Monday, December 4, 2023

Healing and Thriving with Cacao: An Interview with the Founder of Soul Lift Cacao

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If you’ve been around for a while, you probably know the love Bloom and Manifest has for ceremonial cacao and how often I recommend Soul Lift Cacao in particular. It’s changed my life. 

This is the ceremonial cacao I serve at our Full Moon Cacao Circles and the one I most often enjoy myself. 

The quality, ethics and farm-to-cup approach couldn’t inspire me more! I’m so excited for you to read this interview with Nick Meador, the founder of Soul Lift Cacao.

I know you’ll be inspired by the integrity, transparency, humility, journey and lifestyle of this successful and conscious business owner.

Grab a cup of cacao and let’s dive in!

>>>New to ceremonial cacao? Here’s a few other articles you may like to read:

Hey Nick! Tell us about yourself, your role at Soul Lift and your journey with cacao. 

I was living with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) for a few years and trying everything to cure it. Nothing was making a difference until I participated in a modern cacao ceremony in June 2015 that had a hugely positive impact on me. 

It still wasn’t a “cure,” but cacao did provide a new kind of clarity, gentle energy, and motivation. Cacao helped me to make the kind of holistic lifestyle changes I needed to make to start to feel fewer symptoms.

That also led me to a path of deep therapeutic work: trauma release, belief re-patterning, and embodiment practices.

I did some of that work in Central America while also trying to find out more about cacao, and I began bringing ceremonial cacao home with me. I had no plan to sell cacao at first. I just wanted to share it with my community in cacao circles and workshops.

But then I started to receive requests to mail the cacao to other states.

One thing led to another, and when I moved to California at the start of 2018 I registered Soul Lift Cacao as a legal food business. 

In 2021 after three years of selling only online, I opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Portland, Oregon. Obviously it was a tough time to do that, and Portland is still going through a lot of challenges. In 2022 I moved to a location with more pedestrian traffic.

So essentially I’m the founder, and my main focus is on the creative direction of the business, communicating the vision through social media and the newsletter, and now hosting group cacao tours in Guatemala for people to experience the whole lifecycle firsthand.

Also, I’m a Capricorn, with Capricorn rising, and a Pisces moon. My friends who are into astrology claim that this explains why it’s not a system that resonates for me. 🙂

Can you tell us a bit about ceremonial cacao? How is it different from cacao at the supermarket and what makes it authentic and ceremonial?

I think of cacao and chocolate like a spectrum.

There’s the really unethical, highly processed chocolate that has very little cacao in it. “Cocoa processed with alkali” is also on this level. That’s in a lot of hot chocolate mixes, candy bars, and even sometimes things marketed as “superfoods.”

Then there’s bean-to-bar or craft chocolate, often with certifications but still not a lot of transparency about where it came from. I’d also put cacao powder on this level, which even though it’s often labeled “raw” is processed to remove the natural fats, just not treated with alkali. 

Then there are some pure cacao products labeled as “ceremonial cacao” or “ceremonial grade cacao,” but they have too many of the historical traditions and/or stewards cut out of the process. Many are made more like bean-to-bar chocolate using industrial methods for the toasting, removing shells, and grinding. And many are tempered, which is a process of heating and cooling the cacao to align the cacao crystals. It works for chocolate bars, but it’s not authentic for ceremonial cacao. Some of these are made into tiny discs, which is a clear sign that it’s not authentic.

Even for what I’d be comfortable calling ceremonial cacao, I see a few different levels. At the very least, the cacao needs to be grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, fermented in wooden crates or wicker baskets, sun-dried, and finished in the country it grows with indigenous people involved in the whole process.

The next step towards back to ancient traditions is to toast the cacao seeds (aka “beans”) over wood fire and peel them by hand.

Historically the cacao was also only ground on a “metate” stone – crushing the cacao between a rough plate and a rolling pin. But these days it’s usually done mechanically, which I think saves a lot of manual labor without losing the essence of the cacao.

And the most traditional customs I’ve seen in the Mayan world involve rituals at basically every step of the process from planting, to harvesting the pods, to serving it in fire ceremonies.

Also it wasn’t called “ceremonial cacao” in the most traditional settings. That’s more of a modern coinage. But part of my work is to make all this language more specific so that we can start to establish real standards for ceremonial cacao.

How has cacao impacted your life personally?

It’s a relationship that evolves over time. I often describe the long-term effect of working with cacao as feeling like a friend has a hand on your back saying, “You’ve got this.”

But sharing and educating people about authentic ceremonial cacao is an extremely difficult undertaking. There have been times where I wanted to give up, and the relationship with cacao itself was part of what kept me going.

Before finding ceremonial cacao I had done some work with stronger plant medicines, and those benefitted me in certain ways. But cacao is gentle enough that I can have it on a regular basis and get a feeling of being connected to my body and to the earth. That’s the foundation for my own spirituality.

What would you say are the most profound spiritual and physical effects that ceremonial cacao tends to have on people?

By far the most common has always been people describing a “heart-opening” experience and feelings of optimism, connectedness, and inner peace.

I think ceremonial cacao can provide insights and clarity on situations that are troubling us, especially if we drink cacao while doing introspective practices like yoga, creative work, or spending time in nature.

It’s subtle, so if people don’t pay attention they might not even notice a “spiritual” effect of cacao. It’s not a drug and doesn’t force us on a “trip.”

Many women have told me that they thought it reduced the severity of menstrual cramps, which I believe due to the magnesium content in cacao.

There’s also really solid research about the beneficial effects of cacao on the brain and cardiovascular system. But as the owner of a food business, I have to limit the kind of claims I make in that area. 🙂


What perspective-shifting lessons have you learned about cacao from working with the indigenous people of Guatemala?

Mainly that there’s not one and only way of working with cacao. A lot of people have probably been like me, going there hoping to answer all the questions and identify a single story or truth about cacao.

But really, every answer leads to another question. It’s all very mysterious.

I’ve heard so many different stories about how cacao was used historically.

Even two villages in the same Mayan tribe might have slightly different customs. There are over 20 Mayan tribes with distinct languages and textiles.

And the Mayans were only one of the Mesoamerican groups who considered cacao sacred going back thousands of years.

But to put it more simply, the indigenous people I work with are all very proud of the cacao they help to produce, whether they’re at the farm, or doing the toasting and peeling, or even the ones packing the boxes for export.

The movement around authentic ceremonial cacao is having a real impact in these places that have been absolutely decimated by foreign exploitation going back 500 years, but in some ways most severely over the last 70 years.

In spite of all that, in my experience the Mayan people are so welcoming and gracious. It amazes me all the time.

What do you wish more people knew about cacao?

That buying something labeled “ceremonial cacao” but made by cutting out the indigenous people in the country where the cacao grew is a very real kind of exploitation, and no amount of spiritual practice or “intention” with that cacao can make up for that exploitation.

What does ethical, fairly traded cacao mean to you and why do you feel it’s important?

Aside from what’s mentioned above, to me it means that farmers are paid about two times the “fair trade” rate (since unfortunately that isn’t very different than the current commodity price for cacao).

No forced labor, indentured servitude, or child labor – which unfortunately are too common in the cocoa trade in places like West Africa and Brazil (cacao and cocoa are different names for the same thing).

So “ethical” means that the cacao workers are self-organized and working of their own volition.

I checked that members of the processing collectives are all making at least minimum wage. And I give my source partners some say in how their product is sold and presented, including the language on the labels. So it’s really a collaborative relationship.

Obviously I also believe it’s important to do things legally with a registered and inspected food business. There’s a lot of random cacao on the Internet these days. I don’t think that does justice to the indigenous cacao workers. They deserve a spot on the world stage through legitimate business.

How can we avoid cultural appropriation when consuming cacao?

To me it comes down to sourcing and acknowledgement.

Sourcing means getting cacao that’s grown and prepared in an authentic way, with a traceable supply chain, and that sends enough money back to the source. 

In my model, an average of 11 times (or 1100%) the “fair trade” rate remains in the source country.

And acknowledgement means that if we share that cacao with others or use it in our online promotion, then we acknowledge that this isn’t a new thing but that indigenous people have been using this as a “medicine” for thousands of years.

If leading a workshop I think it’s important to also verbally acknowledge the cacao workers

And also being careful about the tone we use when talking about it. The Mayan people I’ve asked do want it to spread and help people around the world.

One common request they have is that people stay humble when sharing it, and take measures to hold a safe container.

How often do you recommend having cacao in a ceremonial or ritualistic way?

I believe this is a totally personal and intuitive thing. I would never tell anyone they “should” do medicine work. It really depends on if they feel called to do it.

When I started sharing cacao I held a weekly cacao meditation that was very nice. We felt connected as a community, and I saw people make some significant changes in their life.

Having a ceremony more frequently than that would probably be too much for most people! I occasionally see programs where people have cacao every day for 3 or 4 weeks, and that seems like a lot to me.

Even for a “daily dose,” I recommend people take off a couple days per week to let the energies settle.

I also believe that ceremonial cacao can have “spiritual” benefits even if not done in an actual ceremony. 

Even making a cup of cacao is a ritual and a moment for reflection and getting centered.

I believe the cacao might still provide subtle direction in someone’s life even if they don’t realize it right away. For me it took about a year to be able to look back and realize how cacao had really changed my life.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to create a successful purpose-driven, spiritually grounded business? How can ceremonial cacao support that and how has it supported your success?

Start small and “test out the waters.” With any project idea there are ways to try it as a side gig before diving in. Especially if you want to release a physical product, which tends to require more overhead (operational costs).

It’s very difficult to make a food business work these days, especially one based on ethical, direct trade. I mentioned how much more money is going back to the source in this model. But that means the profit margin is much higher in the bean-to-bar model.

Farmers markets aren’t my thing, but events like workshops and pop-ups definitely helped gain traction. 

Start a newsletter and get people’s permission to email them once a week. Social media matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

Sometimes people spin their wheels worrying about building an online following. Direct relationships and word of mouth are important too, so find ways to leverage the power of community. 

The books that have helped me the most in this area are “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris, which to me isn’t about actually working 4-hours per week but about understanding solopreneurship in the 21st century.

Also, “Traction” by Gino Wickman helped me organize my business model more than the traditional accelerator program I did a few years ago.

And cacao definitely keeps me going… absolutely. Just like with my healing journey, it’s like having a good coach in my corner.


Which cacao offering of yours is your favorite? 

It changes from month to month!

I’m proud of La Noche cacao because it’s a Soul Lift Cacao exclusive added to the line-up in fall 2022.

This is the first time the makers are sharing it in a big way outside of Guatemala, and they are carriers of deep historical cacao traditions from the Quiche Mayan tribe.

I really appreciate their way of holding ceremonies, and it’s a huge honor to share their cacao. 

They were willing to work with me on the fermentation and roasting to get the flavor and body really dark and rich. But even before that it reminded me of the nighttime.

That’s why we called it La Noche, Spanish for “the night.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share about Soul Lift Cacao? 

Right now the shop in Portland mostly features the packaged cacao goods, and we offer a “cacao of the day” by the cup.

I’m hoping to eventually do a full kitchen build-out so we can offer a whole drink menu.

I have facilitator training courses – self-guided, live over Zoom, and possibly in person this year – for people to deepen their relationship with cacao and learn how to host trauma-informed, consent-based, transformational experiences with it.

And the Guatemalan cacao tours are the thing I’m most excited about these days.

I hope they’ll become more and more frequent over time, but for now they’ll be at least twice per year.

Participants get to meet the actual people who grow and prepare the cacao they love and buy from Soul Lift Cacao. I’ve seen many participants get emotional when they have “aha moments” about how much love and work actually goes into the cacao. It makes it all much more real.

There’s more info and online ordering options (you can use discount code BLOOM on your order!)

Thanks for reading!


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