Pre-Columbian Design Inspiration For An Ancient Treasure

Nicaragua is a chocolate makers dream location right in the heart of Mesoamerica and, in fact, Nicaraguan chocolate has been in production for over 3000 years. It is believed that Christopher Columbus first tasted cocoa in 1502 during a stopover in the country, though he did not see its value. However, in the mid-16th century, Hernan Cortez got a taste of the “fruit of the Gods” and brought it back to Spain, where it quickly earned international fame.

Since then cacao has been primarily an export of Nicaragua, and not generally used locally to produce chocolate. But Carlos Jose Mann had a different plan. In 2004 he opened the Momotombo Chocolate Factory, a small artisanal bean to bar operation that produces a diverse range of Chocolates made exclusively with fine Nicaraguan cacao.

Envisioning a natural gourmet chocolate with a deep, authentic Nicaraguan flavor, Mann works closely with local growers in Nicaragua. Momotombo Chocolate offers 17 tropical flavored products including orange, cashew and raisin, peanut butter with chili, mango, guava, sesame, and others with 75%-90% pure chocolate.

While the taste is the true test, and the true reward, creative package design has become an important brand ambassador for artisanal chocolates. The packaging offers the chocolatier an opportunity to show off the brand’s heritage through design.


Mann, who is not only Momotombo’s Founder and CEO, but chief product developer, specialty cacao buyer, and inhouse designer, looked to a pre-Columbian tradition for design inspiration when creating the new boxes for the varietal line. “Tattoos played a large role in Nicaraguan culture in pre-Columbian times. There were specialized artists who dedicated themselves to this artform. As in all older societies, tattoos were a way to inscribe ones feats as a warrior on your skin. I myself don’t have a tattoo, but I love the way they look. Especially bold, single color tattoos,” said Mann.


Though he has limited time, Mann continues to evolve the packaging each year. With his knowledge of Nicaraguan history, art and his experience as an illustrator, his emphasis is on a visually effective design that can be implemented quickly. With a style that harkens back to the brand’s roots, his designs lend a sense of hand-crafted-ness to the artisan chocolate inside.


Mann says he specified Neenah’s CLASSIC Stipple for the boxes. Though it wasn’t his initial choice. “Originally we had tried using another product, but the design was cracking at the seams. We tried it with Stipple and it worked. So, to be honest, it was not the first choice, but it was quite lovely, and we were glad we could use it. Once the first samples came out we were really pleased. It has a texture that feels natural, like the products we make,” he said.


Every package is an opportunity to showcase beauty,” said Mann. “There will be a new packaging coming out for Christmas 2018. The design will incorporate the Momotombo Volcano, which was our first brand symbol. It will appear in a fresh new way, while hopefully creating a package that stands out on the store shelves.”

If you’re lucky enough to be traveling through Nicaragua, you can find Momotombo in stores and airports, but if you’re not, you can at least buy some of their chocolate covered beans from The Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto CA.