, MARCH 20, 2007 (STAR) FORTYFIED By Cecile Lopez Lilles - The Aztecs drank chocolate well before the rest of the world, but chocolate was so rare and sacred then that only the rich and high-ranking chieftains could afford it. Christopher Columbus discovered it in the 15th century and brought it back to the new world. It has since been referred to as "the drink of the gods."

My childhood memories are punctuated with pleasurable moments of drinking cups of hot chocolate. The aroma of fresh cocoa butter simmering with milk and sugar is the signature scent of my growing-up years. Our kitchen never ran out of hot chocolate. It was a staple in our home, which our cook made from native chocolate, tablea rounds manufactured from cacao beans grown in the farms of Davao.

Back in the ’70s, the processing of tablea was all done by hand. Cacao beans were harvested from ripe cacao fruits. They were dried under the sun, and cracked open. The beans were then finely ground into rich, thick, dark brown cocoa butter from which different kinds of chocolate were made. They were shaped into round one-inch-thick discs and cooled. The grinders were crudely made of metal and were manually operated, so that the final texture of the product retained coarse bits and pieces. These grainy chocolate sediment lined the cups after all the hot chocolate had been finished off.

The local cacao industry did not flourish and tablea making became a lost art. The cottage industry of native chocolate processing was one of the first casualties of industrialization and automation in the south. By the time I left Davao, we had all turned to drinking imported hot cocoa, made from instant cocoa powder. First there was the Suchard brand from Switzerland, but as the rage for PX items hit the city, we converted to Carnation and Swiss Miss, opting for the ones with tiny marshmallows. The taste of these chocolate powdered drinks was totally inferior to the earthy and robust flavor of native tablea, but since everyone was drinking them, we jumped on the bandwagon.

It has become my habit to scout for good hot chocolate each time I visit a new place, and the successive disappointing experiences I have had are countless. But I can proudly claim that two of the best-tasting cups of hot chocolate I have ever tried are the chocolat chaud or hot chocolate at Angelina Café in Paris and the cioccolata densa in Lugano, Switzerland. They are the stuff of dreams. Every sip of their potent hot chocolate is a throwback to my childhood.

But I do not have the luxury of flying off to Europe whenever I have a craving for hot chocolate. So, here, I dive right back into mugs of powdered hot cocoa and wallow in self-pity. I have tried several brands of native tablea, those readily available in grocery stores, but they somehow harbor rusty aftertastes. Blech! I attribute this to preservatives or extenders or some other hocus pocus of ingredient that just makes it so unappetizing. I have also sampled those bottled hot chocolate ready-mixes that look like dark peanut butter sold in stalls found around the malls of Metro Manila — but: double blech!

On a recent trip to Binondo, my luck changed. I discovered the last bastion of glorious native tablea.

La Resureccion Fabrica de Chocolate is a hole-in-the-wall tablea factory on Ongpin St. in the heart of Binondo. First opened in the 1930s, La Resureccion still stands in its original pre-war spot. The hallucinatory smell of pure, potent chocolate permeates the air within a two-meter radius from the store. I truly felt like eight again, standing in the middle of our kitchen.

Third-generation owner Johnny To says that they strictly adhere to the traditional methods of producing chocolate tablea from cacao beans that come from small cacao plantations in Mindanao. These are processed in the exact painstaking way of manually bashing each bean with a flat squarish stone, separating the skin from the bean, grinding them into pure cocoa butter with no additives whatsoever and drying them on bilaos. After they harden into the texture of molding clay, they are shaped into discs and further dried until they are firmly set. They are then wrapped into individual rolls of a dozen pieces, ready for retail sale. It is the last factory of its kind in Manila, and simply observing the workers grind and shape the chocolate discs is worth the trip to this part of town. I bought six rolls and immediately made hot chocolate upon returning home. The resulting mug of steaming rich, thick, black-brown hot chocolate tasted truly authentic: full-bodied, earthy and primitive, just like how they made it when I was a child, exactly the way I want it.

One roll of pure unsweetened chocolate sells for P53; a roll of sweetened is P48. The unsweetened version costs more because this is chocolate in its purest form. The process of adding sugar somehow breaks down the consistency and flavor into lower-grade quality. So, you’re better off getting the unsweetened rolls.

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La Resureccion Chocolate Factory is at 618 Ongpin St., Binondo, Manila. For inquiries, call 242-9792 or 0916-2536767.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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