You’ve heard of brewed coffee, but ever heard of brewed cacao? Cacao can be sorted, ground, and brewed just like coffee. Sourced in parts of Central America, cacao beans contain theobromine, a natural stimulant that has a milder, longer-lasting effect when consumed.
Crio Bru, a local Goleta company, specializes in this production of brewed cacao. What initially started as a garage project in 2010 turned into a thriving business with growing demand for cacao.
Cacao traces its origins back to 1500 B.C. where Mayan and Aztec cultures would grow cacao beans and brew them into a beverage as an offering for empire royalties. Cacao beans were seen as a divine gift, and this brew was believed to have retroactive and energetic properties. Culturally, theobromine translates to “drink of the gods” and was widely consumed by everyone for both health and social purposes. Crio Bru aims to translate ancient brewed cacao methods into a modern drink that people can receive.
For someone who isn’t familiar with cacao, it has similar effects as coffee but the taste is different. When asking about how cacao compares to coffee, CEO Cameron Archibald answered, “It’s not as bold as coffee, but not as mild as tea.”
He was right. After the interview, I left with two bags of cacao they had generously gifted me, a caramel light roast and a double chocolate roast. After trying both, I can attest that the taste of Crio Bru’s cacao is not strong or overpowering, but light and warm. Different from the pronounced, sharp smell of coffee, cacao’s aroma is like velvet, its softer notes flow through in my kitchen.
Their slogan, “It’s not coffee, it’s cacao,” emphasizes that cacao isn’t simply a coffee alternative, but its own unique product.
Besides the taste, cacao has a variety of health benefits that are an incentive alone to drink.
There’s an energy boost that comes from naturally occurring theobromine in cacao beans. Instead of a caffeine rush, theobromine has a slower, longer effect on stimulating the nervous system — meaning, no crash after consumption.
Cacao is also high in magnesium, a nutrient supporting muscle and nerve function. Like coffee, cacao contains high levels of antioxidants. Cacao’s higher pH level means it’s far less acidic than coffee and some teas. Another benefit of cacao is the stimulation of PEA, or phenethylamine, also known as “the love drug.”
PEA is found in certain foods and is the same chemical that gets released when falling in love. “I drink, live, and breathe cacao,” says Archibald, after admitting to bringing cacao with him on his honeymoon because he and his wife couldn’t go a day without.
While there is no retail space at the company site, Crio Bru is sold on shelves at Sprouts and Whole Foods. However, in an effort to curb their retail footprint, the majority of products and brewing kits are available on their website and on Amazon.
In preparation for the holiday season, the seasonal flavors in current production are pumpkin spice, peppermint, and caramel roast. Among the staff, the favorites are uber dark roast and double chocolate light roast.
Just within the past year, the company has nearly doubled its size in expansion while having a growth rate of 150 percent.
“Consumers are the most important thing. It’s our job to share the magic of cacao with everyone.” Archibald concludes as he can’t stop smiling (probably thinking about cacao).