Chocolate at High Tea
A local chef brings back a thousandyear-old ceremony
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 | email@example.com.
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