The evolution of hot chocolate

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The evolution of hot chocolate

Could there be any better winter beverage than sweet, milky, comforting hot chocolate on a nippy day? We think not. We track the hero beverage’s progress from Mayan times to today.

It’s not for nothing that chocolate’s botanical name, Theobroma cacao, is Greek for “food of the gods”. After all, what other substance can send us into rapture quite like good chocolate does? It has to be said, though, that while most of us associate chocolate with the solid bars we feast on, the first actual chocolate bar was not invented until 1839. Before that, it was almost exclusively consumed in its liquid form.

It is thought that the first chocolate beverage was created by the Mayans over 2000 years ago, and assimilated into Aztec culture by 1400 AD. Consumed cold, the drink, called xocolatl, was made by grinding cocoa seeds into a paste and mixing it with water, cornmeal and chillies, then pouring it back and forth between two bowls until it became foamy. As sugar hadn’t been introduced to the Americas yet, the drink was spicier and more bitter than the sweet stuff we know today. The drink was often used during religious ceremonies and Aztec emperor Montezuma is said to have had his soldiers drink the beverage to fortify themselves before and during battles.

When the Spanish conquistadors defeated Montezuma’s warriors, they forced the Aztec nobles to hand over their cocoa beans and xocolatl-making equipment, and took it with them to Spain in 1528, where it became the drink du jour among the aristocracy. The Spanish slightly adapted the drink by sweetening it with sugar, but kept their possession of cocoa a secret until they opened a cocoa processing plant and news got out. There are different theories on how cocoa spread to the rest of Europe. Some say the monks who processed the beans told their French counterparts about it, while others say it happened when Anne of Austria, the daughter of King Philip III of Spain, married King Louis XIII of France and gave him cocoa beans as a wedding present.

By the late 17th century the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Hans Sloane, visited Jamaica, where cocoa was being cultivated. He loathed the taste but found it was more palatable by mixing cocoa with milk, and that’s how he introduced milky drinking chocolate to Europe. Taking things a step further, Coenraad Johannes van Houten designed the first cocoa powder-producing machine in the Netherlands in 1828 – resulting in a powder that could easily be mixed with water and milk and is very similar to the cocoa powder we use today.

At this stage, it’s probably good to differentiate between the hot chocolates we know today. The first, combining pieces of actual chocolate with heated milk, the second, blending cocoa with sugar and milk, and the third, perhaps least gourmet option, instant hot chocolate, where sugar, cocoa and milk powder has been blended and needs a mere splash of boiling water.

Whatever your preference (although, let’s be honest, what could be better than actual chocolate melted in frothy, piping hot milk?), the next time you take a sip of this sublime beverage, make sure to toast the ancient Mayans. They were certainly onto something all those eons ago.


What is your ultimate hot chocolate recipe? Add it to your TASTE profile here – or try one of these decadent recipes at home:

Toasted coconut marshmallow hot chocolate
Spiced caramel hot chocolate
Molten hot chocolate with raspberry macaroons and caramel spoons

Annette Klinger Article by: Annette Klinger

Woolworths TASTE’s features writer maintains that almost any dish can be improved with butter and cream. She’s a stickler for comfort food, especially German treats that remind her of her late grandmother, such as pork schnitzel with sauerkraut and spätzlen. She is a voracious reader of food magazines and recipe books, and instinctively switches over to the cooking channel whenever she checks into a hotel or guesthouse.

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  • Admin
    January 15, 2023

    This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am really happy to read everthing at one place