Kakawa Chocolate House – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe

In a 1995 episode of Seinfeld, Kramer attempted to deduce George’s ATM code: “You’re a portly fellow, a bit long in the waistband.  So what’s your pleasure?  Is it the salty snacks you crave?  No, no, no, yours is a sweet tooth.  Oh you may stray, but you’ll always return to your dark master, the cocoa bean.”

America is, like George Costanza, a nation of chocolohics.  The Chocolate Manufacturers Association estimates that the per capita consumption of chocolate among Americans is about 11 pounds per person per year.  That translates to 27,000 calories, 1530 grams of fat, 1130 milligrams of cholesterol, 4400 milligrams of sodium, 3150 grams of carbohydrates and 350 grams of protein.  In 2001 Americans consumed 3 billion pounds of chocolate at a cost of some $13.1 billion.

More than half the consumption of chocolate occurs between meals and nearly a quarter of that (22 percent) takes place between 8PM and midnight.  More chocolate is consumed in winter than in any other season and increased consumption of chocolate is known to have a direct correlation to stressful events.  In the aftermath of 9-11, consumption of chocolate rose dramatically.

The World Atlas of Chocolate reports that milk chocolate is America’s favorite variety of chocolate.   Because it is made with a lower proportion of cocoa solids and contains milk, chocolate snobs like me dismiss milk chocolate as a sweet indulgence, the type of tooth-decaying chocolate we ate as children when we didn’t know better.  Our pedantic affections have been ensnared by ebony, bittersweet bars with adult levels of cacao, the darker and more bittersweet the better.  We like our chocolate the way we like our coffee–as black as night and as potent as hemlock.

Paradise under glass

Paradise under glass

As if we needed another reason to indulge in the addictively strong, cocoa-rich flavor of dark chocolate, recent research indicates eating a small 1.6-ounce dark chocolate bar is very good for you.  Attribute that to a metabolite called epicatechin, a flavonoid which keeps cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduces the risk of blood clots and slows down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.  German researchers have also found another health benefit derived from dark chocolate–the lowering of  blood pressure.  Alas, moderation is prescribed since even dark chocolate is calorie-laden.

The Olmec culture preceded the Mayans and Aztecs in  domesticating the cacao tree and unleashing the salubrious qualities and deliciousness of chocolate.  Though the  Meso-American cultures may not have known all the chemical reasons for the healthful benefits of chocolate, they did recognize they had something special.  Warriors consumed cacao wafers, believing the cacao gave them strength for battle.  Chocolate beverages were also believed to have stamina enhancing properties which came in handy when “entertaining” concubines.

In Montezuma’s great city of Tenochtitlan (which the Spaniards later renamed Mexico City), chocolate was considered a luxury drink reserved exclusively for gods and the ruler class. It is believed that Montezuma’s daily constitution included up to 50 goblets of a finely ground, foamy red dyed chocolate flavored with chili peppers, vanilla, wild bee honey and aromatic flowers.

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Very few people know or appreciate the origin of chocolate as much as the folks at Santa Fe’s extraordinary Kakawa (an ancient Olmec word for chocolate and the cacao tree) Chocolate House.  Kakawa is passionate about authentic and historic drinking chocolate elixirs spanning the time period 1000 B.C. to the mid 1900s A.D.  That passion translates to outstanding chocolate experiences for connoisseurs.

All of Kakawa’s chocolate creations are hand-made in small batches using the best cacao beans in the world, a process which can’t be rushed.  Utmost care is taken to ensure not only the finest quality and freshness, but historical authenticity.  Although there are no existing Meso-American chocolate recipes per se, Kakawa’s founder Mark Sciscenti (no longer with the shop) pored over archaeological evidence to discern ingredients and proportion.  That  attention to detail is a hallmark of every scintillating scintilla of chocolate.

Elixirs (drinking chocolates) are divided into two categories: Meso-American drinking chocolate and Historic European, Jeffersonian American and Oaxacan drinking chocolate.  The charming artisanal shop is redolent with their intoxicating aromas.

A truffle of Chaya, Mesquite, Prickly Pear Fruit Nectar and Oaxacan Chile Pasilla

A truffle of Chaya, Mesquite, Prickly Pear Fruit Nectar and Oaxacan Chile Pasilla

In the tradition of the Meso-American chocolate pioneers, most of Kakawa’s chocolate drinks are made with water.  A few contain restrained amounts of milk, rice milk or almond milk.  This allows the purity of cacao to shine through while preserving its healthful qualities in ways that are lost when milk is added.  Parsimonious amounts of traditional agave nectar or honey are used to impart a bittersweet quality to the chocolate.  There is some evidence that both honey and agave nectar were sparsely used by the Meso-American cultures because of their high value.  They were also considered to be flavoring agents and not sweeteners as we view them today.

From among the Pre-Columbian Meso-American/Mayan chocolate elixirs, one that will cure whatever ails you is the Acuyo made from the Mexican pepper leaf (sometimes called the root beer plant).  In its plant form, acuyo has a very pleasing fragrance somewhat reminiscent of anise, nutmet and black pepper.  Those qualities translate well in a cup of chocolate elixir sweetened with honey and spiced with a mild chili.

Chilis of several types and degrees of piquancy are used on several elixirs just as Montezuma’s personal chef may have crafted them in the 15th century.  Mild chili is also used on the blue corn atole, an elixir made from roasted corn flour sweetened with honey.  Growing up in northern New Mexico, every time I was sick I was subjected by my grandmothers to blue corn atole, a gruel-like substance I found repulsive.  Abuelitas still love their blue corn atole in northern New Mexico where it is often served like cream of wheat.   Over time I’ve also grown to appreciate its unique qualities.

Brownies extraordinaire

Brownies extraordinaire

In an episode of the Food Network’s “Heat Seekers,” hosts Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking tested their masochistic mettle by sampling some of the city’s most piquant plates.  Kakawa’s caramel and chocolate dipped arbol chilis watered their eyes and left them coughing and sputtering in delicious agony.

Practically contemporary in comparison to the millenniums-old style of indigenous Meso-American chocolate is an English chocolate elixir, circa 1680.  This rich, complex semi-sweet chocolate is made with milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, sherry and orange blossoms.  Like all chocolate drinks, it is served in three-ounce cups.  You’ll rue your next cup of Swiss Miss.

Kakawa’s amazing menu also features chocolate truffles, brownies, cookies, tortes, cakes and other desserts made with a unique blend of flavorful top quality chocolate ameliorated with the highest quality spices and natural flavor extracts in creative combinations to delight the body and soul–combinations such as a truffle crafted from chaya (known sometimes as tree spinach), mesquite and Oaxacan pasilla chili sweetened with prickly pear fruit nectar.  This is a truffle to savor slowly, a rare indulgence of chocolate heightened to its peak of flavor with disparate ingredients only a chocolate master would dare.

The Mexican brownie, made with cinnamon, pecans and chile with floral waters is decadent and delicious, a rich and moist brownie with pecans in every bite.  It is a perfect counterpoint to the chocolate decadence brownie, resplendent with chocolate chunks.  Neither is cloying like out-of-the-box brownie mixes tend to be and both are absolutely delicious.

If you’re besotted with the coco bean and in particular its dark children, there may be no better place in New Mexico for that love to be requited.

Kakawa Chocolate House
1050 Paseo de Peralta
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0388
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 February 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Elixirs, Brownies, Truffles

11 comments

  • Barbara

    There’s a brand called Chuao that makes an excellent powdered Mayan hot chocolate mix. It’s a little pricey but really high quality and very tasty. It’s as good as Ibarra ( I think it’s better, actually ) and easier to prepare.

    http://www.chuaochocolatier.com/

    Trader Joe’s used to make a powdered Mayan style mix as well, not sure if they do anymore and it might have been a seasonal ( Christmas ) offering.

  • Annette

    wondering if any business makes a powder mix for making a hot chocolate Mayan style (with chile) and whether it can be ordered.

    • Hello Annette

      Some of the best purveyors of Mexican hot chocolate, including Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe, utilize Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate, chocolate disks which are melted in milk. You can find Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate (or alternatively the Abuelita brand) in several local stores. We add chile to taste. It’s unlikely you’ll ever find powdered chocolate mix quite as good.

      Gil

  • Hi Chris, My leaving the shop is a distressing story. My personal eucatastrophe was leaving my shop under extreme duress in June of 2009. The economic downturn; the considerable and insupportable debt carried by the business; substantial overhead; an unscrupulous and incompetent bookkeeper; lack of business acumen and arduous difficulty with a business partner; evidenced that the business was unsustainable and I chose to let go of my creation and move on. The business actually was running in the red for over a year.

    The current owner is a house renovator (and he is good at it, I’ve seen 3 of the houses he worked on).

    The claims that I’ve heard that the current owner started Kakawa, created the recipes and is a chocolate scholar are quite false. I am a chocolate historian having been giving lectures around the country at prestigious museums, anthropological conferences, medical conferences, living history museums and events since 2002. I wrote all the history and informational materials for Kakawa – being a chocolate historian. In addition I created all those recipes 4 years before I started Kakawa in 2005. So I don’t know who is making those claims.

    I don’t know about nodedog or the reviews either.

    I am teaching and lecturing now.

    Thanks for checking in. My email is marksciscenti@gmail.com

  • chris

    hi Mark, we met quite a ways back, in Santa Fe, and i was just wondering if you could say why you “left that business under extreme circumstances” ? Didn’t know until i was recently back there. Another reason i was wondering was from the comment from nodedog. i was actually quite impressed w/ the place! It seemed that the dozen or so people that strolled in were as well. Was just curious. Hope all is well. Also, i looked briefly @ nodedog’s twitter page and EVERY entry was a negative one, so it quite explains the previous comment. Thanks & Happy Holidays.

  • nodedog

    Since Mark left the quality of the chocolate at Kakawa has seriously declined. Not worth your bother.

  • Hi all, just a clarification. The word ‘chili’ was originally spelled in the Aztec language with an i at the end. So that word is a Mesoamerican word and not an “anglosized” word at all.

    On another note, I am no longer the owner of, nor am I affiliated in any way with Kakawa Chocolate House. I have left that business under extreme circumstances. I am the originator and creator of Kakawa Chocolate House and all the recipes since 2005 (and earlier), but as of June ’09 I am on my own. As a chocolate historian I am available for lectures, chocolate tastings and as a dessert pastry chef am available for private functions. Thank you for your consideration!

  • John L

    WHOOPS!
    Link for Tomasitas keeps bringing me here. Interesting but what about Tomasitas?? John L

  • Sarah Rose .

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve read where you refer to sticking to what the menu says before, but you usually make the point that you are doing so. I was thrown off by your then later using the “e” in the description of the Mexican brownie. Not in any way meant to be a criticism, as I cannot criticize when I ask questions without remembering to use a question mark (twice). I just wondered if I was missing something.

  • Sarah Rose

    What’s with spelling chile with both an “i” and an “e” at the end. I thought you hated that spelling? Is there a time that spelling is correct and why throughout the entire review except in the very last description. I’m confused Gil.

    • Hello Sarah
      As much as my spellchecker hates it, I will use “chili” out of deference to the restaurants I review and how they spell it. In the case of Kakawa, my spelling was consistent with the way the menu spelled it–including my preferred way “chile.”
      Chile with an “e” at the end is the way it is spelled in Spanish while chili with an “i” is the “anglosized” version.
      Gil

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