Costa Rica’s Indians are some of the longest lived people on earth. We spent time visiting with the BriBri in the Talamanca Mountains. They, like many modern indigenous people, live between two worlds. They wear modern clothes, live in modern houses, and carry cell phones. But they still adhere to the old ways when it comes to taking care of themselves. And one of the traditions they hold dear is the drinking of chocolate. YES! Chocolate is GOOD FOR YOU! In fact, the BriBri drink 5-6 cups of this unsweetened, rich beverage every day and they say its powerful anti-oxidants are the secret to their longevity.
Visit the Bribri up in the hills of southern Costa Rica and spend some time with a 72-year-old woman named Ophelia. Ophelia and her family have a finca, or Costa Rican farm, where they allow cacao plants to grow wild. They use no chemicals, organic or otherwise. When the red and yellow pods ripen, they harvest the cacao bean filled pods and carry them down to a big barn that is cool and dark inside and covered in chocolate dust.
Imagine the aroma!
Step inside the sweet-smelling barn and you are greeted with mats filled with drying cacao beans, white chocolate filled bags stuffed to the brim and ready for market, and–my favorite part–little trays of raw cacao squares flavored with things like coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, chilies, papaya, pineapple, almonds, hazelnuts, or wild honey. Samples are free and bigger, all natural, fantastically good for you bars are for sale.
Talk to Ophelia and she will tell you she doesn’t eat anything with preservatives in it and she never takes any medicine, but relays only on what she can gather in the rain forest. She will also tell you the young people don’t drink cacao like the old folks do.
“It is important to drink cacao everyday,” she will say.
And then she will make you a cup of traditional hot chocolate. She will take a puck made from the paste of ground raw beans and shave it into a powder and boil it in hot water for you. Drink it and taste its bitter richness. It is definitely not the cocoa your mother used to make. This drink is pure and dark and has tiny oily circles of cacao butter floating on top. And it’s full of heart-healthy fats and cancer preventing polyphenols.
So here’s what I propose. Try replacing your morning coffee with a cup of raw cacao. It will give you a caffeine boost similar to coffee, but without the jittery feeling. It will also keep you from being hungry and, because cacao is full of B vitamins and other feel-good chemicals, it will promote a general feeling of don’t-worry-be-happy.
Here’s my favorite Raw Cacao Hot Beverage Recipe
MORNING CACAO RECIPE
10 oz water
2 Tablespoons raw cacao
Generous pinch of sea salt
A few drops of vanilla
Pinch of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon honey
Boil the water with the cacao and salt. Whisk with fork or whisk. Allow it to boil for 2 minutes or so (this will make sure the cacao is melted)
Turn off the heat and add vanilla and cinnamon
Pour into your favorite mug, add honey, and stir well