Ready to dip your soul in chocolate?
The smooth surface, silky to the touch. That deep, rich aroma. The full-bodied snap. The first wave of earth and honey that swells into a flood of flavor, bringing in florals, fruit, nuts, and spices. If you’ve ever slipped a sliver of this intoxicating food into your mouth, and allowed yourself to be transported, you know what I’m talking about.
Chocolate is the food of the gods. According to Maya creation myths, the gods brought cacao and corn as a gift to humanity. For centuries, only kings and priests were allowed to partake of the rich beverage. Even science recognizes it… Theobroma cacao, its Latin name, literally means “food of the gods.”
The Cacao Muse is an oasis where chocolate lovers go to soak up all things cacao. It’s an online temple of chocolate worship. It’s a library-café of deeply curated knowledge and stories about the world of chocolate. It’s a place where you can…
Learn all about chocolate: what it is, where it comes from, where it grows, how it’s made, and why it needs us more than ever
Rediscover the health benefits of chocolate
Get sneak previews of chocolate award entries, complete with a judge’s tasting notes and commentary
Dive deep into the cacao-climate connection
Read a novel about the history and mythology of cacao
Download coloring pages for your kids or students (or yourself, we won’t tell)
Get all your chocolate questions answered, like what’s ruby chocolate? Is chocolate a good aphrodisiac? Do I need to worry about lead and cadmium? Why is some chocolate so damn expensive? Will it make me fat?
And more to come as The Cacao Muse grows our menu of content!
Welcome to the marvelous world of chocolate.
Want delicious posts about chocolate and cacao to dip into every week? This little box below is all that stands between you and chocolate heaven.
Who are you, Cacao Muse?
Anytime you subscribe to a new publication, it’s important to do your due diligence. After all, we don’t want any cacao impostors here! Ancient Mesoamericans used cacao beans in commerce, and some of them figured out ways to counterfeit the beans. See below for more on that. Crazy. Who would ever want to counterfeit money? Especially if it’s cacao beans.1 Anyhow… here’s background on me to give you full cacao confidence.
Chocophile or Chocoholic? Yes.
Ever since I slipped down the cacao rabbit hole to research my novel, I’ve gone full-tilt dark chocolate. Anything below 80% tastes too sweet, I’ve lost all my respect for candy bars, and I can tell the flavor signatures of certain origins. I partake of some form of dark chocolate nearly every day: I grate it on my breakfast oatmeal and melt it onto pancakes. I have a mini fridge full of chocolate bars from different craft makers, and a spreadsheet to track the rankings of the chocolate award entries I judge (yes there’s such a thing as a chocolate judge… read on!) Whether all that makes me a chocophile or a chocoholic, remains not to be decided.
I spent several years participating in sustainability conferences and round tables at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and other bodies and organizations in the U.S., Europe, and Central America. Plenty of plenaries, nice coffee and fancy lunches & dinners, but also a lot of hot air (and I don’t mean the greenhouse gas kind). The lack of action led to my exodus from the intergovernmental / non profit scene into the arms of literature. I was a writer and journalist—what better way to harness my skills for sustainability than via storytelling? But instead of the usual academic treatise, I wrote a novel that blends a fantasy narrative with the history and mythology of chocolate, a sacred and ancient food, as a way to engage people in taking better care of our planet. You protect what you love, as they say. Assuming we all love chocolate, we naturally want to protect the places where cacao grows.
So what’s the novel called? The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree. Think of it as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass crushed to bits and blended, then dipped in chocolate. (If you’re a paying subscriber, you can read the entire book here on The Cacao Muse.)
The launch of the novel spawned a series of workshops for children, complete with quizzes and games and coloring pages. The kids learned how to read the ingredient lists on candy bars, and which ingredients to avoid (TBHQ, PGPR, corn syrup, artificial anything). They learned about the history and mythology of cacao, and they learned to love dark chocolate. Sometimes I brought in a real chocolate maker with real cacao beans and a real metate. And we made chocolate. Messy, bittersweet, gritty, all-over-your-face chocolate. See a few of these workshops here, here, and here.
More than one mom told me I had converted her kids into chocolate aficionados. They now refused to eat junk candy. SUCCESS!!
The parents were supposed to drop their kids off at the workshops, but they ended up hanging around and kind of inviting themselves in (can you blame them?). And when they complained their kids were having all the fun, I caved and started doing chocolate tastings for adults. Did a few for corporate groups as well. But the largest tasting I ever guided was for 200 middle schoolers and teaching staff in a school that was using my book as part of their curriculum. Yes, 200, as in two zero zero. The staff and I spent the afternoon before the event cutting up chocolate bars and prepping 500 tasting cups. To this day it remains the only chocolate tasting where I had to use a megaphone.
Since 2018, I have served as a judge for the International Chocolate Salon award competitions. Feeling a bit of chocolate envy? Well, it’s not all glamor and truffles. It’s a demanding job, not for the weak of palate; your taste buds need to be specially trained and in top shape no matter the season and no matter how many caramel truffles you’re required to taste. You’re in luck though—I happen to love photography and routinely train my Nikon on the unsuspecting award entries. So you’ll get to see them in all of their chocolatey glory right here on The Cacao Muse.
Best part: a paid subscription gets you sneak peeks into the award entries!
Speaker and Presenter
I’ve given numerous talks at venues such as the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, the International Chocolate Festival in San Mateo, the International Chocolate Salon in San Francisco, and the David Brower Center in Berkeley. I’ve presented my novel at various libraries, Books Inc, and the storied Book Passage in Corte Madera, among other venues. I was a member of the FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) for a little while and attended their events. What I’m most proud of is making corporate executives forget where they got their MBAs at company chocolate tastings.
The AI Muse
I also write another Substack… called more simply The Muse. I write about the creativity, ingenuity, and untapped potential of humans in an AI-obsessed world. Yes, AI as in artificial intelligence. As in not in the least related to cacao or chocolate. Why? Since when did full-bodied, single-origin, 100% creators do just one thing? But if you really wanna know… best to go check it out.
Money does grow on trees
So yes, the Maya utilized cacao beans as money. Their kings had massive storage sheds stacked with large sacks and baskets of cacao beans—those were their banks. Yep, you guessed it… there were bank heists back then, too. Now that we live in the digital age, we have different kinds of beans. Er, coins.2
There are three plus one ways to sign up and get lots o’ love from The Cacao Muse:
$0 a month. You can access anything that doesn’t have that little lock icon, meaning it’s free for anyone to read.
$7 a month. You get access to all premium content, and sneak previews of select chocolate award entries with each judging cycle—albeit, in pictures and words only. I am not permitted to share my very difficult tasting work as a judge.
By the way, $7 is the cost of a Tiramisu cup at Paris Baguette (yah, I know, they’ve gotten soooo expensive!!). It’s also the cost of a Dark Chocolate Ginger Rose Coconut Mylk bar from Endorfin Foods. Or their Turmeric Cardamom Black Pepper bar (no they’re not paying me, I just love them). I can also get paid in chocolate. Email me and we’ll work it out.
$77 a year. You get everything the Cacao Trees receive, plus a physical copy of The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree shipped to you or a loved one. And yes, I’ll sign it if you like! Most importantly, you are endowed with divine status in a sacred cacao ceremony during a lunar eclipse atop an ancient Mesoamerican temple with two black jaguars presiding.3
This annual tier works out to just $6.25 a month. Does it make sense that you become a Deity by paying less than a Tree? Not really, but whatever. This is the magical world of chocolate. Anything logical melts away.
The Cacao Muse Society
$220 a year. You’re in the big cacao leagues now. You get everything the Cacao Deities receive, plus… a Book-to-Bar gift set shipped anywhere in the continental U.S. once a year. That’s a $25 value. Treat yourself, a loved one, a friend, or a random person you met on a flight.
Note: When you get to the “Choose a subscription plan” page, you won’t see the thank-you book gift listed under the “Annual” plan b/c Substack doesn’t allow us to distinguish between monthly and annual. Have to write to them about that. But you’ll get the book.
If you’ve read this far, you can’t hide it anymore. You’re a chocophile. Sign up already!
As a general rule, when I say ‘chocolate,’ I’m referring to dark chocolate. That’s the cacao default. Not milk chocolate, not white chocolate, not ruby chocolate. If I write about these other types of chocolate, I’ll specifically say so.
I’ll post images of chocolate award entries with commentary. Paid subscribers get a special sneak peek once voting has concluded—please note however that I will only post images, basic information, tasting notes and other commentary; no rankings, votes, or official opinions about the entries in my capacity as a judge.
Curious about the chocolate in the cover photo? It’s a stack of Läderach chocolates, gifted to me for my birthday by my friend Janeen. Little did she—or I—know at the time that this little tower of chocolate bliss would end up on the cover of The Cacao Muse.
The enterprising cacao bean counterfeiter certainly had to work for their money. They would carefully extract the cacao bean from its paper-thin shell and refill it with clay. Other forms of counterfeiting cacao currency included crafting fake beans from wax, amaranth dough, or avocado pits. Counterfeit cacao beans have been found in both Maya and Aztec areas. See this article for more.
Let it be known that if anyone ever mints a “Cacao Coin,” the inspiration therefor ignited right here on The Cacao Muse.
If for any reason we are not able to conduct the aforesaid sacred cacao ceremony atop an ancient Mesoamerican temple, specifically during the time of a lunar eclipse, and/or if the two black jaguars’ schedule conflicts with ours or yours, we will instead send you instructions for a DIY ceremony that you may conduct in the peace and safety of your own home or a location of your choosing. Remember that true divinity lies in the heart—those ancient temples are just for show anyway.