Ceremonial cacao has a long history of use in the region of Oaxaca, Mexico, and was an important part of the traditional culture of the indigenous peoples of the region. Oaxaca count several different indigenous communities, under which the Zapotec & Mazatec. Cacao was believed to have a number of medicinal properties, and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and stress. It was also used in a variety of ceremonial contexts, and was believed to have spiritual and energizing properties.

There is evidence of the use of cacao in the region of Oaxaca dating back to at least 1900 BC, and it is likely that the use of cacao in the region goes back even further. Cacao has been found in a number of archeological sites in the region, including at the ancient city of Monte Albán, which was a major center of the Zapotec civilization.

Cacao was an important part of the economy of the ancient civilizations of Oaxaca, and was often used as a form of currency. It was also an important part of the social and cultural life of the region, and played a central role in traditional ceremonies and rituals.

Upon my travels through Mexico, I came across many traditional cacao beverages in the state of Oaxaca. Here cacao drinks are still an important part of the culture and have a long history of ceremonial use. Some traditional Oaxaca cacao drinks include:

  1. “Tejate” is a traditional pre-Columbian beverage made from cacao, corn, and other ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, and mamey seed. This drink is considered as a part of the cultural patrimony of Oaxaca, and is typically consumed during religious ceremonies and festivals. However you can find it with many street vendors, local markets and in most touristic places. Its a defiantly MUST try when you are on Oaxaca.
  2. “Chocolate Oaxaqueño” is a traditional cacao drink made from ground cacao beans, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. This drink is typically consumed hot and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. It is often served in clay cups or gourds, and is known for its rich, chocolatey flavor and smooth texture. The sugar is already moulded into the cacao, so to ask for out without sugar is not an option. Its also said to know that Nestle owns this brand now in Mexico.
  3. “Chocolate de Agua” is another traditional Oaxacan cacao drink, it is made with ground cacao, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and water. This is the less sweet version and commonly consumed as a everyday beverage

Mexicio holds a lot of more traditional cacao beverages then the 3 mentioned above. However these 3 are the current classic cacao beverages you can find in the state of Oaxaca.

All these traditional cacao drinks have a long history in Oaxaca and continue to be enjoyed by local people in the region. They are part of a rich cultural heritage and tradition that is still passed down from generation to generation.

Traditional cacao drinks can be found in various places in Oaxaca, Mexico. Some popular places to find traditional Oaxacan cacao drinks include:

  1. Local markets: Local markets such as the Benito Juarez Market in Oaxaca City or the Tlacolula Market are popular places to find traditional Oaxacan cacao drinks. You can find vendors selling traditional drinks such as chocolate Oaxaqueño and Tejate.
  2. Cacao plantations: Visiting cacao plantations in the region is a great way to learn about the traditional process of making cacao drinks, you can also find local vendors selling traditional drinks made from the fresh cacao.
  3. Restaurants and cafes: Many restaurants and cafes in Oaxaca City and other towns in the region serve traditional Oaxacan cacao drinks. These drinks are often made using traditional methods and recipes, and are a great way to try the local flavors and get a sense of the traditional culture.
  4. Hotels and B&Bs: Some hotels and B&Bs in Oaxaca City and other towns in the region offer traditional Oaxacan cacao drinks as part of their breakfast or as an evening treat. They usually serve it in traditional clay cups or gourds, providing a unique and authentic experience.

Keep in mind that if you want to try traditional cacao drinks, it is best to ask locals or travel guides for recommendations, as some places may be better than others depending on the traditional methods, ingredients and preparation.

Additionally, some traditional indigenous communities in Oaxaca still use cacao in their rituals and ceremonies, and in those cases it can be hard to find, unless you are invited by the local community.

Ancient recipes for cacao drinks from Oaxaca, Mexico, would have varied between different indigenous cultures and communities in the region. However, some common ingredients that were used in ancient Mesoamerican cacao recipes include water, chili pepper, vanilla, and honey.

Here is an example of a traditional recipe used in Oaxaca:

  1. Roast and grind cacao beans to make a paste.
  2. Heat water and add ground chili pepper and vanilla to the pot.
  3. Mix in the ground cacao paste and honey or other sweeteners to taste.
  4. Stir the mixture until it becomes frothy.
  5. Serve the cacao hot, in traditional clay cups or gourds, and enjoy.

It’s also important to note that depending on the culture and the context of the ceremony, other ingredients such as corn, flowers or other plants, could be added to the mix, creating a diverse array of flavors and rituals.

Traditional way of preparing cacao

Cacao continues to be an important part of the culture and economy of Oaxaca, and the region is known for producing some of the highest quality cacao in the world, but unfortunately most farmers and local collectives do not hold a organic certification and the use of pesticides is indeed used at most of the farms. Apart from being used in traditional beverages cacao is also used to make a variety of traditional chocolate products, including chocolate candies, soaps and cosmetics.

In the rural areas of Oaxaca ( which is about 80/90% of the state), locals value cacao still as a sacred food source and it is used in many rituals and ceremonies as an offering back to mother nature. There are many ceremonies were cacao seeds are seen as source of energy for abundance and prosperity.

The Mazatec, which are descendants from the Maya, are native the most northern region of the state of Oaxaca. I have had the honour to be part of a very special local ceremony which involves the use of sacred mushrooms for healing purposes. Here the local curandera (shaman) uses not only the cacao seeds as a offering to the local spirits, but also as a beverage made with only cacao and water, to bring your soul back the physical word with love . She also uses this “Agua de Cacao” as form of purification to suck out any negative energies within the body. After the ceremony she creates a special sacred packages made from local herbs, were she wraps a certain amount of cacao seeds in 7 different packages that are blessed with her love to sent out to; all 4 cardinal point, the sky, the earth and a local sacred place. These 7 packages are gifted by her, for you to return to the universe and ask the local spirit for strength and support from the intention you have set for the ceremony to be manifested into the physical world. The cacao seeds serve as a offering asking for abundance and prosperity in your life.

In summary, ceremonial cacao has a long history of use in the region of Oaxaca, Mexico, and continues to be a sacred food and and recognised as an important part of the culture and economy of the region.

“Chocolate de Agua”

Thank you for reading my blog post in our Herbal Cacao Journal. 

Feel free to share this post with anyone who you might think can benefit from reading this.

Sharon Fernie (Founder of Herbal Cacao)

With love, 

Sharon Fernie, Founder Herbal Cacao