Fear & Loathing in The Chocolate Factory

There are a number of words or phrases I hear around Berlin that make my body react in a pungent way. I take in a short, contracted breath as my shoulders rise and everything in my body clenches. A few examples include:

Heart chakra, aligning the chakras, pretty much anything chakra
Energy healing/ moving
Getting in touch with your Truth
Holding the space
Opening to the flow of prana/chi

I come across these words often; it is just one of the hazards of living in a progressive city. I am mostly in danger of these words when people talk about meditation, yoga and other conscious rituals, but recently, I have been hearing these words in a new context: chocolate. Specifically, rituals where people sit in a circle, “set intentions,” “align with their Truth,” drink glorified hot chocolate and “welcome the Cacao Deva to open their heart chakra.”

Normally this is my cue to run.

The first few times I heard about these rituals, I thought it was just another hippy phase. After seeing these cacao rituals around the places I frequent, I started to become slightly, if not morbidly, curious… as I generally tend to be. I like to try things at least once and it’s chocolate so it’s not like it can be a bad experience right? Plus, if people actually are getting “high” on chocolate, I want in. The problem is that these rituals are expensive, about €20 to €30 each. That is what I might be willing to pay for a good party, but not a glass of hot chocolate. But as the cacao circles grew, I met people around who host their own cacao rituals, so I grabbed the chance to ask if they could show me and explain the process.

First, I should say that by calling it glorified hot chocolate, I am maybe being unfair. After all, this is by no means the bag of hot chocolate that you buy at Kaufland. The chocolate that we know is incredibly processed and chock-full of sugar. Not only does the cacao that is used for rituals not have any of the added sugar, it also doesn’t go through the same processes that give us the chocolate we know. There are a handful of differences between what is referred to as ceremonial cacao and normal chocolate. One of the most important of which, are flavanols. Flavanols are one of the many parts of raw cacao that have been shown to be incredibly healthy. The downside however is that flavanols are bitter, which means they are often removed from chocolate that you might normally buy.

Different studies of raw cacao and flavanols show that they do a lot for the cardiovascular system, including reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, reducing high blood pressure, improving insulin resistance and even possibly reducing the risk of cancer. Other studies have found drinking cacao gives a huge memory boost. This is probably because the increased blood flow results in more blood flowing to the brain for two to three hours. Studies where participants just ate dark chocolate or chocolate without a lot of flavanols showed many of these same benefits, but to a far lesser extent.

From a medical perspective, there really is something to cacao. The down side of all of this is that after about a week of not ingesting cacao, blood vessel performance went back to normal, meaning there are no long-term benefits of drinking cacao unless you are drinking it regularly.

My cacao tastings was with Andrea Fenner, a food and nutrition specialist from London. I showed up (late) to her house so she already had the cacao ready in a big pot. She poured two large glasses of the brown, watery liquid and said, “so, let’s do this.”

Andrea got into cacao a few years ago during a raw foods course in Costa Rica. The teacher had a passion for super foods and introduced cacao to the class. Since then, Andrea has been trying to bring cacao to events in Berlin where people want to open up and try something slightly altering, without resorting to stronger drugs.

Now, one thing about me is that I am not a particularly introspective person. I don’t notice small changes in my feelings; normally I am not even particularly aware of my feelings. When I take mild stimulants, I need three to four times as much as a normal person to get any kind of result. When I drink, I am often the last one standing. My body has created a far-reaching tolerance to the things that I put in it. Because of this, I am not going to waste your time with what I experienced with cacao because there isn’t much to tell. Subtle things just aren’t my forte. When Andrea drinks cacao though, she has “a kind of sinking down but expanding out feeling, a kind of sharper focus and a happy buzz, which feels quite natural actually. My heart definitely feels more open. When I am talking to people, I can see them more somehow. I am more connected with the people around and more empathetic perhaps. There is less separation between me and that person and less fear perhaps to just be who I am. “

Another cacao enthusiast, Gregory Fung, said that his cacao experiences, “felt very natural. A very soft experience, something was happening and I was really in tune with myself. I could face a lot of truths or accept a few things about myself and follow trains of thoughts that I didn’t want to follow other times.”

I find it difficult to translate ideas of ones heart being open or facing Truths, but maybe you can frame them in a way that makes sense to you. Cacao doesn’t throw you into a journey like LSD or MDMA. Instead, it lightly takes you by the hand and asks, “Where do you want to go today?” Maybe this is because of the increased blood flow, making people feel that it is intertwined with their heart. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that cacao increases endorphins.

For Gregory, the experience of cacao, along with other spiritual work he does, allows him to open up and become closer to the kind of person he wanted to become when first moving to Berlin. “Cacao has helped with a lot of the things that were holding me back,” said Gregory. “About how I fit into the world, how I am accepted or what is expected of me. If people find me attractive, if I can be powerful and assert myself between all of the different types of work I am doing. It is noticeable how dramatically differently I approach life.”

Cacao rituals are becoming more mainstream. People who are interested in having a different experience but don’t want to do harsh drugs are in some ways finding what they are looking for in cacao. Whether it’s placebo or not, cacao is helping people in its own way.

No matter if cacao has any sort of wonderful properties that make you feel any different or not, in the very least, my inner Truth thinks that the cacao was delicious and I would not say “no” to another glass.

If you want to learn more about Andrea’s journey with raw food, cacao and super foods you can find her at Ecstatic Kitchen on Facebook and on Instagram.

By Shauna Blackmon

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