During my trip to Guatemala, in December 2017, I was lucky enough to be welcomed by Carmen and her family in their home to share in their culinary knowledge. It was on the 31st of December, as the best way to end this year.

They live in a lovely house, on the hills of Antigua, the former county capital, where Carmen was going to show me one of her famous recipes. But before anything, I was introduced to her son (and their dog) in the garden. Her son had started a chocolate factory, and was keen to walk me through the process.

Making chocolate this way is by no means the easiest or the fastest, trust me. And to be honest, before that day, chocolate had to me remained an utter mystery. Even though I’ve tried in all its forms, I had never seen a cacao bean before. Those have to be harvested from the pods, and allowed to naturally ferment over a period of two days to two weeks. Heat kills the delicate germinating seed, and natural yeasts grow to develop complex flavours. The beans are then sun-dried to preserve them for shipping.

Next, the beans are roasted for the same reason that coffee beans are: to develop complex flavours and to drive off unpleasant acidic compounds developed in the fermentation process.

Cracking and winnowing follow roasting: this step is purely mechanical, to separate the valuable nibs from the worthless shells. After this, the nibs must be refined. The tongue can perceive particles larger than 30 micrometres in size, so extensive grinding is needed for a good mouthfeel.

The raw cocoa liquor is then “conched,” a lengthy process which drives off the rest of the acidic flavoring compounds. Finally, the finished product is tempered to give the chocolate good gloss and snap.

I then had the chance to mix the chocolate with hot water (could also be hot milk) and to drink it from one of those beautiful pots. After the hard work and time spent preparing it, it tasted even more delicious!

Dessert before main course? Not bad! I then joined Carmen in her kitchen to prepare some delicious “beignets”. To be honest, I don’t remember many of the ingredients, or the recipe. But it was very tasty and a real privilege to experience local cuisine with generous local people. Carmen and her family were nothing but genuine and kind.