Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history.
Visitors start their journey by learning about cocoa beans, the main ingredient of chocolate.
“Inside, there are about 20 to 40 cocoa beans. And you see the white color here is actually the pulp on the outside of the beans," a demonstrator holding a cocoa pod explains.
Visitors at the annual chocolate festival in McLean, Virginia can sample all kinds of sweets, but at a table where a half dozen demonstrators explain the process of early American chocolate making, they can taste the past along with their candy.
Visitors see how cocoa nibs are ground on a heated stone called a metate with spices and other ingredients to produce a chocolate block.
They learn how chocolate was originally consumed primarily as a beverage, up to and through the 1880’s, when the 1st candy bar was manufactured and distributed.
David Borghesani is a chocolate historian with American Heritage Chocolate, a division of MARS, which is one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in the nation.
Holding a piece of chocolate block, Borghesani demonstrates, “It is just a little too hard for us to eat like a candy bar. So in Colonial chocolate making, they would take chocolate blocks in this form and grate it to make fine chocolate power. Then the powder was mixed with hot water in a chocolate pot."
The historian said, “We found an authentic colonial recipe partnering with the folks at Colonial Williamsburg. The recipe dates back to the 1750s. Nine different seasonings and spices are included in the recipe.”
The drink made from the recipe was a pleasant surprise to visitors. Brittany Yam came with her husband and two young daughters.
“It is delicious. It is very spicy, rich and not too sweet. It’s been great for the kids. They enjoy trying different chocolates and learning about how their favorite treats are made. Very educational." said Yam.
In a separate room, visitors also have opportunities to taste and purchase chocolate products from local vendors. However, Lynn Heinrichs, the president of the Rotary Club of McLean that hosted the festival says, it's not just about treats.
“The proceeds from this event will help fund not just our local projects but some international projects as well," said Heinrichs. " For example, we have built a dental clinic in Swaziland, Africa. We also have a medical brigade, which is in Honduras... We have bought computers for low income schools in Greece. I can keep going on and on.”
Heinrichs hopes the annual community event will help sweeten more lives than just those that taste the goods.