Cacao Nibs

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1oz Cacao Discs Makes 1 Serving


On this page we’re going to explore all things related to how to make ceremonial cacao. My hope is by the end of this post you’ll know everything you need to make yourself a delicious cup!


What is the difference between ceremonial cacao, drinking chocolate and hot cocoa?

Ceremonial cacao and drinking chocolate are made with water and cacao paste, versus a typical hot cocoa that is made with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. European sipping chocolate is the same idea as drinking chocolate – much thicker and frothier than American hot chocolate. Ceremonial cacao is typically unsweetened while drinking chocolate may include sugar, and is made specifically with the intention for health and healing.


What is the difference between cacao paste and cocoa powder?

The latter has been defatted – the natural cacao butter has been removed. Benefits of this are that cacao powder is easier to stir into drinks, it won’t melt during storage, and it is cheaper. It doesn’t taste good though in straight water because it has no fat – that’s why it is typically prepared with dairy. Benefits of drinking chocolate made with cacao paste are that it is good for you; it can be made without milk and without sugar and still taste quite delicious. It is actually a whole food because it still contains the natural cacao butter, which is the best carrier of cacao’s medicinal properties. To make a proper chocolate drink it must be whisked or blended in a mixer so that the fat properly emulsifies. Learn more about the health benefits of pure cacao here.


How do I prepare drinking chocolate? 

My basic recipe involves heating water to 170F (I typically don’t boil the water), then pouring the water and 1oz of pure cacao paste into a blender, and serving immediately. There are many ways to make this fancier; check out the next section below for some drinking chocolate recipe ideas. All of these recipes apply equally for how to make sipping chocolate.

For an individual serving, use 1oz of cacao (about 20 discs, or 1/4 cup), with 1/2 cup of liquid.

For a group ceremony, use 1lb of cacao with 8 cups of liquid, for every 16-20 people.

Wait ... I don't need to shave the chocolate off a big block or slowly melt it in a double boiler?

Exactly 🙂 Our chocolate discs make it as easy for you as possible to enjoy cacao regularly.  


The Good Stuff ... Let's Get Creative with Some Recipe Ideas

The basic recipe is simply a starting point. Here are some of our favorite tips for making truly magical cacao drinks!

- Add a local honey, maple syrup, or other unrefined sweetener. Add this before blending. You’ll need less than you think – be cautious about over sweetening!

- Make a 50/50 blend of your favorite coffee and our drinking chocolate recipe above for a delicious bulletproof style mocha

- Brew maté or guayusa and add this to the blender rather than hot water for drinking chocolate. Be warned this is a very energizing combination!

- Add chili or cayenne when blending your hot drinking chocolate. Other ingredients that go well with a spicy chocolate are cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger – all of these are heating and will boost circulation.

- Blend in various super-foods, such as fresh bee pollen, or the Peruvian root Maca that balances hormones and give stamina.

- Use a nut milk as the base for your cacao drink. Hazelnut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, all make excellent options.

- Experiment with different single origin drinking chocolates. Chocolate is similar to wine, with each origin offering unique flavors (due to differences in weather + soil, genetics, and fermentation). You can also combine different origins …

- Creative touches for serving ... drop some pomegranite seeds into your cacao and while drinking scoop them out with a spoon as a special treat. Or drop one extra disc of cacao on top of the frothy cup of cacao you made - it will melt to the bottom of your cup!


Types of Drinking Chocolate 

So where to buy the best drinking chocolate? I’ve been making 100% cacao drinking chocolate for five years now with cacao paste I make from scratch from Belizean, Ecuadorian, and Tanzanian cacao beans. It’s available on this website for sale and I’d be happy to share it with you.

In particular I recommend the Ecuadorian as the best drinking chocolate for baking, while the Belizean has been my favorite drinking chocolate for morning breakfast rituals. And the Tanzanian makes hands down one of the smoothest, creamiest, and well-balanced cacao drinks I know.


Pro Tips for Enjoying Your Creation 

Now that you’ve learned how to substitute drinking chocolate for hot cocoa, there’s just one last step remaining. The enjoyment of your creation! Here are some tips on how to serve drinking chocolate:

- Consume within 12-24 hours, the drinking chocolate does not store well and will begin to go sour.

- If you’ve made a thick drinking chocolate, it will become thicker with time, so if serving time is delayed you may need to mix in more liquid. Alternatively this can be put to good use ... pour your left overs into shallow bowls, and place them in the fridge to set up, and you’ll have a delicious chocolate mousse the next day!

- Keep your eyes open for beautiful mugs and cups … a beautiful vessel to hold your lovingly crafted drinking chocolate adds the perfect finishing touch! If you’d like, tag us on Instagram @cacaoceremony to share your creations.

Have a question we didn't address here? Message us through the chat window on the bottom right and we'll happily help out.

Shipping FAQs

We'll get you the cacao you need fast. If you need delivery by a certain date, please write us a note with your order and select the appropriate shipping method.

Domestic Orders

We ship with USPS priority, which generally delivers 1-2 days to most of the metropolitan US. Some addresses will however take 3 days with USPS. Orders typically go out Monday Wednesday Friday, but please check our shipping countdown clock for any changes. Once the shipment has gone out, we will send you a tracking number. In the rare case of a lost shipment, please contact us, as we insure all shipments for up to $200.

After placing your order, please keep an eye out for your package delivery – despite our best efforts, cacao left in a hot mailbox will melt! During the summer months, we ship using insulated boxes and re-usable ice packs, which keep your cacao cool for up to 2 days. As much as possible our packaging material is re-used from prior shipments.

International Orders

International shipping time is as follows:

USPS Priority Express: 3-5 days with tracking

USPS Priority: 7-10 days with tracking

USPS First Class: 7-21 days. Tracking is not available with this service. Please choose Priority for delivery guarantee. Firefly Chocolate is not liable for undelivered packages. 

Tip ... international shipping becomes far more economical with larger orders. Get a few friends together to share an order and receive our bulk discounts to help offset shipping cost!


Once you taste the rich nutty flavor of these cacao nibs you'll never go back to what you can buy at the store. Most nibs available in stores usually use bitter and flavorless commodity raw cacao - our nibs have amazing sourcing (read next paragraph) and are lightly toasted and shelled in micro batches for optimum freshness. Cacao nibs can be added to smoothies, trail mixes, or just eaten straight. They give an energy boost and are an excellent source of magnesium, manganese, iron, and copper.

These transparent trade superfood cacao nibs are grown by the 300+ farmers of the Maya Mountain Cacao Cooperative. The organic heirloom cacao is shade grown in permaculture micro-plots with diverse ecology, tended by Mopan and Q’eqchi' Maya indigenous communities. 


Disclaimer ... it is very hard to make any form of drinking chocolate from these without professional equipment because they will not melt with heat. If you are interested in drinking chocolate, best to buy our ceremonial cacao. Or if you'd like to use traditional methods, there is a hand tool used in Central America called a metate, if you are lucky you can find one on eBay :-)

Ethical Sourcing

Currently we hand select cacao from Belize, Ecuador, and Tanzania for ceremonial usage. With the growth of the bean to bar chocolate movement there is more and more amazing cacao out there, but we still find very few sources that live up to our requirements for making pure cacao paste for ceremony. We also very much believe that the cacao chooses us. 

How do you ensure quality of the cacao? 

Our ceremonial cacao is grown only in the most pristine areas of the earth, often bordering extensive protected lands, so the cacao agroforesty acts as an ecologically diverse buffer to the protected lands and benefits from pure water and uncontaminated soils. The pods are hand harvested when perfectly ripe and brought to cooperatively owned artisanal fermentation facilities, where the flavor of the cacao beans develop for 5-7 days in fermentation boxes before being sun dried (not gas dried) for one to two weeks. All of our cacao is hand sorted before being shipped to us in large burlap sacks, and then hand sorted again when it arrives at our chocolate studio. Our studio is a dedicated chocolate making temple ... it only ever sees the highest quality cacao that we source and it is all run on our custom made artisan equipment. We work with small batches so we can pay highest attention to quality.

Is your cacao organic certified? 

Yes, all of our cacao is organic certified, which dictates rigorous guidelines not just for the growing process but also all the way through the fermentation facility, shipping of the raw cacao beans, and the making of cacao paste at our studio. While organic is just one part of what we look for in sourcing our cacaos, it's an important baseline.

Is your cacao fair trade certified? 

No, we are not fair trade certified, and deliberately so. You can easily buy "fair trade" cacao that has beee grown on a large plantation, and has minimal positive social impact in the community. We believe our cacaos have a greater social impact because they use an innovative cooperative model that buys freshly harvested cacao from networks of hundreds of small farmers. Self reported and third party social impact assessment shows this type of cacao purchasing to have extensive social impact in local communities. Regarding price, we have direct relationships with our partners (sometimes this is called "direct trade") and pay our farmers much more (25%-50% premium) than they would receive under a third party fair trade certification (10% premium). We also regularly visit our sources in person to verify growing and labor practices, and we collaborate with other chocolate companies to collaboratively verify our sources. We're big fans of what we call "transparent trade" - we will happily share everything about our cacao origins as we're thrilled about them!

I'm not sure which origin to get. Where do I start? 

Our ceremonial cacao starter kit has samples of all of our varieties of cacao. Everyone's pallet and relationship to cacao is different - we offer so many different cacaos because they are all unique and everyone has a different favorite. Each sample makes enough for two drinks.



Health Benefits

Not only is drinking chocolate delicious, it's extraordinarily healthy!

With 300-1200 individual constituents, cacao is one of the most pharmacologically complex plant substances known to man. When consumed unsweetened or with very little sugar, it is a superfood, packed with beneficial minerals and neuro-chemicals that beneficially affect our state of mind. The mild bitterness of a ceremonial cacao drink can also serve to cleanse the liver or release emotions, and the alkaloid content of pure cacao boosts circulation and absorption of nutrients. 

What Minerals Does Cacao Contain?

Consuming cacao can replenish minerals vital to our body. Magnesium is chronically deficient in the majority of western diets, and cacao is the highest naturally occurring source. Magnesium is used in all key brain functions, especially memory and concentration. It is also beneficial for the function of the heart, acting to relax blood vessel and decrease strain. Besides magnesium, cacao is also the highest naturally occurring source of chromium, and also high in copper, calcium, manganese, zinc, sulfur, iron, and phosphorous. Our cacao has been lab tested for safety and meets comprehensive EU standards for absence of heavy metals.

Theobromine in Cacao

Is Cacao A Stimulant?

Cacao contains theobromine, an alkaloid in the methylxanthine class of compounds, which also contain caffeine, mateine, and more. Theobromine is a cardiac stimulant (as opposed to caffeine which is a nervous system stimulant) and it relaxes blood vessels, together producing an effect of 30-40% higher blood circulation. This improves absorption of other important nutrients in cacao or other superfoods that it is paired with. There is far more theobromine than caffeine in cacao - it is a misconception that cacao contains much caffeine, most likely due to a caffeine like energy rush from the cane sugar used to sweeten most chocolate bars. Theobromine is only about one quarter as stimulating as caffeine, and it has a much longer half life in the liver, meaning that it's affect on the body is softer and longer.


How Can Cacao Effect Mood?

Regularly working with unsweetened chocolate can have therapeutic health benefits, including creating new neural pathways that change our daily experience to include more joy, love, and connection. Cacao contains beneficial neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators already present in our brain, most notably including: 

Norepinephrine - The joy molecule

Serotonin - Helps with wellbeing, and creates resistance to stress. Cacao also has MOA inhibitors, that inhibit re-uptake of serotonin.

Dopamine - Gives feelings of motivation and pleasure. Cacao also has MOA inhibitors, that inhibit re-uptake of dopamine.

Anandamine - The bliss molecule, it moderates pain, and is associated with the "runners high" effect. Cacao also has N-linoleoylethanolamine, the re-uptake inhibitor for anandamine.

Phenylethylamine (PEA) - Helps with excitement, alertness, attention. Gives the perception of time slowing down. 

Freshly Handmade Cacao Paste

What Is The Difference Between Cacao Powder and Cacao Paste? 

Cacao paste is a whole food, made from a single ingredient, cacao beans, that have been roasted, shelled, and ground down. Cacao powder is processed a few steps further, to remove the cacao butter from the cacao paste. While cacao powder is often marketed as a superfood, we've found cacao paste to be far more potent as it still contains the high grade cacao butter, which is the best carrier fat for the medicinal properties of cacao. The difference is clear - try making a cacao drink with just cacao powder and water (it doesn't taste very good) - and then try making a cacao drink just cacao paste and water, and you'll see how much more nutritive and nourishing the latter is.

Is Your Cacao Raw? 

Indigenous cacao traditions all over central and south America toast their cacao at low temperatures using a clay comal and the coals from an open fire. We believe there is wisdom in these indigenous preparations of cacao, so we too lightly toast our cacao, so it is not raw. While raw cacao is certainly an improvement over industrial cacao roasting which uses high temperatures to create uniform results out of inferior cacao inputs, it's missing the magic and the flavor that the fire element introduces. We believe strongly that making good ceremonial cacao involves taking the cacao through a four element transformation as we work with it, including fire, air, earth, and water. So of course, we can't leave out the fire!

Lightly Toasted Raw Cacao Beans

Can I Eat Your Cacao While on a Ketogenic Diet? 

Absolutely YES. Many experts recommend extra dark chocolate for the ketogenic diet. Our cacao has a 1.1:1 fats to protein+carbs ratio, so it won't knock you out of ketosis. And you'll receive all the many benefits of cacao, from a gentle energy boost to the high mineral content to the compounds that beneficially affect your state of mind. 

Have a question we didn't address here? Message us through the chat window on the bottom right and we'll happily help out.


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