The Cacao Ceremony: Going Old School For Valentine’s Day

“Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine.” — Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon, 1796

When one thinks of hearts and chocolates, the mind automatically gravitates to Valentine’s Day. But if you want to step back in time and connect to something with a different flavor, consider a cacao ceremony.

It’s no secret that chocolate has always been connected to magical, spiritual qualities — just ask Willy Wonka. Or Jack Howard.

“Cacao is the fermented and roasted seed of Theobroma Cacao, a tree indigenous to Mesoamerica,” said Howard, a shamanic practitioner based in Virginia. The cacao tree is native to the Amazon rainforest but has been domesticated and farmed agriculturally for over 5000 years. “It is psychoactive. It is heart opening. It is plant medicine.” Cocoa, from which chocolate is made, is a derivative of the original cacao beans.

Howard travels around the States offering cacao ceremonies. He described his first encounter on a yoga/surf retreat in Costa Rica. “Unsure what it was, I filed it away. . . a few weeks later, I saw a flyer in my local town for Ecstatic Dance and Cacao Ceremony, so of course I attended. My curiosity for cacao overshadowed my unfamiliarity with ‘Ecstatic Dance,’ which stirred terrible memories from Junior High School dances. But I was determined to experience a cacao ceremony.”

The cacao, he continued, “put me in a state of calm, peaceful euphoria. Then music filled the air, and everyone began to move and dance, but in a way very unlike my school memories. Cacao had flooded my brain with all the natural feel-good chemicals and I found myself in the present moment and dissolved of the fear I would have normally felt in that situation. Through this experience, that trauma I carried with me since early teenage-hood was healed, and I attributed that to my first cacao ceremony.”

“It’s really a massive superfood,” said Patricia Grimaldi of Shankara Experience in Costa Rica, explaining that a raw cacao bean contains magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, iron, phosphorus — and is a powerful antioxidant. 

“There’s also the theobromine” — which gives the cacao its bitter taste, but also provides the increased blood flow, mood lift, and possibly aphrodisiac qualities often ascribed to cacao — “and anandamide, also called the bliss molecule,” a neurotransmitter that can offer those who ingest cacao with a sense of general well-being. 

Grimaldi led a cacao ceremony in a yoga shala surrounded by the majestic trees and exotic sounds of the Costa Rican jungle. She called the directions, played the harmonium, chanted kirtan, and spoke about the area’s indigenous people who grew the cacao we were drinking. We drew oracle cards from a deck and shared our intentions, always keeping the spirit of “Mama Cacao” in our minds.

Petra Era Zlota (@petra_illuminera), who studied cacao leadership at Finca DiVina Vida, a woman-owned cacao farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, served up her version of the bitter hot brew with cinnamon and cayenne, and then asked us to lay down and close our eyes. At the same time, she played a variety of gongs, bells, and rattles, immersing us in a sound bath experience. Breathwork also played a part, as well as calling in the elements and our ancestors, and a chance to share our experience afterward with our friends who attended the ceremony with us. 

“I’m drawn to this medicine,” she said. “It is gentle and beautiful, and connects us with the Earth and each other.”

According to Howard, a successful ceremony incorporates a peaceful setting, a facilitator who respects the wisdom keepers and lineage of the cacao plant medicine, Mother Earth, the elements and the planets, a meditation, and a chance to share after the ceremony.

Cacao ceremonies are growing in popularity — several places in New York City offer them up regularly, and even more online (you order your ceremonial cacao in advance, and it arrives with preparation instructions).

When the cacao is prepared correctly, and the heart is opened, Howard says participants can expect “a peaceful, easy feeling, to quote a classic song; an intense connection to the inner self and to others; and a calm focus. Creatives are using cacao to prepare for more productive sessions,” he said. 

Good chocolate by a gourmet chocolatier can be an ethereal experience. But a cacao ceremony can bring additional sweetness to those seeking a deeper connection to themselves and, maybe, the universe.

For more information, contact Jack Howard through his website, For more information about Costa Rica retreats incorporating cacao, visit and 


Bridget LeRoy

Bridget LeRoy co-founded The East Hampton Independent and the Children’s Museum of the East End, and has been honored with over fifty awards for editing and journalism from various press associations. Follow LeRoy on instagram @bridget_leroy.

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