When I arrived at my early morning media appointment with Mars Chocolate North America Wednesday during the Sweets and Snacks Expo,* I was expecting the usual — a look at the company’s new products, followed by a discussion about said products, followed by them handing me a glorious bag of samples filled with said products (preferably with M&M’s characters on it).

And while we did eventually get to all that, we didn’t start there. Instead, we were treated to a presentation that was more time travel meets African safari meets Mayflower voyage.

Formally speaking, the Mars’ American Heritage Chocolate division led an interactive journey through the history of cocoa in North America.

The featured speaker was Rodney Snyder — a chocolate history research director for Mars Chocolate North America who likes to joke that his speeches draw huge crowds, while humbly following up with the admission that he knows his main prop is the real star. Yes, even history is exciting when it’s covered in chocolate.

The demonstration started in the same place all cocoa does — a bright yellow cocoa pod. After perfectly smashing it open behind a table, Mars representatives offered us all tasting samples of the pulp-covered beans inside.

I’d never actually seen a cocoa bean in such a raw state before, and what struck me most was how lucky I was to live on this planet after someone figured out how to turn that bean into a truffle.

Mars representatives passed the beans around show-and-tell style, and were sweet enough to continually remind us all how horribly bitter they taste straight from the pod. I admit I chickened out and opted to simply lick the sweet pulp without biting into the bean.

After that, we were shown how the beans are separated from the shells by being shaken in baskets.  Then, they showed us how the beans can be rubbed into a paste on metate, or heated lava stone.

I was fully expecting them to turn that paste into a candy bar after that, but instead, we were given a chocolate drink in a white tea cup. Flavored with ingredients such as orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla, I’m not exaggerating when I say it was divinely delicious.

Snyder also, of course, took the opportunity to remind us all about the efforts Mars is making to carry out its sustainability commitments and certification efforts.

It’s easy to forget how fragile the chocolate supply chain really is when we all have such easy access to abundant amounts of pre-packaged chocolate confections. But seeing beans in a delicate infant state is all it takes to remind you of how careful we all must be with the precious plant and how important all the farmers are who harvest it.

Snyder is working with his team to show the presentation across the country and I have no doubt his efforts not only will help people better understand where our chocolate comes from, but also what the best path is for where it’s going.

 *Be sure to check out our July issue for full Sweets and Snacks Expo Coverage.