You might think of hot chocolate as something you drink by the fireplace to warm up from the cold of winter, but I personally prefer it to coffee and drink it year-round. But have you ever thought about why we drink chocolate in the first place, and why we drink it hot?
Earliest Known Origins
The Mayans and Aztecs were drinking chocolate as early as 500 B.C., when it was made from ground up cocoa seeds mixed with water, cornmeal, and chili peppers, among other ingredients. They drank it cold, and mixed it by pouring it back and forth from a cup and pot until a foam developed. They also drank it unsweetened, so the original taste is vastly different than what we now recognize.
Making Its Way To The Western World
The drink was still unknown in Europe until around 1502, when Columbus made his fourth voyage. Later on, Jose de Acosta, a Spanish missionary living in what is now considered South America, was introduced to hot chocolate from the Aztecs, and he brought cocoa beans and chocolate equipment back to Spain in 1528. The drink became popular with Spanish nobility, and was even given as a dowry for upper-class weddings. Because cocoa beans only grew in South America, hot chocolate was expensive, which is why having it was a sign of wealth. Eventually, Europeans adapted the drink into something more recognizable today - they started to add sweetener and serve it hot. Still, what we now know as a candy bar had not yet been invented, so chocolate was just known as a drink, and not as something to eat.
Interestingly, hot chocolate didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1600’s, when the Dutch began to colonize parts of the country. However, colonists didn’t start selling the drink until around 1755.
In 1828, a dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented a machine that produced cocoa powder, which separated the cocoa butter from cocoa seeds. This powder was easier to stir into milk and water, and created a purer taste. In 1847, manufacturers started mixing cocoa powder and low amounts of cocoa butter, creating what is now known as a chocolate bar.
Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa
Some people see a distinction between “hot chocolate” and “hot cocoa.” The former is made from bar chocolate and already has cocoa, sugar, and cocoa butter. The latter is made by removing the cocoa butter from the ground cocoa beans, creating a powder that is significantly lower in fat.
Since hot chocolate is made from chocolate bars, you can use dark, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate, chop it into small pieces, stir it into milk, and add sugar. American hot cocoa in instant packages usually contain powdered milk and other dairy ingredients, so you don’t have to add milk to it. Of course, many (including me!) add marshmallows or whipped cream.
One of my favorite things to do is find a friendly place to sit, make myself comfortable, and sip a cup of hot chocolate, just as many of us have done for thousands of years.