The Philippines has a rich cacao heritage we can be proud of. It dates back to the colonial times—to the time Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Mactan, Cebu in 1521—way before Hershey’s, Lindt and Royce found their way to our store shelves. The flourishing galleon trade of that time brought the riches of the West onto our shores, including the treasured cacao bean. Filipinos adapted the process of growing this bean, eventually creating variants known to be our own.
The native sikwate (hot chocolate) was concocted and traditionally served in the morning. Five centuries later, this native tradition is joined by other chocolate experiences from around the world, but in our very own shores—the first of its kind initiated by Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa General Manager Rene D. Egle.
Chocolate Experiences Around the World
La Tierra Del Chocolate (The Land of Chocolate) aims to bring several chocolate experiences together, spanning from sunrise to sunset. From the native sikwate in the morning to chocolate high tea in the afternoon, and signature chocolate martinis with cacao-infused vodka in the evenings, Shangri-La embarks on this cultural and gastronomic journey using only the Philippine cacao, highlighting its distinctive nuances.
The Philippine Cacao
The resort paradise on Mactan Island is the chosen venue for this journey, quite apt as the very first cacao bean arrived on its shores. Nestled in the heart of the resort, a quaint garden hideaway is the backdrop of La Tierra del Chocolate. It boasts of a young cacao farm and chocolate-making facilities, where chocolate sommeliers formally trained and certified in Philippine cacao, heartily prepare signature chocolate-rooted creations.
The journey starts at the edge of a garden, where tall trees serve as a fortress to what’s in store beyond. A path through a forested area opens up to a clearing, where the scent of cocoa beans wafts through the air, as your eyes feast on cocoa plants lined up for the harvest, roasting equipment, and a beautifully set table with flowers and tempting delicacies.
Journey from Bean to Table
Guests are guided through an experiential tour of the garden, where sommeliers narrate and demonstrate the traditional methods of creating chocolate from cacao beans. It begins with Harvesting. Cocoa trees produce flowers after four to five years. The flowers turn into cocoa pods, which are split open during harvest and beans are scooped out. Fermentation
happens next. In the provinces, it involves drying the beans under the sun. In more modern venues, using an oven is preferred. This process gives the beans its rich taste. Once dried, the beans are ready for roasting. The bigger beans are placed first, followed by the smaller ones. After, Winnowing is done. This is when the outer shell of the bean is removed, leaving the “meat,” otherwise known as cocoa nibs. It is now time for the final stage called Pounding, which traditionally is done with a mortar and pestle. Beans are pounded until it creates a paste called tablea (cacao liquor), which is what’s used to make sikwate. Guests can experience this process first-hand, as the sommeliers ask for willing volunteers to try Roasting and Pounding.
Then comes the best part of the journey, the tasting. The table is prepped for guests to try three different local cocoa varieties—from Cebu, Bohol and Davao. The cocoa is turned into sikwate. First, guests are asked to swirl the cup, an act to cool down the temperature. Blowing is not done, as old folklore believes it will attract evil spirits. Like in wine tasting, smelling the aroma comes next. A whiff of fresh sikwate relaxes the brain. It releases endorphins (happy hormones) and easily uplifts the mood. Lastly, sip and swirl in the mouth for two seconds to enjoy the bitter, floral, and earthy notes of the sikwate.
Like with wine, each cocoa variety has its own characteristics. Bohol’s cocoa beans create a light-bodied sikwate, while Davao’s is more medium-bodied. Cebu’s is the most full-bodied. They are best enjoyed with Shangri-La’s spread of biko and mango underneath a canopy of full-grown trees, with the aroma of this rich heritage we can proudly call our own.
For inquiries, phone (+63 32) 231 0288 or visit <shangri-la.com/cebu>
Written and photographed by Carmen Silverio Roxas