of time. For this reason you may want to try cacao tea earlier in the day and avoid sipping on the tea before bed. You can also experiment with drinking the tea later in the day to see if it affects your sleep at all. Many people find theobromine does not disrupt their sleep in the same way caffeine does.

                          Final Thoughts

                          Whatever the variety, tea is a delicious beverage that can be enjoyed any time of year. Loose leaf teas tend to make the best cup of tea as opposed to tea bags. Following the information and steps in this post will allow you to brew the perfect cup of tea every time.

                          Cacao tea is the perfect natural alternative to regular tea or coffee. Cacao tea has a tantalizing chocolate flavour and aroma with delicate notes of caramel and toffee. Reach for this tea when you are looking for a healthy pick-me-up with no sugar or calories. Now you can have your chocolate and drink it too!

                          If you are searching for a 100% pure and organic version of cacao tea that is completely sugar-free, caffeine-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and GMO-free with no artificial flavouring, additives or preservatives, try ordering the cacao tea from Cacao Tea Co. A 4 oz. bag will make 14 to 28 servings depending how strong you like your tea (1 teaspoon per serving).

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