What is Cacao?

Cacao is the source of all chocolate, originating from the bean-like seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree, indigenous to Central and South America. Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations revered cacao, often calling it the "food of the gods." Rich in nutrients and antioxidants, cacao is highly valued for its health benefits and distinct flavors. Today, it's transformed into numerous forms like nibs, cocoa powder, and chocolate, each offering unique culinary experiences.

What's the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

In general, the term cacao often refers to unprocessed cacao beans, nibs, or powder, while cocoa is the term usually reserved for the more processed by-product of cacao that has more additives in it.

What Are the Health Benefits of Cacao? 

Cacao is packed with antioxidants, minerals, and other compounds that offer various health benefits, such as heart health support, improved mood, and potential cognitive enhancement.Check out our "BENEFITS OF CACAO" page for more info!

Is Cacao and Chocolate the Same Thing?

Not quite but they're definitely close family! Cacao is essentially the parent of all chocolate! It's the raw, unadulterated heart of chocolate, derived directly from the seeds of the cacao tree. Chocolate, in contrast, is like cacao's more glamorous offspring. Chocolate is basically cacao mixed with additives, sweeteners, and dairy products which transforms it into the global sweet tooth superstar we know it as today.

How Does Chocolate Come from Cacao?

Chocolate is the result of extensively processing cacao beans after they have been harvested, fermented, roasted, and ground. The ground cacao is then combined with ingredients like sugar and milk, significantly altering cacao's more bitter natural flavor into the sweet and creamy taste that defines chocolate.

What Exactly is Brewing Cacao?

Brewing cacao is made from cacao beans that are roasted and ground, much like coffee beans. Roasting the beans brings out a more chocolatey flavor, albeit quite more bitter than what you're use to with typical chocolate. The roasted beans are then ground and brewed in hot water to create a rich, flavorful drink. This process harkens back to ancient Mesoamerican traditions, where it was mixed with spices to make a ceremonial drink.

What Does Brewed Cacao Taste Like? 

Freshly brewed cacao has a bitter yet robustly flavorful taste similar to black coffee, albeit with deep notes of chocolate, obviously! When adding things like milk and sweeteners, brewed cacao quickly transforms into a bold and delicious hot cocoa type drink. We like to think of it as the world's most natural hot chocolate!

How Do I Brew Cacao?

Brewing cacao is quite similar to preparing coffee or tea, with some nuance.

Due to the higher natural oil content in cacao, we recommend using a French press for optimal results. A coffee maker can work as well (we recommend using a reusable mesh filter basket). Tea infusers are also a good option.

For detailed brewing methods, be sure to check out our BREWING GUIDE on how to make your ideal cup-a-cao!

Why Does My Brewed Cacao Sometimes Have Oily Bubbles on Top?

These oil bubbles are from the cocoa butter in the cacao beans. When brewed, the heat releases these natural oils, which sometimes float to the top due to their lighter density. This is a sign of minimal processing, preserving the cacao's natural goodness and enhancing the rich flavor of your brew.

Why Do You Sometimes Say "Brewing Cacao" and Other Times "Brewed Cacao?"

You picked up on that huh? So, here's how we think about it: we like to say 'BrewingCacao' when we're talking about the cacao grounds themselves, especially before they've had their big moment in the spotlight. Think of it as the 'before' stage. On the flip side, we switch to 'BrewedCacao' when we're talking about the end product – the drink you get to indulge in. It's the 'after' when the brewINGcacao has been brewEDand is all ready for you to enjoy! Make sense? Of course it does! 

What Makes Brewed Cacao Different from Coffee?

Brewed cacao offers a gentler, jolt-free alternative to coffee. It provides a milder and more sustained energy boost, thanks to its richness in Theobromine — a subtler and longer-lasting stimulant compared to caffeine, of which it has far less. This makes it ideal for those sensitive to caffeine or just seeking a more mellow start to their day. And for coffee enthusiasts, blending cacao with coffee grounds creates a delightful mocha vibe!

Is Brewed Cacao the Same as Hot Chocolate?

While both come from cacao, brewed cacao is simply roasted and ground up cacao beans brewed in hot water, similar to coffee.

The hot chocolate or hot cocoa that the world is use to is typically processed cocoa powder (which is processed cacao powder mixed with various sweeteners and other additives).

That's not to say you can't get a great hot cocoa vibe with our ground cacao! In fact, we'd argue it's even better! Adding your favorite milk/creamer and sweetener to your 'cupacao' can turn it into a bold and rich hot cocoa experience! Some might say it's "the most natural hot chocolate in the world!"

Is There Caffeine in Cacao?

Cacao does contain caffeine, albeit in small amounts.

On average, cacao contains about 12 to 25 milligrams of caffeine per ounce.

In comparison, a standard 8-ounce (about 240 milliliters) cup of coffee contains approximately 95 milligrams of caffeine. This means that you would need to consume roughly 3 to 8 times the amount of cacao to match the caffeine level in a single cup of coffee.

To put it simply, while cacao does contain caffeine, its levels are much lower than those found in coffee, making it a milder alternative for those seeking a less intense caffeine boost.

What is Theobromine? And How is it Different to Caffeine?

Theobromine is a naturally occurring compound found in cacao beans, and it's a bit of a hidden gem in the world of natural stimulants.

Think of it as caffeine’s gentler cousin. It's less potent than caffeine, but it offers a smoother, more enduring energy boost. Unlike caffeine, which can sometimes give you a rapid energy spike followed by a crash, theobromine works its magic more subtly.

It also gently elevates your mood and energy levels, making it a perfect pick-me-up that won’t leave you feeling jittery.

In brewed cacao, theobromine contributes to that feel-good sensation that makes it not just delicious, but also uplifting in a very mellow way.

What's the difference between Understory's ground cacao and baking cocoa powder?

Understory's ground cacao and traditional baking cocoa differ primarily in the way they are made.

Understory Cacao is simply roasted and ground, preserving more of the cacao beans' natural goodness, original flavors and healthful properties.

Traditional baking cocoa, on the other hand, is often processed with alkali (Dutch-processed), and undergoes a treatment that neutralizes some of its natural properties, leading to changes in flavor, color, and solubility.

Since our ground cacao is less processed, it also retains higher levels of antioxidants and flavonoids, which are believed to offer various health benefits. Baking cocoa, especially when Dutch-processed, may have reduced levels of these beneficial compounds.

What Types of Things Can I Make with Cacao (Other Than Brewing It)?

Understory Cacao is incredibly versatile in the kitchen!

We're obviously big fans of using it in baked goods. Check out our Chocolate Chip Cacao Cookies, No Bake 'CaPow' Balls, and Cacao Banana Bread recipes over on our RECIPE page!

You can also mix it into smoothies for a chocolatey superfood addition. Sprinkle it over oatmeal, yogurt or ice cream. It even works great in chili or in a steak rub! We encourage you to get creative with it!

What is the Shelf Life of Understory Cacao?

Our brewing cacao is freshest for up to 3 months but can be kept for up to 2 years. Store in a cool dry place for optimal freshness and lifespan! 

Does Ground Cacao Lose Freshness Over time, Similar to Coffee Grounds?

Our brewing cacao will stay usable for over a year but will start to lose it's freshness around 3 months. This is in part due to the natural cacao butter which helps prevent oxidation and keeps things still fresh and tasty as time goes on. 

Where Do You Get Your Cacao Beans From?

Our cacao beans are sourced from partners committed to ethical and transparent practices.

All our cacao beans are purchased though a unique Transparent Trade model, emphasizing financial transparency in the cacao value chain.

This approach ensures fair pricing and clear disclosure of the value chain, focusing on the well-being of cacao farmers and producers and sustainable trade relationships.


'Transparent Trade' is a sourcing model that emphasizes published, verified pricing for every transaction in the cacao purchase supply chain. It focuses on providing information about who produced the cacao and where it comes from.

This model aims to foster accountability and transparency in the chocolate industry by ensuring that cacao producers are fairly compensated and that all stakeholders have access to pricing and supply chain details.

Transparent Trade is not about certifications or stamps; it's about honest communication and clear, accessible financial data to build trust and ensure equitable trade practices

Is Your Cacao Organic?

Yes, our brewing cacao is USDA certified organic.

USDA organic certification ensures that the cacao we use is grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing factors like soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.