What’s the Difference Between Coco and Cacao?

What’s the difference between coco and cacao?

Ceremonial cacao and regular coco are two types of chocolate that are consumed by people in different ways. While they may look and taste similar, there are some key differences between the two.

Coco, or cocoa powder, is what most people are familiar with. It is made by separating the coco solids from the coco butter found in the cacao beans. The solids are then ground into a fine powder commonly used in baking, making hot chocolate, or for adding flavor to various desserts. It is often mixed with sugar and other additives to enhance the taste.

On the other hand, ceremonial cacao is made from raw cacao beans that are carefully processed to retain all their natural properties. It is considered to be a more pure and unprocessed form of chocolate. Ceremonial cacao is often used in spiritual, healing, and ceremonial practices. It is believed to have beneficial effects on mood, energy, and emotional well-being.

In terms of taste, cocoa powder tends to have a stronger, more bitter flavor compared to ceremonial cacao. Ceremonial cacao, when prepared as a drink, has a rich and smooth taste that some describe as more “earthy” or “nutty.”


Etymology of the word ‘coco’

Derived from the Spanish word ‘cacoa,’ the word ‘coco’ traces back to the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs, who revered the cacao tree as ‘ka’kaw.’ This term underwent a linguistic metamorphosis through the ages, eventually landing as ‘coco’ in various languages.


A person holds raw cacao beans in the palms of their hands.

History of Cocao

‘Cocao’ primarily refers to the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. Biologically, cacao thrives in the shade of rainforests, needing a warm and humid climate to flourish. Cacao is native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, where the ancient Mayans and Aztecs first cultivated it over 3,000 years ago. 

Culturally, cacao held immense significance in Mesoamerican civilizations, revered as a sacred gift from the gods. It was used in religious ceremonies, as a currency, and even as a beverage enjoyed exclusively by royalty and the elite.

As explorers voyaged across the seas to the Americas, they encountered cacao. Soon after, cacao found its way to Europe, where it underwent a transformation into the chocolate we know today. Through innovation and trade, chocolate became a staple around the world. With time, cacao cultivation spread to different continents, with regions like West Africa and Southeast Asia emerging as significant producers. Today, cacao is integral to various cultural festivities and daily consumption worldwide.


Spiritual Significance of Cacao. 

Mayan cosmovision, an ancient worldview of the Mayan civilization, embodies a profound connection between the natural world and spiritual realms. 

For the Maya, ceremonial cacao was more than just a beverage; it was a guide believed to open the heart, allowing individuals to connect deeply with themselves, their community, and the divine. Cacao was a compass to help star seeds find their way home.  The sacred rituals involving cacao were a way to honor the earth and the ancestors, fostering a sense of harmony and balance in the universe. 

Today, the spiritual significance of ceremonial cacao continues to resonate, drawing people from all walks of life. As we embrace the wisdom of the Mayan cosmovision, we honor the sacred connection between nature and spirituality, finding presence in the simple act of sharing ceremonial cacao with one another.

Many practitioners incorporate ceremonial cacao into meditation and mindfulness practices, or hold cacao ceremonies to deepen their spiritual journey. Participants often describe feeling a sense of unity, love, and clarity during these rituals. Rich in natural compounds like theobromine and phenethylamine, ceremonial cacao helps to enhance mood and stimulate feelings of euphoria and well-being. 


How to prepare ceremonial cacao, warm cacao in a white mug, ready to drink and enjoy.

How to prepare hot cacao

Preparing cacao is a straightforward process that can be easily done at home. Follow these simple steps:


  1. Gather your ingredients: You’ll need ceremonial grade cacao, hot water (not boiling), and optional sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. Other ingredients can be added like, tumeric, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, or chili. Chili is tradional in Central America, and helps the body absorb cacao. Psychedelic mushrooms are another possible addition, as they complement the energy of cacao. 


  1. Measure the cacao: Use a scale or a measuring spoon to portion out the desired amount of ceremonial cacao. Typically, a standard serving size is around 1 to 2 ounces, but you can adjust according to your preference. Add any other spices or dried ingredients.


  1. Warm the water: Heat water to around 120°F (49°C) – the temperature should be comfortably warm, not boiling.


  1. Blend or whisk: Pour the warm water over the measured cacao into a blender or a mixing bowl. Use a whisk or a blender to mix the cacao and water thoroughly. Blend for about 1-2 minutes until the mixture is smooth and frothy.


  1. Optional sweetening: If you prefer a sweeter taste, you can add a weetener like honey or maple syrup. Stir well to ensure the sweetener is fully incorporated.


  1. Pour and enjoy: Once the cacao is well blended, pour it into your favorite mug or ceremonial cup. Take a moment to appreciate the aroma and the rich, earthy flavors before drinking.


  1. Enhance the experience: To fully immerse yourself in the experience with the spirit of cacao, create a quiet and peaceful environment. Consider incorporating meditation, deep breathing, or other intentional practices while enjoying your cacao. Be present and express your gratitude for this master plant.


A pod from the Cacao tree is cut in half, showing the fresh cacao beans inside. The beans are joined in the center, convered in a white film, a part of the fruit.

Ethical Sourcing of Cacao

When purchasing cacao, in all its forms, it’s crucial to prioritize ethical and sustainable sources. Culturally, sourcing cacao correctly respects the indigenous communities and their traditional practices, preserving their cultural heritage. Environmentally, it protects biodiversity and promotes sustainable farming practices, safeguarding the delicate ecosystems where cacao thrives. 

Look for certifications like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or USDA Organic, which are a step to ensure ethical and sustainable production. Additionally, check for transparent sourcing information and direct relationships with farmers, indicating a commitment to fair wages and working conditions. Websites like the Fair Trade USA and Rainforest Alliance offer valuable insights into sustainable cacao farming practices, while ethical businesses such as Taza Chocolate and Askinosie Chocolate are known for their fair trade and sustainable approaches. 

When you can, buy local and small, as these growers have the most intimate relationship with their land and can devote more time to sustainable farming practices. By making conscious choices, and spending our money well, we contribute to the preservation of cultural traditions and the protection of our planet’s precious resources.


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