“Mention chocolate and we think of chocomilk or Carlos Quinto (chocolate bars), but that has nothing to do with real chocolate,” says Anahi Trinidad, a barista at Xocolatería Quarari, a recently opened cafe in Mexico City’s Colonia Juarez. Instead of serving chocolate as the Europeans interpreted it, adulterated with milk and refined sugar, Quarari reaches back to pre-Hispanic traditions and serves its bitter and semi-sweet cacao frothed with water, lightly sweetened with jugo de cañaand spiced with chiles, cardamom or ginger.
Thought its ethos is historic, Quarari’s minimalist look is thoroughly modern coffee-shop chic, all sleek lines and sculptural chairs made of unfinished pine. On the menu, however, coffee is largely absent.
“We didn’t want to be a cafe that serves chocolate,” says co-owner Hugo Mirabal, who opened Quarari in January. “We wanted to be a shop where you can try all these different cacao drinks and position ourselves that way first.”
Customers can choose among 10 variations on Mexican drinking chocolate ranging from 60 to 80% cacao. Drinks are served hot or iced; frothed with water, milk or almond milk; and spiced with mint, hazelnut, cardamom or a seven-chile blend. For someone who grew up on Nestle Quik, Quarari’s rich, subtle flavors are a revelation.
The menu features a few ancestral drinks that some capital-dwellers have never encountered before, including pozol, made with cacao and fermented corn, and tascalate, a corn-cacao brew that’s tinted bright red thanks to the addition of achiote.
“At first they’re suspicious about the color, but when they try it, they really like it,” Mirabal says. “It has a light corn flavor, it’s really refreshing, and it fills you up.”
Mirabal’s partner in Quarari is Lidia Ángeles Campos, who got the idea for the cafe after doing a six-month community service project in a remote village in a chocolate-producing region of southern Mexico; she came away from the experience determined to help small-scale cacao producers secure a more sustainable income. To source their fair-trade cacao, Ángeles and Mirabal teamed up with the Chiapas-based Academia Mexicana del Cacao, which educates family farmers about best practices and environmental stewardship in the age of climate change. The cacao-giving Theobroma tree, for example, is already threatened by rising temperatures, pests and other factors.
“If we don’t sell it and people don’t produce it, we can’t save the tree,” says Mirabal of the Theobroma, whose Greek name translates to “food of the gods.” “Even though it’s been stolen by big corporations, chocolate is truly a Mexican product,” adds Trinidad, the barista. “We want Mexicans to get to know the real thing.”