San Cristobal de las Casa in Chiapas is an enchanting place to visit for a lot of reasons, but two at the top of the list for gastronomes are chocolate and coffee.
This is a land that grows cocoa beans used since the Aztec and Maya times, plus it grows some of the most distinctive coffee in the world. Like a brew from Hawaii or Sumatra, you know it when you taste it.
Fortunately it’s easy to find good versions of both in this tourist center of Chiapas state, Mexico. Start off at the excellent Kakaw, also known as the Museo del Cacao (to get both the Maya and Spanish versions of cocoa in there). This is a chocolate shop on the first floor, dispensing excellent “Mexican hot chocolate” and a variety of natural and molded chocolates you can see them making on site through a glass window. These make great gifts to bring home, all nicely presented. The prices are a bargain.
Upstairs is a collection of artifacts and explanations about how the cocoa bean was used in historic times before exploding in popularity around the world post-conquest. The photo at the top is a collection of drinking vessels unearthed at Maya sites in the state. Back then, hot cocoa was not sweet and it was not for commoners.
The photo below is a collection of the stirring tools used to make hot chocolate in Mexico. You see these for sale in nearly every market and some of them are quite intricate. If you live here, you need at least one in your kitchen. Other displays show money from around the world featuring cocoa, art inspired from chocolate, maps of where beans are grown, and much more. The official Kakaw site is in Spanish only, but there’s a good explanation on this Travel by Mexico page.
You won’t have any trouble finding a good cup of coffee in the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas, but if you’re serious about your coffee you should make a beeline to Carajillo Cafe. Their website is nothing more than contact info, but there’s an active Facebook page if you can read Spanish.
It’s just a small, unassuming place, but they put a lot of care into what they serve. They get the finest local beans, grind them fresh before serving, and do the whole coffee press ritual right in front of you if you’d like. Distinctive coffee, served with flair, and not a paper cup in sight. Here you’re meant to sip and savor, not grab something just to dash off to a day of pointless meetings.
If you prefer, you can order a drip filter version, all the expected espresso variations, or specialty coffees with bananas or tequila.
Carajillo Cafe is expensive by Mexican standards, with most options running $2.25 to $4, but definitely worth it.