A chocolateria has made its way to Chicago by way of local coffee company Dark Matter. On the menu? Regular cafe items like espresso and coffee, plus chocolate bars and Mexican drinking chocolate that just so happens to be made with cacao beans from Mexico.
It’s an idea that was 10 years in the making.
“Today we are making a little bit of the process of making chocolate,” said Monica Ortiz Lozano, co-founder of La Rifa Chocolateria. “Here at Sleep Walk, we are working with Mexican cacao.”
Sleep Walk Chocolateria and Cafe is the latest offering from Dark Matter.
“Really good coffee and really good chocolate have a lot of overlapping flavors that you can really pick out from cacao beans to coffee beans,” said Aaron Campos, director of coffee at Dark Matter Coffee.
Unlike it’s seven other locations, this one is in partnership with La Rifa Chocolateria, which is based in Mexico.
“It first started with them inviting us to Chiapas, Mexico, to see the producers,” Campos said. “Understanding the processing and chocolate production. We were so blown away by what they’ve been able to accomplish there, we were inspired to bring a lot of those ideas to Chicago.”
Lozano and Daniel Reza, co-founders of La Rifa, have been in training Sleep Walk employees in Chicago on how to transform the cacao.
“We roasted the cacao beans and then husk it to get the skin off the bean of the cacao nib,” Lozano said. “This is going to be helpful when grinding the cacao in the traditional stone mills. These stone mills are big traditional mills we brought from Mexico, the stone’s friction on one another grind the cacao. We’re going to then get a really liquid paste, because cacao has a really big amount of cacao butter. This is going to make our paste really liquid instead of cacao powder. Once we have the cacao paste ready, we add sugar and grind it again to create refined chocolate.”
The cacao is produced by Monica Jimenez and Margarito Mendoza, two farmers based in Tabasco and Chiapas, Mexico. Because the cacao is grown among different fruits, flowers and trees, Sleep Walk can offer seven different chocolate flavors.
“After we grind and refine our chocolate, we’re going to temperature-check it,” Lozano said. “By evening the temperature, we get it crystallized properly so we get shiny chocolate bars that will be crunchy when you taste them. This is how we then mold the chocolate bars then pack them and have this amazing first collection.”
This same procedure is used to turn cacao paste into tablets they mix with natural vanilla to create what’s known as Mexican drinking chocolate. That’s right: the only ingredients are cacao and vanilla, zero additives. But that’s not all it’s used for. Dark Matter has partnered with local bakeries (Azucar Rococo, Do-Rite Donuts, El Nopal Bakery 26th Street and West Town Bakery) to use the chocolate to coat pastries and as syrup for coffee drinks.
For Dark Matter and La Rifa, this collaboration between the artists, the community and Mexico is imperative.
“We want everybody to feel included” said Reza.
“I think it’s a great way to reconnect with our cultural roots and creating new relationships here,” Lozano said.
If you’re interested in trying your own cup of Mexican drinking chocolate, you can visit Sleep Walk, Chicago’s local chocolateria in Pilsen at 1844 S. Blue Island Ave.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.
Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Monica Ortiz Lozano. The story has been corrected.