And the chocolate... oh, my, is it wonderful!
In Guatemala, hot chocolate is just called chocolate, and you don't make it with powder. You buy these big blocks of chocolate and melt them in milk or water for a delicious treat. My first chocolate in Guatemala was at La Luna, and it was fabulous. Rich, creamy, sweet, with little bits of cinnamon like dregs at the bottom of the mug, it was a delicious treat. I usually went there with friends, and we would sit there for hours gossiping, talking about politics, studying or just relaxing and shooting the breeze. Once, I went with a teacher, who had won a free chocolate and cake, and we studied idiomatic expressions until it was time for the graduation.
You can buy your chocolate at the grocery store, of course, or in the market, or at your favorite cafe. I never got around to buying chocolate from La Luna, though, because instead, I found the smallest general store you could imagine.
Around the corner from La Luna, a little closer to the parque central, there's a little hole-in-the-wall staffed by its owners, two old women who have lived all their lives in Xela. Their father was from Mexico, their mother from Guatemala, and they have outlived their husbands. These sisters have been running their small shop, which sells knitting needles, yarn, dulces, brooms, mops, cords of 20 different thicknesses, snacks, and a thousand other little items that you probably need. Among all these odds and ends, there is the wall of chocolate. They sell the same kind of chocolate that La Luna uses, because their grandson owns the cafe. You can buy it in canela, vainilla, or almendra. So, I did.
I went to the little old ladies for chocolate on my last day in Xela in December, and, while there, I asked if they had coffee. No, they said regretfully, they don't sell coffee, but their grandson at La Luna might. I bought chocolate, and then they asked if I wanted my coffee whole or ground? I said I wanted it whole, and they said they thought they could get me some. They called La Luna's toasting shop to ask if they had coffee. Yes! They do, how much do I want? I decided on six pounds, but in the course of the conversation, it became clear that they were selling me raw coffee beans! No, that wouldn't do, so they asked the toasters if they could toast me up some beans special. For a valued customer such as myself, certainly...
Later that day, I returned with my dad for the toasted beans, but they hadn't arrived, yet. Instead, we hung out in the shop and chatted with the ladies for about half an hour. They fed us samples of their dulces and told us about growing up in Xela. Finally, our coffee arrived, and we parted ways. I'm told the coffee, which I don't drink, was delicious.
But when I went back in May, I learned from one of my teachers that another cafe around the corner also has chocolate, and Paty thought La Viennesa had better chocolate than the wonderful old ladies and La Luna. I was skeptical, but willing to try it, but I never found the time while I was there to sit down with a mug at La Viennesa. Its atmosphere was much faster and louder than La Luna, so it wasn't right for studying. Its clientele was clearly more indigenous, rather than international and upper class, like La Luna. In the end, I went to buy chocolate there to bring home, untasted. How bad could it be? I figured.
Well, tonight, I had my first La Viennesa chocolate, and it was out of this world. I expected to prefer La Luna's chocolate, if only out of sentiment for my friends, the old ladies, but La Viennesa's was better.
I'm so glad I decided to try something new.