In 2017, Ana Maria Villegas moved to Miami from Colombia to marry the love of her life. While waiting for approval of her work permit, she discovered a second passion: making chocolate.
Villegas, a marketing and journalism professional by trade, bought some foil wrap, made handwritten labels, and began selling homemade chocolate bars, first to friends and family, then at pop-ups at yoga studios and markets.
And so Ana-Cacao, full-time chocolatier and baker, was born.
"Making chocolate is challenging and fascinating at the same time, like chemistry," the 36-year-old Villegas tells New Times
. "That kept me excited about what I thought was initially just something to do."
Three years later, Ana-Cacao homemade bars, dipped seasonal fruits, granola, and other raw chocolate products can be found at Mima's Market, Vecino's, the Plantisserie in Little River, and at restaurants like Palmar in Wynwood. The product line is vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.
"I wanted to offer something healthy, and cacao is a natural food, full of antioxidants and nutrients, that makes people feel good," Villegas says. "The difference between what I make and something like a store-bought chocolate bar is obvious from the first bite."
Pecan tart by Anacacao
Photo by Alexandra Cava Palomino, courtesy of Mima Market
Producing chocolate in your own kitchen, Villegas explains, is labor-intensive and requires days of attention. It starts with cacao (cocoa) beans, the dried and fully fermented seed of theobroma cacao
, which in its pure form is said to promote cardiovascular health,
boost mood and promote a sense of well-being.
Villegas buys organic, sustainable Arriba Nacional
cacao from a tree-to-bar supplier in Ecuador, a nation that produces some of the world's best cacao.
"I like to buy it from people who control the whole cacao process, that way the beans are higher-quality," she says. "Raw chocolate better preserves the superfood composition of cacao, because it is not exposed to high temperatures. It is made from cacao beans that have been sun-dried instead of roasted, and during the grinding and tempering process, they are never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. This process allows it to retain the living enzymes that increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals found in raw cacao."
Through methodical tempering and the addition of flavor combinations, Villegas turns the cacao into sleek, organic bars that are 76 percent cacao, filled with nuts, dried fruits, and a kiss of sea salt flakes ($9 each). She also makes dark, milk, and white chocolate truffles, available in pistachio, hazelnut, and coconut pineapple flavors (two for $5). Her list of best-selling tarts includes a raw chocolate hazelnut option that's rich and earthy, along with seasonal varieties, such as candied pecan ($55) and mamey with coconut ($60).
Villegas spends part of her time working out of a kitchen in Little Haiti to fulfill retail and Instagram orders, and is contemplating hiring a staff of locals to assist her in creating new specialties, including a line of savory cacao snacks she wants to introduce soon.
"I make chocolate I want to eat," she says. "Now I imagine myself in the kitchen always, doing what I enjoy doing."
. @ana.cacao. Orders can be placed by contacting [email protected]