Photo by Alex Whitmore
Mexican chocolate is the confectionery equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield. I don't understand why, because ever since I first traveled to Mexico and sampled crumbly, simply made chocolate para mesa I've been hooked. I suppose one reason could be that just like European-style chocolate, Mexican chocolate varies greatly in quality from producer to producer. And some of the best stuff can't be found outside Mexico.
One of the main differences between the chocolate traditions of Europe and the Americas is their age. The cacao bean, indigenous to South America, entered Europe only with the Spanish in the 1500s, and it wasn't until the mid-1800s that it was first consumed in bar form. At the time, Europeans applying technology to all sorts of crafts, including chocolate-making. They ended up creating something that, while chocolaty, was very smooth and sweet--completely different from what the American cultures made and continue to make today. The American tradition of chocolate, in contrast, is documented to have existed for at least two millennia. During this time it has become an integral part of many complex cultural and food traditions.
The stuff in yellow hexagonal boxes you find in most larger grocery stores and Latin-American food stores is to Mexican chocolate what the Nestle bar is to European chocolate. All through Mexico (though more in the southern states), there exist small tiendas de chocolate. These shops buy cocoa beans from farmers or merchants and will roast and grind the beans to order.