We used to use this term in reference to our cacao and often enough get asked the question if our cacao is “ceremonial-grade”. We stopped using the term because we came to see that it creates a cut and dry distinction that does not exist. The further down the rabbit hole of cacao we go, the less clear the lines become.
Cacao is a potent medicine, but it is subtle. It doesn’t always jump out at you, especially if you are not slowing down and opening to the gentle power of it.
Certainly there are differences among the cacao available, and these have to do with genetics (i.e. variety), climate, growing conditions, fermentation, roasting and processing, to name those we understand. Big chocolate pays attention primarily to volume of production, so everything else is an after-thought and the cacao itself is not being optimized.
But to label cacao as “ceremonial-grade” makes it seem as though there is line in the sand somewhere that makes some cacao usable for ceremony or others not. Instead, we might think of a gradient of factors that contribute to the quality of cacao and its potency. These include all of the above mentioned factors as well as others we probably don’t know about yet.
The main known psychoactive component of cacao is theobromine. It’s similar to caffeine, but different. More centered on the heart. So does ceremonial-grade mean it’s on the higher end of theobromine content, compared to others? Does it mean that the balance of compounds makes it more usable for ceremony? I don’t think we know for sure.
There is likely a lot of wisdom and lore that cacao cultures had that has been lost about how to select and process for optimizing cacao’s use in ceremony. We are all at the starting point of re-discovering this plant as a medicine for healing, so it seems some humility is in order about the journey we’re on.
At Heartblood, we are continually experimenting with and paying attention to the cacao and its use in ceremony. We source for cacao that we call premium because it is transparently sourced, consciously processed and socially & ecologically responsible. We do ceremony with it, but that does not mean it will feel potent to everyone all the time.
We have reverence and love for the plant it all its many forms and in our experience, cacao isn’t picky – it just wants to spread the love, whether it’s in high end, fine flavor chocolate, or sugar-laden mass market milk chocolate! Cacao teaches us again and again to move away from scarcity thinking that creates false competition, and instead to move towards abundance thinking, where cooperation and mutual benefit are possible.
So fall in love with cacao and go on the journey with it, and don’t pay too much attention to the labels.