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Hot Chocolate Around the World: How All of Us Enjoy Our Cocoa

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

cup of cocoa

cup of cocoa

The Origins of Hot Chocolate

As long ago as 500 B.C., the Mayan people were gathering, roasting, and grinding the fruits from cocoa pods, steeping the grindings in water, and mixing the drink with chili peppers before pouring it back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed.

The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) originated in the Amazon basin and grows in a limited geographical zone, of about 20° to the north and south of the Equator. It was an important commodity in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, used as both a stimulant and fermented into an alcoholic beverage.

In 1518 Hernando Cortez embarked on an expedition from Santo Domingo to a settlement in an area now known as Veracruz. Coincidently, his arrival coincided with an Aztec prophecy that a white-skinned god would arrive from the east (can you believe it?).

Cortez was welcomed with open arms and lavished with gifts and no doubt was able to partake in the cacao beverage ritual. But shortly after that relations slid downhill at a rapid rate.

Cortez, fearing an uprising, took the Aztec King Montezuma hostage, demanding a huge ransom for his return. In the process of "negotiations," Montezuma was struck in the head with a stone projectile and died of his injuries.

At this point, things went from bad to worse (for the Aztecs). Cortez and his army were initially driven out of town, but they reorganized and returned in 1521. After a three-month battle, Cortez seized the capital Tenochtitlan and established it as a new Spanish settlement (today's Mexico City). Cortez was appointed Governor of the area, now dubbed New Spain. After inflicting monumental cruelties against the populace and infecting them with smallpox, Cortez and his band of merry men returned to Spain and brought with them cacao beans and the tools required to turn the beans into a bitter-tasting yet popular drink.

They pick out kernels and lay them on mats to dry; when they wish for the beverage, they roast them in an earthen pan over a fire and grind them with stones used for preparing bread. Finally, they put the paste into cups... and mix it gradually with water, sometimes adding a little of their spice, they drink it, though it seems more suited for pigs than men.... The flavor is somewhat bitter, but it satisfies and refreshes the body without intoxicating: the Indians esteem it above everything.

— History of the New World, 1564 Girolamo Benzoni

How King Charles Created Today's Version of Hot Chocolate

King Charles of Spain ditched the chili peppers, added sugar, and the drink was served hot. However, the Spaniards were very protective of their new-found beverage. It wasn't until the 1700s that it began to appear in London chocolate houses (just like Starbucks). You can thank Hanz Sloane, who in the late 1700s borrowed from Jamaica the concept of mixing the dark brew with milk. Hot chocolate was born!

Today hot chocolate is enjoyed around the world as a comforting beverage, but many countries and cultures have added local spices and flavorings to impart their own unique spin. Let's look at a few of those.

Austria: Viennese Hot Chocolate

Austria: Viennese Hot Chocolate

Austria: Viennese Hot Chocolate

The hot chocolate of Vienna is the perfect introduction to this topic. This recipe produces a beverage for two that is unbelievably dark, rich, and thick. This drink is for the serious chocolate lover.

Belgium: Belgian Hot Chocolate

Belgium: Belgian Hot Chocolate

Belgium: Belgian Hot Chocolate

From Vienna catch a flight across Germany to Brussels. In less than two hours, you can be enjoying a cup of cocoa redolent with the flavor of world-famous Belgian chocolate. David Lebovitz shares his recipe with us. Whole milk or half-and-half is warmed to a gentle just-below-simmer. Dark and milk chocolates are carefully stirred in until melted. A pinch of cinnamon offers a subtle earthy note. Don't forget to add a dollop of whipped cream.

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Canada: Dark Chocolate Maple Cocoa

Canada: Dark Chocolate Maple Cocoa

Canada: Dark Chocolate Maple Cocoa

Our next stop in this alphabetical journey takes us to Canada where 71 percent of the world's pure maple syrup is produced. This recipe by Charity is not for the kids. Our hot cup of cocoa is taken over the top with Jim Beam, Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur, and (if that wasn't enough) a dark-chocolate bacon strip garnish.

China: Cocoa, Rock Salt, and Cheese Drink

China: Cocoa, Rock Salt, and Cheese Drink

China: Cocoa, Rock Salt, and Cheese Drink

Don't allow the name of this beverage to discourage you from trying it. Here the cheese is actually cream cheese. Think of this as a drinkable chocolate cheesecake.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 of a 3-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces hot water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold milk
  • Crushed ice
  • Cocoa powder for garnish

Instructions

  1. Whip together the cream cheese, condensed milk and whipping cream with an electric beater.
  2. Stir the water, cocoa powder, and sugar together in a mug. Transfer to a tall glass. Add cold milk, ice, and then carefully top with the whipped cheese mixture.
Colombia: Colombian Hot Chocolate with Cheese

Colombia: Colombian Hot Chocolate with Cheese

Colombia: Colombian Hot Chocolate with Cheese

Unlike the Chinese recipe (above), this one contains real, honest-to-goodness cheese. Cubes of cheese. If you can find cheese curds (Wisconsin squeaky cheese) that would be perfect. Haloumi is even better (but more difficult to find). If all else fails, buy some mozzarella—not the fresh kind, but rather the stuff you grate to put on top of your pizza.

Sweet and salty works with pretzels and chocolate, caramel and sea salt. Is this so much different? Thanks to KikuCorner for the original recipe.

France: Parisian Chocolat Chaud

France: Parisian Chocolat Chaud

France: Parisian Chocolat Chaud

I am not one to resort to hyperbole, but a cup of Parisian hot chocolate is life-changing. Period.

This is not the cocoa powder and hot water you drank as a child. This cup (a mug would be too much) is more akin to melted fudge or a pourable ganache. The secret is in the quality of the chocolate. Use nothing less than chocolate that contains 70 percent cocoa to ensure the ultimate chocolate flavor. Whole milk and cream provide luxurious texture, and pure vanilla and brown sugar add caramel-like sweetness.

Hungary: Forró Csokoládé

Hungary: Forró Csokoládé

Hungary: Forró Csokoládé

Hungarian Heat Hot Chocolate is from the blog VanillaGarlic. This is his adaptation from the book "Hot Chocolate" by Michael Turback.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika or Hungarian hot paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 7 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Instructions

  1. In a saucepan over medium-low heat combine the milk, paprika, white pepper, and cloves together and heat until almost boiling.
  2. Add chocolate and stir in with a wooden spoon and continue to stir until the chocolate is fully melted.
  3. Whisk to a froth and serve immediately.

India: Mumbai Hot Chocolate

I found this recipe at StowawayMag. All of the amazing earthy spices you associate with India (ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom) are blended with a surprising element—white chocolate.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons high quality white chocolate chips or grated white chocolate
  • 1 cup milk or soy milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 whole black peppercorn

Instructions

1. Take two mugs and place one tablespoon of white chocolate into each. Set aside.

2. Place milk and water into a small saucepan. Whisk in the spices. Place over medium heat and allow to slowly come to a boil. Whisk occasionally.

3. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and remove the clove and peppercorn.

4. Whisk vigorously to distribute the spices and create foam on top. Remove from heat.

5. Pour half of the milk mixture into each of the mugs. Stir to melt the white chocolate. Spoon some of the foam onto the top of each and serve.

Italy: Cioccolata Calda

Italy: Cioccolata Calda

Italy: Cioccolata Calda

Dark chocolate is melted into heavy cream. And, just because there are no laws about how sinfully luxurious a cup of hot chocolate can be, the beverage is then thickened with cornstarch before it is poured into your mug and adorned with freshly whipped cream.

This recipe comes from BrownEyedBaker, who believes that it is perfectly acceptable to eat dessert first. By the way, she suggests that you can add a spoonful of your favorite liqueur to this cocoa.

Mexico: Mayan Hot Chocolate

Mexico: Mayan Hot Chocolate

Mexico: Mayan Hot Chocolate

Mexico, the birthplace of hot chocolate. Perhaps I should have shared this one with you first. Creamy dark, rich Mexican chocolate with a hint of chili pepper. If you have ever seen the movie "Chocolat", you know what I am talking about. And, if you have not seen the movie, add it to your list of must-see movies.

I'm happy that the blog FavFamilyRecipes shared the secret with us.

Morocco: Spicy Moroccan Hot Chocolate

Morocco: Spicy Moroccan Hot Chocolate

Morocco: Spicy Moroccan Hot Chocolate

What do you think of when you hear the name Morocco? I'm old enough that I immediately envision Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." You might think of the garden of Marrakech. Undeniably it is an exotic land rich in culture with a diverse cuisine with Moorish, European, and Mediterranean influences.

Fragrant orange peel, cinnamon, cardamom pods, and vanilla flavor rich beverage by TeaspoonOfSpice.

Panama: Kuna Hot Chocolate

Panama: Kuna Hot Chocolate

Panama: Kuna Hot Chocolate

This final cocoa recipe takes us back to Central America. The San Blas Archipelago is a chain of 360 tropical islands off the east coast of Panama. This closely-knit tribal community subsists much as their ancestors did, free of the shackles of westernization.

“What got me turned onto the Kuna in the first place was twenty years of Harvard University studies showing that the Kuna have among the lowest rates of cardiovascular vascular disease in the world, even though they're poor, have lousy sanitation and hygiene, no access to medicine… and yet, they have this remarkably low incident of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure: and they consume four to five cups of cocoa a piece, every single day.”

— Chris Kilham, ABC Good Morning America

© 2018 Linda Lum

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