25th of September 2022
We hope you enjoyed our first installment of Conversations Over Cacao. Our goal is to offer subtle reminders of the beauty that exists around and within us and the pleasure that can be derived from deliberately engaging our senses. Each month a different member of our team will share some brief opening thoughts.
On this occasion, our CEO James Le Compte shares his personal journey in chocolate and our guest, astral calendar pioneer Brian Keats, discusses our deep connection to the stars. We also share a few inspirations to help us better connect to ourselves—and the cosmos. Subscribe here to receive Conversations Over Cacao directly in your inbox monthly.
But first, we invite you to whip up a quick iced herbal chocolate beverage to enjoy as you dive in.
To'ak's Iced Herbal Chocolate Refresher
1. Dilute 100% cacao powder with a bit of warmed milk, hot water, or dairy alternative to form a paste.
2. Mix in 2-3 drops of orange blossom water, rose water, or lavender water. (You can also infuse warm milk with dried -lavender and sift it out.)
3. Add cold milk (or water) and ice cubes.
4. Shake or whisk for a foamy finish.
Mauricio Camacho Aroca spent much of his life in the Chillos Valley of Ecuador, a major inspiration in his work. This piece, which illustrates an Andean landscape, reflects on the idea that we are all interconnected. “Everything is born in the center, with lines and points that represent the particles in the universe that make up everything,” he explains. Follow Mauricio on Instagram.
Connecting With the Cosmos
At some point in my early 20s I set myself the playful goal of one day working with chocolate. Every step closer to that goal (seeing the beauty of heirloom cacao farms, tasting the cacao fruit or enjoying the intense and sublime smell of a cacao warehouse) ratcheted up my intention to make it a reality. In 2017, the chocolate stars aligned and my family and I moved from Asia to a new life in Ecuador (my wife’s birth country and a land and culture that I love).
Three and a half years and many chocolate adventures later we decided to return to Australia and plant our roots. To me, opening our senses is similar to opening ourselves to enriching life experiences. While living in Ecuador I fell in love with the wonderful cacao tree, especially in its wild form. I set an intention to explore agriculture and plants more deeply in Australia.
It was this openness and intention that led us to find the site for our new family home, in an off-grid rural land share community in the Hunter Valley. Within the community, we’ve met a number of inspiring people. Brian Keats lives in the community and publishes an annual planting and sowing calendar for farmers, winemakers and gardeners who follow the principles of biodynamic farming.
In 2013, Brian coined the term Cosmoir to describe the influence the cosmic universe has on the sensory profile of wine. It feels very apt for chocolate as well. We were recently reminded (thanks to the Webb telescope) of our planet’s relatively minuscule size in the universe. It seems only logical that our interconnectedness with this bigger (planetary) system should influence the very taste and aroma of the chocolate we enjoy.
-James Le Compte, CEO To’ak Chocolate
Food for Thought
Here in Ecuador, the Quechua (or kichwa) language, adopted from the Inca, is still spoken among much of the native population. In Quechua, “thank you” is more than a word of gratitude, it’s a sincere feeling that comes straight from the heart. If you want to say “thank you” in Quechua — “YUPAYCHANI” — you really have to mean it.
5 Questions With Brian Keats
Founder of Astro Calendar
Residing in Australia, Brian Keats tells the cross-cultural stories that are written in the skies above. He works at reconnecting people to the stars, helping to create a bridge to the spiritual world.
His interests in astronomy, agriculture, and weather forecasting has led him to compile state-of-the-art planting calendars. Some 36 years ago, he created the first biodynamic calendar for the Southern Hemisphere. Since, he’s built calendars for New Zealand, China, and Taiwan.
These biodynamic calendars inform people of solar, lunar and planetary rhythms taking place in the sidereal zodiac to assist their harmonious workings through agricultural or meditative practices. “As above, so below.”
1. What is a book or podcast you recommend?
Rudolf Steiner’s Supersensible Influences in the History of Mankind. The book is freely available here and here. It’s very evident to me that there are “things” going on behind the scenes, as it were. This book illuminates events that have taken place in world history and prehistory in a way that only a high initiate can do. To be living in the present and have a perspective of the past helps me go into the future in a conscious, proactive and hope-filled way.
2. What is a luxury you afford yourself?
I do not drink alcohol but do appreciate an olfactory exploration of the subtle aroma nuances in a quality biodynamic wine.
3. When was the last time you enjoyed sensory bliss?
At pre-dawn, looking, venerating, speaking, and listening to the planets and stars.
4. What’s a tradition from your childhood that you want to carry on?
I grew up in a white household of famished cultural traditions in Rhodesia before it becameZimbabwe, where there was no respect or involvement with indigenous communities and their practices. So, the only tradition I have is the African food staple of sadza, Zimbabwe’s version of porridge, which accompanied most of our meals.
It’s made from unrefined, coarsely ground maize boiled up in a three-legged cast iron pot over an open fire.I still make sadza and like to add some wood ash when cooking it. Barbecues over open fire and sadza take me back to my childhood days.
5. How do you answer the call of the wild?
As a wanderer and peripatetic teacher I get to travel widely—and by my nature—wildly. Wherever I go, I like to strongly sound out into the elements The Foundation Stone Meditation given by Rudolf Steiner in 1923. As part of that, I imagine interconnecting song lines to all the physical and supersensible realms that I, and whatever works through me, have sounded through this powerfully healing mantric set of verses.
The physical places I have called out into the elements and ethers include The Great Australian Bight, The Greenwich Prime Line, Norwegian Arctic, and many other wildly potent elementally alive zones.
The Science of Our Senses
Connecting Through Movement
Have you ever noticed that when you’re around someone long enough you start to take on some of their mannerisms, and vice versa? Even upon meeting a stranger, you may subconsciously start to alter your speech, posture, and energy level to better align with theirs. This is the idea of motor resonance, which explains humans’ ability to connect with one another on a sensorial and neurological level—beyond oral communication.
In essence, if you watch someone move, the neurons in your brain light up as if you were making the same movements. Our sensory experiences influence the way we perceive, understand, and empathize with one another.
Several studies have looked at how our biases (especially stereotypes) can impact motor resonance. Specifically, you may experience heightened neuronal excitability when observing someone who is similar to you versus someone with a different background. Being more aware of this learned bodily response can, in a way, rewire your perceptions. As scientists of this study conclude, “Moving together and coordinating with other movements can bridge the gap between the self and others and create a sense of social connection.”
California-based writer and yoga teacher Jason Bowman sums up this idea beautifully in this essay for San Francisco’s Dancers’ Group. He writes: “If it’s true that we perceive the states of others by feeling their gestures in our own bodies, then it stands to reason that the detail of our own personal embodiment correlates to our ability to empathize with other people. The better we can feel inside ourselves, the clearer we can sense the state changes of the people around us, the better we relate to them.”
Too Good to Keep to Ourselves
A few inspirations to fuel your wanderlust, bow down to fire, and reflect on the state of our planet.
Songs from Quito's Urko
When in Quito, be sure to reserve a table at Urko, which has landed on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list thanks to its commitment to fresh, seasonal, and traditional Ecuadorian fare based on the country’s four distinct regions: the coast, Andes, Amazon, and Galápagos Islands.
Urko owner and chef Daniel Maldonado creates each season’s menu based on the astral cycles that define the agricultural calendar. Not only is the food exquisite, but the restaurant’s soundtrack is exceptional, too. Discover some great Latin American tunes with Urko’s latest playlists.
Claire Dunn, My Year Without Matches
Burned out on modern life? It’s a story many of us can relate to. In 2010, Australian writer Claire Dunn lived off the grid for a year, an experience she documents in intimate detail on My Year Without Matches: Escaping the city in search of the wild. As she embraces the quiet bliss away from city lights she also struggles to find meaning in the harsh isolation of life in the wild. This is not a glamorization of off-the-grid living, but an inspiring story of one woman seeking to rekindle the relationship with herself and the natural world.
In the eyes of British foodie Michael Zee, breakfast is always the most important meal of the day. It’s hard to disagree when you check out his wildly popular SymmetryBreakfast Instagram, a delightfully pleasing collection of colorful, cross-cultural dishes made each morning for Zee (who likes to remind us he is not a chef) and his partner. Each pair of plates is perfectly symmetrical, which—as you may remember from our last newsletter—automatically makes them even more irresistible.
The beloved Australian quarterly magazine Dumbo Feather also has a podcast in which they “scour the world to engage in rich conversations with extraordinary people.” Each thought-provoking episode centers on one guest who discusses their place in the world and their hopes for a better future. Past guests include rock stars (Peter Garrett), biologists (David Haskell), and an array of wisdom seekers and future shapers.
Conversations Over Cacao acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and cultures in which our contributors are based, including the Quitu (or Kitu) culture of Ecuador, Tongva of the USA, and Awabakal of Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.