This week we’re talking to Dan Koch, founder of Sacred Taste and pioneer for the journey of listening to your heart’s call. His story is one that led him from the peaks of success as a top DJ, performing on stage in front of thousands, to a six-hour canoe ride along the Amazon River, to form a connection with the Ashaninka people that would deliver the medicine of cacao to the world. Stories aren’t linear. They twist, turn and unfold as if written by a hand who knows the treasures we must discover along the way. Dan’s story doesn’t begin with cacao, but the seeds flourishing today were planted long ago.
‘I never understood the world.’ Dan admits. ‘As a kid I used to ask why I was born in these times. Instead of being sad about it, I knew I had to do something about it.’
Dan set off in pursuit of his dream of becoming a DJ, which reached its peak in 2013. On stage in front of thousands of people Dan played his set, warming up for his favourite artists Above & Beyond, a moment he’ll never forget.
‘It was a sellout show.’ He tells me, eyes alight at the memory. ‘Everyone who had been part of the journey up to that point was there. It was totally magical. But the next day when I came down from the high, I knew it was over. I’d set out to achieve my dream, now it was time to head back down the mountain.’
Dan discovered the life-changing benefits of cacao on his detox from the DJ hustle.
‘When I came down the mountain to find my true purpose, I followed my connection to nature which I had in me all along.’
As we delve deeper, Dan reminisces about a group he formed at school called The Nature Squad, where as kids they would forage and collect things, analyzing them with a burning curiosity. Years later, driven by the same fascination and fierce longing to protect nature, Dan began his first business Grow Space.
‘We were teaching people how to grow their own food in the city, where rekindling connection to nature is needed the most. Our passion was to help nature thrive in the urban environment, a path which led to putting on parties where we served cacao instead of intoxicants. People would come up after those parties and tell me, ‘Man I had the best time. I met so many cool people, we had incredible conversations and I feel amazing.’ We knew something special was happening, and that’s when Sacred was born.’
Dan made the bold choice to prioritize his health, leaving the music scene behind, to live in his van by the beach. He abstained from all toxins and found a natural high with benefits for both the body and mind.
‘The health benefits of cacao for me are the opposite of coffee or alcohol, where we borrow energy and happiness from tomorrow. With cacao I feel like I’m giving more of myself and there’s energy leftover.’
Cacao is an extremely nutrient dense superfood. It’s high in magnesium which relaxes the nervous system, promotes better sleep and enhances our ability to focus. Cacao’s Latin name is Theobroma, which literally translates to ‘Food of the Gods’ and it is full of antioxidants.
‘So many people ask me if I’m in my twenties, I don’t know if they’re joking. I’m 36! I live in a stressful environment, always on the go. For me to get compliments like that, that’s saying something about the health benefits of cacao.’
Cacao provides a stable energy boost, unlike other stimulants, because it contains theobromine, the more balanced cousin of the popular chemical caffeine. Whereas coffee stimulates cortisol production, adding to the stress of our busy lives, cacao produces high levels of serotonin and oxytocin - the ‘feel-good’ chemicals.
‘It’s a cup of happiness.’ Dan tells me. ‘Cacao produces feelings of love, bliss, happiness, euphoria, connectedness. This kind of experience can change a person’s life. It means I’m still relaxed, even when I’m stressed. It’s a sustainable, holistic high I don’t come down from because when we drink cacao we remain in a state of heightened connectedness.’
By merging his seemingly separate worlds of music and cacao, Dan discovered the heart-opening medicine is exactly what people were craving.
‘We did a DJ set at Lost Paradise where we served cacao instead of alcohol. People came in intoxicated, then they’d sit, drink cacao and listen to our music. They’d sober up and tell me what an amazing experience they had. Cacao raises our vibration over the barriers so we have better, deeper conversations and build long-lasting connections. I love creating highs, I’m a master of it!’ Dan laughs, radiant. ‘I realised in that moment I could still put on a party, and nobody had to compromise their health. This is what we deliver through the Sacred cacao parties - it’s a dream come true for me.’
To call a party sacred may be unconventional, but it’s certainly having a positive impact on how people treat their bodies and relate to nature. Sacred is changing people’s perspective about whether we really need intoxicants to lower inhibitions or find connection, and encourages us to raise our vibration to higher, more loving frequencies.
‘Ceremony doesn’t have to be serious.’ Dan points out. ‘It can be dancing, sharing a beautiful moment, listening to music. I believe that’s the medicine we need in these crazy times, to judge less and remember this whole experience is sacred. Cacao is my medicine of choice. I love cacao, and I want to share that with the world in a way I feel both people and planet will greatly benefit from. When people respect their body, they respect themselves, nature, each other. The flow on effect of that is immeasurable.'
Cacao is a plant with so many health benefits, but Sacred goes deeper than that. It’s a movement that’s about bringing people together to rediscover relationship with nature. Ancient Mayan legend tells us, ‘Whenever there is an imbalance between humans and nature, cacao makes its way out of the jungle to restore the planet to a state of harmony.’
‘Before I found cacao I didn’t consider myself a spiritual person.’ Dan tells me. ‘I never connected my love for nature with any kind of spirituality. ‘When I started drinking cacao I realised there is something that permeates through everything,
that is within us all and gives us life, and that’s spirit. Cacao, the medicine of the ancient Mayans, is what gradually deepened my connection to spirit and therefore deepened my connection to everything else on this planet.’
In our culture we tend to look outside of ourselves for fulfilment, which is short-lived and ultimately keeps us wanting more. Cacao deepens our awareness of our own heart and the magic that exists within us.
‘Cacao has dropped me into my heart and out of my mind, living in a heart-centred way, connected to my purpose. I’m not here to do what society wants me to do, but what my heart and spirit tells me to do.'
‘It’s a sensation.’ Dan describes, when I ask how it feels to listen to the heart. ‘Everything is vibration and frequency. Our whole body is a giant antenna, we see and hear things and translate them, creating visions in our minds. When I feel something in my gut and it doesn’t feel right, I listen.’
Living in this way is radical act of embodying the change we want to see in the world. As Dan demonstrates, cacao encourages us to trust our inner guidance, letting that lead the way rather the conditioned responses we learn to live by.
‘I communicate with spirit on a daily basis.’ Dan goes on. ‘I owe the depth of this connection to cacao. It’s a portal into another realm, now it’s with me in my everyday life. When we go deep within our own connection to spirit, to source, it deepens our connection to everything else on this planet.’
It took a 15 hour bus ride and 6 hours on a canoe for Dan to reach the heart of the Amazon jungle where he met with the oldest Indigenous tribes in South America, the Ashaninka. It was here where he learnt about the importance of cacao, the essence of its spirit and the Ashaninka way of life.
‘The ancient Mayan legend makes so much sense to me.’ Dan says. ‘We are products of our environments and right now it’s toxic. We’re destroying it and we’ll destroy ourselves if we don’t change.’
We reflect on the relationship between ourselves and nature, and how recognising ourselves as inextricably connected with all things is the radical shift in perspective needed to create change.
‘Mother Earth is the most sacred of all.’ Dan emphasises. ‘Without her we simply will not survive. She’s our mother, if we’re not connected to her we’re not connected to our ancestry. It’s one thing to mentally try and connect, but when we live in relationship, that when we’re going to want to protect and preserve what is sacred.’
It is the land that holds medicine and we must take every measure to preserve it. Engaging with the mystery that imbues our world with meaning reignites the relationship between humans and nature. If the fraying threads of sacred connection can be sought, we can weave them into a new story for our generation. Sacred delivers this message with every cup of cacao served, inspiring people to connect with what is meaningful to them, so that more and more of us awaken to the trans-formative power of listening to our hearts.
‘We never wanted to buy our cacao from anywhere but the source.’ Dan explains. ‘The Ashaninka are living in harmony with the earth, and if there’s anything we can do to support and teach others about that, we’ll do it. We need to preserve the ancient forests because they hold information dating back to the beginning of time. There is a web of life that exists in the forests we’re destroying. Of course we can plant new trees, but they won’t carry the same medicine. It’s those untouched places where we can truly tap in.’
It’s a heavy price we pay for the loss of virgin rain forests. What we stand to lose is simply irreplaceable. The excessive consumerism of our culture is robbing future generations of resources and irrevocably distorting the relationship between humans and nature needed for either to survive. Sacred’s ethos is steeped in the indigenous wisdom carried by the medicine of cacao, something that is desperately needed in our fast-paced, urban culture. Every cup of cacao Sacred serves is supporting the Ashaninka people in continuing their way of life.
‘By working directly with the Ashaninka tribe, we know that what we’re doing honours cacao in every stage of the journey.’ Dan expresses. ‘Plant medicine is coming back in its original form to heal the land and to heal us.’
In a culture where our needs can be met with a single click, Dan’s experience among the Ashaninka people carries a message we need to hear.
‘When they invited us into the forest, I didn’t want to leave.’ Dan admits. ‘But the forests are getting smaller. Cocaine farming, drug trafficking, illegal mining and deforestation are all threatening the Ashaninka way of life. I needed to do something about it.’
The Ashaninka are forced to grow and cultivate cacao as a means to earn money to keep their land titles.
‘When I realised this, I knew there was a part for me to play.’ Dan says. ‘I asked God why he put me here, well, now I know. If you don’t fit in somewhere that’s because you’re here to make change. ‘Cacao has a bitter truth, but her wisdom holds the lessons her children need to heal.’
To understand and begin to embody the wisdom cacao offers, we first have to allow ourselves to open and receive love. Whilst it may seem easy, many of us have trouble accepting our worth until we remember our belonging to the earth.
‘Cacao is the divine mother.’ He tells me. ‘I sat in ceremony and asked how we can restore this relationship and reunite her with her children. The indigenous in these lands live in harmony because they never destroyed the mother, they understand what it is to sustain life. We dissolve separation by opening our hearts. Like all plant medicines cacao works holistically to bring us into balance. One cup a day will oxygenate the blood, provide the body with essential nutrients and cause the brain to release endorphins, easing feelings of anxiety and depression. In a relaxed state we can more easily discern our intuitive guidance; it gently reminds us that we have an incredible capacity to heal and that we belong in relationship.’
If each cup of cacao holds a message, I ask Dan to explain what that might be.
‘Cacao is teaching us she will give us the love we need. When we feel we are not enough, we feel we have to do more, have more. Cacao shows us unconditional love, not by doing anything, but just by being you. Her message is that we are loved, each and every day.’
Tapping into our authentic truth in many ways asks us to swim against the tide. Whilst this takes a great deal of resilience, there is no other feeling quite like living in a state of flow.
‘To listen to our intuition, we have to creates boundaries so that what others think of us won’t put us off our path.’ Dan says. ‘Tapping into my inner guidance and following that path has led to incredibly beautiful places. I feel alive and aligned. Moving from heart not the head changes everything. You experience synchronicity and amazing interactions. It’s all about connection and realising we’re not separate. Everything flows when we share a vision for a happy, healthier planet. One of the ways I stay aligned is to use my knowledge of the body, mind and spirit to consume good food, good thoughts, and stay connected to my purpose. For me that’s bringing balance back to the environment, so we can live happy, healthy lives with clean air, fresh water and fertile soil. I want our children to see and play with the animals in the wild. My mission is to help preserve that.’
Cacao has a unique way of bringing the best out in us. No matter what our gifts are, she will create opportunities for us to share them in a way which benefits the whole. Her medicine reminds us we are an ecosystem, working together in order to thrive.
‘Cacao supports and unlocks the whole spectrum of life, from meditation to celebration.’ Dan remarks. ‘It’s exciting to see people come together and discover their unique offering with cacao.’
Expansion is on the horizon for Sacred, as the community grows and deepens in its purpose.
‘Get ready.’ He laughs. ‘We’re creating a movement, a culture. Support the businesses you believe in, because whilst it’s not always easy to work in this way the results are so worth it. The dream is big, I see it everywhere I go.’
If you take anything away from our sharing this week, let it be that you play an integral part in this unfolding, so trust in that which you call Sacred.
‘If you’re hearing the call, answer it.’ Dan affirms. ‘We’re all unique and I believe the purpose of our lives is to discover our gifts and share them with the world. If we all do what we love the world will know peace.’
Connect with Dan
Instagram | www.instagram.com/koda.sounds