Published by Chocolatier Jason Vishnefske on 26th Aug 2022


Everything you never knew you about the cacao ceremony.

You may have heard the term ceremonial cacao, or maybe not, so I am here to tell you about what all the hype is surrounding the self-proclaimed, or what the Mayans claim to be, ‘food of the gods.’ You may have heard it referred to as being an aphrodisiac or having a psychedelic effect, well, that’s not exactly the case. Ceremonial cacao is quite the opposite of kicking back with some friends and thinking you’re going to get high off of a chocolate drink! Before we get into what it really is, how it’s used and all the wonderful benefits it has to offer, let’s first start with the history of how it all began.

It’s believed that the cultivation and use of cacao can be traced back as early as 1500 BC by the Olmec people of Mexico. There is extensive research and evidence that the Mayan culture used cacao ritualistically dating back to 600 BC. The Maya believed that kakaw (cacao) was found somewhere in the mountain by the gods where other foods and medicines were found for them. The Maya civilization was widespread through areas of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. An annual festival took place to honor the god of cacao, Ek Chuah. During the ceremony they sacrificed animals, offered cacao, and exchanged gifts. The Maya believed the cacao was the food of the gods and a sacred gift from them. According to the Popol Vuh, the Mayan Bible, a hero twin hunting near a cacao tree saw a rare image of the Cacao God on a drinking vessel. Drinking and burial vessels contained scenes illustrating the use of cacao and chocolate. It’s believed among the Mayans and Aztecs that there are strong associations between chocolate and human blood. How does that pertain to ceremonial cacao, you ask? Well, chocolate was considered the blood of the earth and was a sacred association to human blood; therefore connecting humans and the earth in a sacred aspect. The Maya grew cacao exclusively in southern parts of the tropics where they controlled the land, giving them the upper hand to trading.

Furthermore, the Maya were the sole suppliers of cacao during the late Post Classic period and manufactured chocolate to their neighbors, the Aztecs. The elite Aztecs were fond of cool chocolate beverages and chocolate became sacred and symbolic. The Aztec elite including priests, poets, philosophers and nobles. These elite Aztecs spoke a language containing metaphoric words with hidden meaning, chocolate being one of them. Chocolate meant “heart, blood.” In one story the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl discovered cacao ( cacahu all: “bitter water”) in a mountain filled with other plants. Cacao was offered at places of worship where priests would lance their earlobes and cover cacao with blood as a sacrifice to the gods. The cacao beverage became a ritual used only by men as it was said to be toxic to women and children. No chance keeping chocolate away from women and children in the modern era!

During these ancient times the cacao beverage was offered as a cold drink that was rich, strong, unsweetened and bitter. Back then it was common during the festivals that honored the gods for people to sacrifice their blood as well as animals. The cacao pod became used to symbolize the sacrificial human heart as it they both contained the most cherished of all liquids, chocolate and blood. Extremely expensive, chocolate and cacao were mostly used among royalty and the societies elite. Both Maya and Aztec cultures preferred their chocolate unsweetened but it wasn’t uncommon to add herbs, flowers, nuts, seeds, leaves, and spices. Mesoamericans often added chili pepper into everything, chocolate was not excluded.

Let’s move ahead a bit in time to when Christopher Columbus made his voyages to the New World. It’s been said that he may have been the first Old World explorer to come across cacao beans during the Spanish conquests to the New World. On his fourth and final voyage he came across two Mayan canoes in which he was able to capture one. He ended up destroying the ship as it was full of clothes, weapons, a copper bell, and an excessive amount of unfamiliar beans. At the time, he didn’t understand why the natives scrambled to retrieve these unfamiliar beans when they had fallen to the floor; but it became clear when he brought the first consignment of cacao beans to Spain after returning from America. By the end of the 16th and 17th century cacao was being sent from the New World back to Spain. It was often used for medicinal purposestreatuing stomach illnesses and producing a feeling of euphoria. Francisco Hernandez was both a doctor and botanist, but most importantly a personal physician to Philip II of Spain. Dr. Hernandez was one of the first to make a connection around 1571 between cacao and its potential treatment for fevers and liver disorders. He also discovered its uses as an aphrodisiac and even a way to help those who needed to pack on the pounds. Finding cacao to do the opposite is what we need! Am I right?

Over time the demand of the chocolate beverages increased due to the increased demand for culinary and medicinal. This lead Spain to develop cacao plantations in their Venezuelan and Philippine colonies, as well as the French making their own plantations in the Caribbean. In 1753 the Swedish naturalist Linnaues published his taxonomic binomial system and coined the genus and species Theobroma cacao. The birth of cacao into the scientific nomenclature was established.

So now that you have a brief history of how cacao was discovered and spread. Let’s talk cocoa (powder), cacao powder, cacao, and chocolate. It’s all about label reading! The world of chocolate has a different meaning in particular areas of the world. It’s up to you to read labels and support brands that use cacao which are ethically and sustainably grown, harvested, and processed. This is the number one reason my go to chocolate brand is and will always be Santa Barbara Chocolate.

Chocolate did not become a symbol of love and romance for no reason at all. Chocolate has been studied thoroughly both scientifically, fact-based and objectively, perception-based.

So what is ceremonial cacao? Who drinks it? Where, when, why and how is it consumed and what makes a cacao ceremony special? Not to worry, I’ve got you covered, let’s break it all down.

The great and powerful ceremonial cacao! This magical drink leads you to a cacao wonderland connecting mind, body, and spirit. “Sacred” or “Ceremonial” cacao does not refer to the chocolate candy bar one eats or even the sugary powdered beverage you make from a packet. Ceremonial cacao refers to a much higher quality cacao that is used for its health benefits and conscious-altering psychoactive elements that you cannot be bought in your local supermarket or even health food store!

According to sources and scientific studies on the botany of cacao, its origin is in Guatemala. Seeds found there have been dated to be millions of years old. Due to the climate, lots of precipitation, and rich soil on the southern coast, the cacao thrives and is easily grown. What exactly is cacao? It’s a fruit. The cacao beans grown inside brightly colored cacao pods which grow on the cacao tree. For traditional cacao ceremonies the fruit shouldn’t mature fully in order to maintain high concentrations of beneficial compounds. Once harvested, it’s taken to a fermentation center. The bean is then roasted for only a short amount of time over 3 stones. These 3 stones represent the cosmogonic symbol that is a triangle which is composed of the sun, the moon, and the earth. These 3 sources are the glue that binds us all together. The time and temperature of this process affects the flavor and nutrient profile in a significant way. When the beans are roasted they are then hand peeled and ready to be ground up and crushed on a fire-warmed stone. After this process the cacao is put into hot water that is continuously stirred to create a rising smoke that is considered an offering to their ancestors. The beverage produced during this process is considered a “drink from mother earth with all the being from nature,” according to one source. At a cacao ceremony you traditionally see a sacred fire burning in which the hot beverage is presented in front of where the spirit of cacao is invoked. The spirit of air, water, fire, and earth are said to be present during this time. The drink is consumed during meditation as a way to thank the spirits for what you have, who they are, and a way to connect through the fire as the cacao beverage runs through your body.

During this time of ceremony the spiritual benefits are present along with physical benefits. This is a time to feel happiness, determination, fearlessness, and strength.

Ancient cacao ceremonies were used at religious ceremonies, marriage ceremonies, during both birth and baptism, and most other important ceremonies for the ancient Native Mesoamerican cultures. So, how is it used today? Gone are the days where these ceremonies are connecting to the ancient Gods and now, we welcome the cacao beverage and it’s meditative properties as a way to relax the body and clear your mind for self-reflection and spiritual awakening. A cacao ceremony today is a way to let go of the past and focus on one’s hope, dreams, and wishes. It’s easy to see why so many are under the impression that this is a psychedelic because of its effects on the body; but its effects are far from a drug-induced “high” feeling. We can also see how cacao stimulates the senses and is considered an aphrodisiac! The sensual feeling that is evoked by cacao’s ability to stimulate pleasurable affects from increasing serotonin levels makes this the ideal aphrodisiac. Who doesn’t love those feel-good feelings of love and romance pumping through their veins? For that reason alone, anyone in their right mind should want to give cacao a try!

What is 100% Pure Cacao Organic Dark Unsweetened Chocolate and what can be made with it? This is 100% chocolate made from pure cacao containing nothing but organic chocolate goodness. There are no added sweeteners, flavors, milk, or emulsifiers. The chips are formed using pure ground cacao that is minimally processed at the lowest allowed temperatures. The end result is smooth dark chocolate formed into small chips with a strong, robust, bitter flavor that has distinct exotic organic cacao taste. The pureness of the raw cacao is evident as it melts on your tongue giving your taste buds a ride to aphrodisiac heaven! I personally have a jar of these cacao chips on my countertop that I graze on throughout the day. I’m a busy mom of 5 and this gives me the satisfaction of chocolate but with all the added benefits and energy cacao has to offer. These are easy to add into baking recipes, energy balls, yogurt, cereal, oatmeal and just about anything you can sink your teeth into.

Moving on to the crispy, crunchy, bittersweet cacao nibs, most commonly referred to as cocoa nibs. These are produced from the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. To put it simply these are high quality crushed cacao beans that are raw and unprocessed to retain the highest cocoa antioxidants. Santa Barbara Chocolate takes the extra step to randomly test raw cacao for safety ensuring these hand-picked, Grade AA nibs are the best of the best in quality and flavor. These are the perfect way to add some chocolate flavor and a crunch factor to yogurt, oatmeal, or a smoothie. I love to add these on top of a chocolate drizzle for some texture as well. They are great to add into a chocolate bar or just snacking straight from the bag!

Let’s get into the fun stuff… recipes! I’ll dive into how to make a traditional ceremonial cacao drink. This drink is meant to be made and consumed in a ritual and ceremony; however, I will go through how to make it traditionally and add a little spin on it for a more palatable daily drink. 

Typically, one will start off with a smaller amount of cacao, about 28g to 6 oz of water, and work up to a larger dose of 45g to 10-12oz of water. The following recipe can be made as an individual dose or shared, here’s what you will need:

  • 45g of Santa Barbara Chocolate 100% pure unsweetened cacao - ceremony grade cacao.
  • 10-12 oz of hot water (optional to infuse with herbs or tea) that has been removed from heat just before rapid boiling begins
  • Molinillo (or drink muddler and whisk)

First, you will need to weigh out 45g of Santa Barbara Chocolate’s 100% pure unsweetened cacao chips and place it in a bowl. Typically, unsweetened chocolate is in bar form, but Santa Barbara Chocolate’s unsweetened cacao chips are small and make it super easy to skip any chopping and add directly into a recipe.

Next, remove your water just before it comes to a rapid boil and pour some over your cacao chips. You will use your molinillo (or drink muddler) to begin to crush the chocolate to form a paste.


Once a paste is formed, you will then pour the rest of your water in and begin to mix and froth the cacao drink by moving the molinillo quickly back and forth between the palms of your hands. You could also use a regular whisk here if you do not have a molinillo.


Finally, once it is completely blended you can pour it into a mug and meditate as you consume.

completely-blended into-a-mug

Or as an option before the final step, you can take one extra step before the above and place the mixture into a blender with one to two dates and blend until smooth. As you can see in the image below, adding dates will give it a thick and creamy texture which makes it taste similar to a traditional hot chocolate that we are more accustomed to. As you get used to drinking this beverage, you can continue to add the dates or remove them for more of an earthy, pure drink. You can also choose to add a different sweetener, such as, raw Manuka honey, agave, or pure maple syrup.

The cacao ceremonial drink is just one of many ways to add pure cacao into your lifestyle.