Choco­late at High Tea

A lo­cal chef brings back a thou­sandyear-old cer­e­mony

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - Im­ages by MANNY LLANES SOL VANZI

AS­pan­ish friar in­tro­duced the ca­cao plant in the Philip­pines in 1670, along with other flora from the Amer­i­cas, or what was re­ferred to then as the New World: av­o­cado, squash, tomato, and other fruits and veg­eta­bles, which have be­come part of our reg­u­lar diet.

The an­cient Me­soamer­i­cans who first cul­ti­vated ca­cao plants found in the trop­i­cal rain­forests of Cen­tral Amer­ica fer­mented, roasted, and ground the ca­cao beans into a paste that they mixed with wa­ter, vanilla, honey, chili pep­pers, and other spices to brew a frothy choco­late drink. It is a rit­ual fa­mil­iar to farm­ers cul­ti­vat­ing ca­cao in the hin­ter­lands of the Philip­pines from the moun­tains of Lu­zon to the is­lands scat­tered through­out Min­danao.

A few days ago, at the his­toric Manila Ho­tel, we watched mes­mer­ized, as ca­cao beans were mag­i­cally trans­formed from raw seeds to deli- cious choco­late bev­er­age and sweet desserts in a thou­sand-year-old cer­e­mony adapted by Filipinos rais­ing the crop in small land­hold­ings all over our ar­chi­pel­ago. Demon­strat­ing the craft was Ce­buana Raquel Choa, whose own life story is the stuff of ro­man­tic fairy tales.

Raised in the rugged, rebel-in­fested area in Balam­ban, Cebu, Raquel grew up cross­ing seven rivers daily to reach the clos­est pub­lic school. Her only lux­ury was a nightly mug of hot choco­late called sik­wate pre­pared by her grand­mother, who re­galed her with sto­ries about the leg­endary Maria Ca­cao and the ori­gin of the ca­cao plant. Like most moun­tain dwellers, Raquel’s fam­ily looked af­ter a few ca­cao trees for their own con­sump­tion.

To celebrate the unique taste and tex­ture of Cebu’s sik­wate, the Manila Ho­tel has col­lab­o­rated with Cebu’s ‘Choco­late Queen’ Raquel Choa on Af­ter­noon Choco­late and High Tea fea­tur­ing culi­nary cre­ations, such as pas­tries, cho­co­lates, and Filipino del­i­ca­cies that pair well with its lux­ury English tea of­fer­ings.

Mov­ing to the city gave her the chance to cap­i­tal­ize on her knowl­edge about ca­cao, and opened doors of op­por­tu­nity she never thought pos­si­ble for a provin­ciana like her. Her sik­wate be­came pop­u­lar in Cebu sim­ply by word of mouth. Raquel’s pas­sion for ca­cao has gar­nered her the ti­tle “Choco­late Queen,” fu­el­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in fine qual­ity, hand­made Philip­pine choco­late, lo­cally known as tablea.

In June 2015, she was one of the eight Bravo Em­pow­ered Women by Zonta Club of Makati and En­vi­rons, and Se­cu­rity Bank. In Au­gust of 2016, she was named among the 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Filip­ina Women in the World, by the Filip­ina Women’s Net­work (FWN).

Early this year, Raquel re­vis­ited Chi­ang Mai for TEDx2018, as she show­cased her choco­late cre­ations visà-vis an­swer­ing the chal­lenge of the theme, ‘Our Com­mon Fu­ture,’ through sus­tain­able ca­cao farm­ing. A few days later, she wowed es­teemed guests at the Philip­pine Em­bassy in Bangkok for an af­ter­noon delight with Philip­pine ar­ti­sanal cho­co­lates. As a ‘ca­cao-to-tablea, soil-to-soul’ ad­vo­cate, Raquel en­vi­sions to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize The Tablea Club, which en­cour­ages tablea en­thu­si­asts to gather and share their tablea ex­pe­ri­ences. Her new busi­ness con­cept is “Batirol,” a kiosk that serves sik­wate, pure choco­late drink, and other tablea-in­fused food and bev­er­ages, which she is in­tro­duc­ing in Agana, Guam. Another unique un­der­tak­ing is The Choco­late Cham­ber Counter, which of­fers a wide se­lec­tion of choco­late blocks, an in­fu­sion of white, milk, and dark choco­late, with var­i­ous in­gre­di­ents from clas­sic to con­tem­po­rary.

To as­sist moun­tain farm­ers and rebel re­turnees, she es­tab­lished Ca­cao de Filip­inas Fel­low­ship (CFF), Inc., giv­ing jobs to many, re­gard­less of train­ing or ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment and link­ing them with other ca­cao stake­hold­ers.

To celebrate the unique taste and tex­ture of Cebu’s sik­wate, the Manila Ho­tel is fea­tur­ing culi­nary cre­ations in­clud­ing a se­lec­tion of pas­tries, cho­co­lates, and Filipino del­i­ca­cies that pair well with its lux­ury English tea of­fer­ings, amid The Manila Ho­tel’s so­phis­ti­cated Old World charm, evok­ing the true heart and spirit of the Filipino.

Af­ter­noon Choco­late and High Tea at the Lobby Lounge is of­fered daily, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. 02 527 0011 ex­ten­sion 1261 to 1264 | restau­rantrsvn@the­mani­la­ho­

CRAZY FOR CO­COA From right: The Manila Ho­tel pres­i­dent Jose Lina; Ex­ec­u­tive chef Kon­rad Wal­ter; and ca­cao ex­perts Edu Pantino and Han­nah Choa ex­plain­ing use of and

CHOCO­LATE DIVA Clock­wsie from top: Raquel Choa shap­ing choco­late de bola; Raquel pound­ing ca­cao in wooden lu­song; ca­cao art­work; and roast­ing ca­cao beans

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