Camp John Hay. One of the few hold-outs that retains the look, feel and smell of the old Baguio. Filled with healthy pine trees. Refreshingly quiet, complete with its pine-scented, fresh air. Hidden in one corner is the Choco-Late de Batirol. There’s really more to Baguio than, say, its Panagbenga Festival.
Looking for the Choco-Late de Batirol is probably like looking for the (pine) needle in the haystack. That is not an exaggeration given the expanse of Camp John Hay and the usual winding roads of Baguio City. Choco-Late de Batirol is at the Gate 2, Igorot Garden, of Camp John Hay, which we usually pass when going to The Manor through the South Drive and the Country Club Road. Pine trees would have served as helpful markers, but only outside of Baguio, not here in Camp John Hay where there are more pine trees than people a hundred times over. Anyway, we thought it best to include a map here (see also, how to use maps) to help you locate this tsokolate haven amidst the pine trees.
Choco-Late de Batirol describes its garden as “a hodge-podge of wooden artifacts and curiosity items some dating back to a hundred years. It is a nature-lovers paradise filled with recycled materials from the tables, chairs, roofing material and what have you.”
No need for excessive description, really. It’s sufficient that it’s nestled amidst the pine trees and blanketed by the cold Baguio weather. It’s far from the hustle and bustle of Session Road, the main and most congested road of Baguio City. And, yes, it’s truly a “nature-lovers’ paradise.”
It’s probably easier to locate this place at night. ChocoLate de Batirol blends with the brown pine trunks and greenery that engulfs it. At night, when darkness claims this beautiful reserve invaded by human beings, lights in the shape of flowers line up the pathway in the same way that the running lights at the airport guide airplanes to safety. Here at Choco-Late de Batirol, these cool lights guide guests to a Filipino favorite, tsokolate prepared old-style, by batirol.
Let’s have a pop quiz before we go any further — what is a batirol? The younger generation, even if they love to watch all these cooking shows, would probably be clueless what a batirol is. How do we describe a batirol? In preparing tsokolate (referred to as sikwati in some areas of the Philippines, from ground cacao beans called tablea or tableya), the tableya is dropped in a tall pot with water, brought to a boil, then vigorously mixed by a wooden implement. Some say batirol refers to the pot, but based on the usage in our house and based on the recollection of all the old people we know, batirol (also batidor, molinillo or molinet) refers to the wooden implement used for the actual mixing.
If we agree on that (and feel free to tell us otherwise), the batirol is a wooden cooking instrument with a long thin handle and a head (see the wooden thingie sticking out of the iron pot in the photo above?). The handle is long enough to reach the bottom of the pot and thin enough to allow the palms to roll it back and forth, vigorously mixing the ingredients inside. Pretty much like a blender, although a blender wouldn’t do the same splendid job. The batirol head, around two inches thick, has grooves — grabbing more mixture, crunching solids and allowing more air to the mixture (frothing).
Tsokolate without the froth is no tsokolate. But before we describe how it tastes, let’s take a detour on the bibingka and suman (which is suman lihiya, we believe). Let’s just say that the bibingka and suman of Choco-Late de Batirol are among the best we’ve tasted.
As to the tsokolate, there are other flavors in addition to the Traditional Blend. There’s the Baguio Blend (strawberry), Cinnamon, Almond, Cointreau (orange), Kahlua, and Choco Mallows. We tried the Traditional Blend for reference. It took us quite a while to figure out what’s different with the tsokolate of Choco-Late de Batirol. We arrived at a consensus that while the tsokolate tastes really good, it has more milk than we traditionally prefer. We want our tsokolate to be about the tableya, with minimal or no milk (it would be a bit bitter with less milk, but we like it that way).
But, hey, don’t get us wrong, Choco-Late de Batirol is one of the best tsokolate there is. By focusing on the traditional way of preparing tsokolate, Choco-Late de Batirol is serving a lucrative niche market, but it is also placing a lot of pressure on itself. Anyone who loves tsokolate has a strong preference on how it should smell, look and taste. Yes, the pine trees and the Baguio weather create a great ambiance, but, in the end, it’s still about the tsokolate. (Feel free to express how you find the tsokolate at Choco-Late de Batirol through the comment section below).