Hot Chocolate Through the Ages

Hot chocolate is the perfect drink on a cold night, especially in winter. What better to curl up with than a steaming cup of hot chocolate when it’s freezing outside? Hot chocolate as it is known today is a quite a bit different from the original version known as xocolatl by the Maya.

The Origins of the Drink

Did you know that when xocolatl was first brought back to Europe, the Europeans simply called the drink itself chocolate? It was only later on that people started calling it “hot chocolate” to avoid confusing it with bars of solid chocolate and similar treats. Xocolatl was actually drunk cold, so it would’ve been more appropriate to call it “cold chocolate” at the time.

The drink was originally quite savory and spicy, instead of sweet as one might expect, and in the Aztec language of Nahuatl the Mayan word was borrowed and became cacahuatl. Old recipes show that the basic main ingredients included chili peppers, cornmeal, and cacao beans. The beans would be ground into a fine powder and added to boiling water, along with the cornmeal and chilis.

Once the xocolatl had boiled, it was allowed to rest and was later drunk cold as a frothy but bitter concoction. The Europeans initially did not find the drink in its original from to suit their palate and made numerous changes, including using milk instead of water and adding sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. The Europeans also preferred their drink hot instead of cold, leading to what we now know as hot chocolate.

Variations on a Theme

However, there is a debate over using the term hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa. To most people both terms are interchangeable, but in Europe they mean entirely different things. Hot chocolate in Europe generally refers to making a drink in which pieces of solid chocolate are melted into the drink, while hot cocoa refers to a mixture using cocoa powder. The exact definition and use of ingredients seems to vary by country.

Meanwhile, if you want your hot chocolate cold, very cold, then visit Serendipity III in New York. This unique shop actually has a dessert known as frozen hot chocolate (it’s actually called Frrrozen Hot Chocolate with the three “R’s”) in which 14 kinds of chocolate and cocoa are mixed together and served as a kind of decadent hot chocolate slushee covered in whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

You can even find it online and order a kit so that you can experience it at home if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to visit New York. No matter what, whether you use water or milk, add vanilla, or drink it hot or cold, there’s no wrong way to make hot chocolate, so enjoy!