The Origin of Hot Chocolate

Xocolatl (pronounced sho-koh-lah-tuhl) is the Nahuatl (Aztec) word many connoisseurs use for chocolate, but it actually means “bitter water.”

The first drink produced from the cacao tree was not hot chocolate. Anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed ancient pottery from Honduras and found residue of an alcoholic beverage fermented from the pulp of the cacao pod, not the bean.

Chocolate in History

Cacao beans were used as currency in early Latin America (600-1500). It’s been said that one bean could buy a fresh tamale, but 100 could purchase an entire hen.

It is not news that chocolate, correctly manufactured and in small amounts, is medicinal. The Aztecs claimed it curative powers, and modern science agrees.

Former chocolate buyer for the famous Fortnum & Mason London department store, Chloe Doutre-Roussel, published a delectable book, The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone with a Passion for Chocolate. Apparently, she knows her stuff since she claims to have grown up eating Nutella and dark chocolate thins. She tells the gruesome tale of Aztecs in line to be sacrificed being served cacao laced with the blood of previous victims.

Another story relates how friar Thomas Gage banned the consumption of hot chocolate during religious services. It is said that he died while drinking the same beverage tinged with a bit of poison.

Frothy Yummy Goodness!

The chocolate beverage served by Aztecs and Mayans was not a sweet use of the bitter bean. To enhance the flavor, they might add chillies, honey, vanilla, and flowers. The liquid was mixed with a wooden frother (a molinillo) to make it light and airy enough to be inhaled as well as sipped. Remember, the more froth there is, the more love will respond.

However, when Montezuma kindly offered conquistador Hernan Cortés a cup of chocolatl, he returned the favor by killing the Aztec Emperor and taking over the empire. In 1528, Cortés brought cacao beans to Spain.

Make Your Own Cup of Love

To create your own authentic hot cocoa, you could purchase xocolatl or use Mexican chocolate tablets. Typically, you must grate the tablets but this is unnecessary for xocoatl. Regardless of which you choose, whisk the chocolate with hot milk. Or you could do it like the Mayans and pour the liquid from one vessel at about shoulder height into another vessel resting on the ground. Such fanfare! Maybe they make it the same way at the Chocolate Academy (locations worldwide). You’ll have to let me know.

Because I watch my sugar intake, I make my own dry mix hot chocolate and store it in a glass jar in my pantry. It’s easy to make and luscious to drink.

Mix together:

3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, 1 cup dried goat milk powder, 2 tsp. cornstarch, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 & 1/2 cups of sugar-free sweetener.

I usually fill my mug with 1/4 cup of this mixture and add boiling water, but as with all chocolate, the amount you need is definitely up to you.




2 Responses to “The Origin of Hot Chocolate”

  1. S.J. Abraham

    Your blog posts show how carefully you’re researching for your novel. Great way to use the info twice! Looking forward to reading more soon.

    • Amy Nowak

      Thanks Abe! Research enhances a novel’s authenticity, but it also embroiders one’s personal life with enlightenment and action; education makes me want to try new things, like the molinillo.


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