Posted by: oysterculture | March 9, 2009

Hot Chocolate – Gracias Mexico!

photo from gotomexico

photo from gotomexico

Chocolate inspires strong passion around the world and, and we have Mexico to thank for starting us on a lifelong dependency to this wonderful thick, rich and sweet stuff.  Mexico, I thank you, you have my eternal gratitude – gracias.  Just for fun, and to see the extend of this passion (obsession) I googled “ode to Chocolate” and came up with over one million hits, and found the following poem, which sums up my feelings nicely:

Ode to Chocolate

Oh Chocolate, how beautiful
and tasty you
are. You melt in my
mouth & dribble down my
I can smell you,
Oh Chocolate so
fine. My favorite kind of candy
is you, chocolate
the most
beautiful, tasty thing
in the
world, Oh chocolate
so fine.

M.C. Fitzpatrick

The earliest known use of cacao–the source of chocolate–was somewhere between 1400 and 1100 BC.  Long before the flavor of the cacao seed (or bean) became popular, it was the sweet pulp of the chocolate fruit, used to make a fermented (5% alcohol) beverage, which first garnered attention to the plant.  

cocoa tree (photo from molon)

cocoa tree (photo from molon)

That cacao’s popularity began with its role in an alcoholic beverage does not surprise archaeochemist, Dr. Patrick McGovern, Senior Research Scientist, at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  “This development probably provided the impetus to domesticate the chocolate tree and only later, to prepare a beverage based on the more bitter beans,” suggested Dr. McGovern. ” An alcoholic beverage from the pulp, carrying on this ancient tradition, continues to be made in parts of Latin America.”   I wonder if the drink tastes similar to Godiva liquor if so, the appeal is easily explained.

That famous chocolate beverage of the Mayan and Aztec kings, served at special ceremonies and feasts, came later. This drink was of cacao beans, often mixed with chillies, specialherbs, honey, and flowers. The liquid was frothed into a foam, and both inhaled and drunk.  Today, chocolates from around the world vary in taste, flavor, texture, and potency depending on their country of origin. I’ve reviewed chocolate drinks of a few countries around the world, and I found:


Mexico is considered by many the birth place of chocolate in the form of the drink “chocolatl,” a luxurious drink which was available as early as 400 AD.  Outsiders, in the form of Hernán Cortés Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, was first exposed to the drinkingwhen granted an audience with Moctezuma, Emperor of Mexico, at his breakfast table.  Impressed by the amazing drink, “chocolatl”, Hernán brought cocoa trees and the chocolatl’s recipe back to Spain introducing  this drink to European.  (Mexico → Spain)  The drink was made fromliquefied cocoa beans, spiked with chili pepper, vanilla, and annetto. Today, chocolate is a staple, and highly valued commodity for Mexicans, and is most often made to a hot chocolate drink. In fact, hot chocolate is considered the national drink of Mexico and almost everyone in the county drink it every day, flavored with some pepper and spices.

Mexican chocolate tables

Mexican chocolate tablets

Mexican hot chocolate for me is a bright yellow cardboard container with the picture of someone’sgrandmother on the front.  Discs of sweetened chocolate, with a hint of cinnamon, ready to be added to warm milk.  That bit of cinnamon is genus. 

I suspect a lot of drinking chocolate in Central America is packaged this way; my husband came back from a surf trip to El Salvador, last year, with similar tablets, and while they had a milk chocolatey taste, it was very sweet and grainy without any other spices – no cinnamon here. 


Mexican Hot Chocolate: 

Recipe adapted from David Guas, executive pastry chef for Ceiba Restaurant in Washington, D.C.


  • 2/3 c milk
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/8 of a vanilla bean, slit
  • 2/3 of a cinnamon stick
  • 1/3 tsp almond extract


Combine milk, cream, cinnamon sticks and vanilla in a 1 quart stainless steel pot and bring mixture to a boil.  Have prepared chocolate in a mixing bowl.  Allow the heated liquid to steep for 5 minutes, then pour over the chopped chocolate.  Stir the chocolate mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

Serve immediately.  Stir mixture until warm.  Serves four.


chocolate and churros (photo by dansarkosy)

chocolate and churros (photo by dansarkosy)

Chocolate was introduced in Spain during the 16thcenturyby Hernán Cortés Pizarro, who discovered it from the Emperor of Mexico while having breakfast with him.  Hernán brought the coca trees, and the recipe back to Spain, where for nearly a century, the Spanish kept “chocolatl” a secret from the rest of Europe and only the royal family and close court members consumed this richly delicious drink.    In 1631, the first recipe for a chocolate drink was published in Spain by an Andalusian physician, Colmenero de Ledesma, and soon other chocolate recipes were created, making chocolate a fashionable drink enjoyed by the rich in Spain.  To increase its appeal, the Spanish sweetened it with sugar, and our love affair began.  Today, Spaniards prefer their chocolate as a hot drink that is thick and creamy, and served with churros



Vegetable Oil
1 c water
1/2 c butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 c flour
3 eggs
1/4 c sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Heat oil in a 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep pan to 360 degrees F.

To make the churro dough, heat water, butter and salt to rolling boil in 3-quart saucepan; stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, ~ 1 minute; remove from heat. Beat eggs until smooth and then add to saucepan while stirring the dough mixture.

Spoon mixture into cake decorators’ tube with a large star tip.  Squeeze 4″ strips of dough into hot oil. Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side.  Drain on paper towels.  (Combine the sugar and the optional cinnamon); roll churros in sugar or dump the sugar on the pile of churros.  

Note:  Spanish churros are not made with cinnamon, but it certainly addes a nice flavor.


4oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 c milk
1 T cornstarch 
4 T sugar

Place the chocolate and half the milk in a pan and heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, about five minutes.  Add extra cornstarch if it has not thickened after 5 minutes. Remove and whisk smooth. Pour and server in cups or bowls for dunking churros.  Served warm.


chocolate de batirol (photo from straits)

chocolate de batirol (photo from straits)

Filipino’s have their own favorite hot chocolate drink, called chocolate de batirol – who knew?  My sis-in-law, Tangled Noodle, apparently decided to keep that bit of info to herself (makes me wonder what other secrets she’s keeping).

The Philippines probably does not spring to mind as one of the world’s great sweet spots for chocolate. But a local culinary gem, this deliciously velvety drink called chocolate de batirol, is gaining in popularity.  This beverage was developed in the 18th century when the Spanish settlers, specifically the Spanish friars, arrived in the Philippines.  Lets see, Mexico → Spain→ Philippines (I am starting to get the hang of this).  The country’s national hero Jose Rizal mentions the drink in Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), his great novel of Spanish colonial repression published in 1887.  He says: ‘Filipinos are taking a greater interest in their culinary roots. There’s a romantic ideal of doing things the old way on special family occasions.’  

Tucked in the Cordilleras highlands in the northern Philippines, is Choco-Late de Batirol at Camp John Hay near Baguio City, part of a pioneering community of restaurants and cafes, trying to revive the tradition of chocolate de batirol.  ‘This is slow food,’ says Choco-Late’s owner Jojo Castro highlighting what makes this beverage special. ‘We roast the cocoa beans and prepare the chocolate in traditional copper pitchers called tsokolateras, mixing in ground peanuts to give the drink a slight grainy texture.’

Connoisseurs say it is the mix of ingredients and preparation that makes this cup of hot chocolate outstanding.  Because American influence caused coffee to replaced this drink, many people may find these pitchers, or tsokolateras, and sadly do not know what they are.  So, if you have you have some Filipino relatives cleaning house, be on the lookout.

The drink is described as having a mildly nutty taste with a hint of bitter dark chocolate.   It is so rich that a small demitasse cup is the proper serving.  Chocolate lovers buy the high-grade drinking cocoa in rock-solid blocks of cocoa powder (along with milk and sugar) called tableas. It usually comes in a roll of 12 tablets weighing around 130 g.  Those in the know say that the best tableas come from the provinces and are often make by small family business.  The fuss that goes into making chocolate de batirol certainly gives it an old-world aura that harks back to this country’s rich Hispanic culinary heritage.


The first ever chocolate house was opened in London during the 17th century. During June 1657, if you happened to be walking down the streets of London you might have stumbled across the following advertisement in the Public Advertiser, informing the London public that “in Bishopsgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, you may have it ready at any time, and also made, at reasonable rates.”  Since then, the use of cocoa and chocolate was recognized in England, and numerous chocolate manufacturers were established. However, the price of chocolate at that time was very expensive and reserved for the rich.  Also, at that time the English chocolate market were still monopolized by Spanish chocolate manufacturers.   Mexico → Spain→ England (thank goodness, they couldn’t keep a secret)

To me, English chocolate is Cadbury, I realise that’s not the case, strictly speaking, but if I was asked to name an English brand off the top of my head, Cadbury would trip off my tongue.


Cadbury’s Chocolate started as a one-man grocery by John Cadbury in 1824, but in 1831 he became a manufacturer of drinking chocolate and cocoa.  By 1831 the business had expanded so that he needed to move premises. He rented a small factory in Crooked Lane, which became the foundation of Cadbury.  In 1866 John’s son, George, brought to England a press that removed some of the cocoa butter from the beans, bringing about a smoother, more palatable drinking chocolate. 

United States

The U.S. is one of the biggest chocolate producers and distributors in the world. Chocolate production boomed during the Industrial era when the first chocolate factory opened in 1765.  Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America, who was a great lover of hot chocolate, once wrote in a letter to John Adams in 1785, “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain”.  His prediction proved correct because now chocolate is popularly consumed by most Americans, and its demand only grows.   

Modified from a recipe on, this hot chocolate is good enough for the White House – a different take on hot chocolate since it’s made with cocoa powder. 


  • 6 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 T sugar
  • 2 1/2 c milk
  • 2 1/2 c light cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Cinnamon, whipped cream and orange zest

Add sugar and cocoa to milk and heat in a saucepan until dissolved. Add the cream, cinnamon and vanilla. Heat until almost boiling. Mix well and serve, topped with whipped cream and a bit of orange zest.


Chocolate did not get a warm welcome in the French market when it was first introduced during the sixteenth-century, with the French referring to it as a “noxious drug” and a “barbarous product.”   Thankfully, they changed their minds, with some entrepreneurial French merchants anticipated chocolate being the next big thing – boy, where they right.  In a previous post, I wrote about chaude chocolat and included a recipe.


bicerin (photo from caffe al bicerin)

bicerin (photo from caffe al bicerin)

Hot chocolate in Italy also benefited from the Spanish influence of adding sugar to the original mixture of cocoa water and spices.  Mexico → Spain→ Italy  The Italians have a drink called: cioccolata fiorentina which is delightfully concentrated, and often served in an espresso cup.

You knew it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the tasty combination of chocolate + coffee = mocha goodness.  The Italians, specifically the Pietmontese of Turin, developed a drink, in the 18th century, made of espresso, drinking chocolate and whole milk layered in a small rounded glass.  This drink is called a bicerin (pronounced [bitʃeˈriŋ] in Piedmontese.  The word bicerinis Piedmontese for “small glass”.  It is believed to be based on the seventeenth-century drink called the Bavareisa.  The distinction is that in a bicerin the three components are carefully layered in the glass rather than being mixed together as in a Bavareisa.

The Caffè Al Bicerin has served the drink in Torino’s Piazza della Consolata since the eighteenth century, and some authorities believe that the drink was invented there. Others believe that it originated around 1704 in the Caffè Fiorio which still stands on what is now Via Po.  In 2001, bicerin was recognized as a “traditional Piedmontese product” – it doesn’t get more official than that.

In Latin America, hot chocolate is typically consumed as an  after dinner drink or a special treat.  The days requiring special goblets are gone with regular mugs or tea cups as de rigeur.  Each country customizes their chocolate drink with a unique twist making it their own.

Columbia and Ecuardor

Chocolate caliente con queso, is a common drink, which is hot chocolate with a slab of fresh cheese placed on the top and left to melt.  It sounds unusual, but the salty flavor of the cheese mixes perfectly with the sweet chocolate flavor. Possibly an acquired taste, but folks who try it are pleasantly surprised.


Peruvians tend to require a little extra chocolate syrup to their warm chocolate milk, the enhanced sweetness makes it more of a dessert, but I am sure no one complains.


Here, hot chocolate is served in a variety of  ways, but the most popular being the submarino, consisting of steamed milk in a mug with a chocolate bar on the side. The bar should be submerged into the milk and will quickly disappear, melting into the liquid. A quick stir and a dash of sugar make it extra creamy.    




NOTE:  A sequel to this post is in the works.  I though, naively, that I could cover a lot of ground on this post and realized it had turned into a great big chocolate monster, so I edited to focus on the chocolate beverages that so delight us.  The next chapter promises to be a page turner dealing more on the confectionery side.



  1. How fascinating to read about hot chocolate from different countries! I think the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had was in Barcelona. It tasted a lot more chocolaty than milky and I really like that. I tried to make my rainbow hot chocolate taste similar, and as a result, it was entered as a Dessert on my reference site 🙂

  2. My word but you’ve covered a lot of ground there! Chocolate in Ireland means Cadburys. That’s the hot chocolate I had last night – I wouldn’t have minded a few churros to go with it though 🙂

  3. What an epic post! I found the section on Filipino chocolate most interesting. I’d never heard of that drink, but am determined now to try it.

    Being Mexican, I obviously have my biases: I always use Ibarra drinking chocolate. 🙂 But my husband eats at least two to three rows of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut every single night for dessert.

    Oh, and sadly, only a little progress on the naming front. We’ve had the first name picked for a while but the middle is proving elusive. Thanks for asking!

  4. Oyster! I always learn something new with your posts. When I was in Andalucia a few weeks back every coffee chop I walked past had a group of people with a cup of thick chocolate and a plate of freshly made churros. Usually fried in one, snail like coil, removed from the hot oil and then spinkled with sugar and snipped into portions with a large pair of scissors.

    As for Cadbury’s I’m not sure if there is actually any cocoa in the bar, but sometimes that “sweet, crap-Cadbury’s” just hits the spot. (That’s a direct quote from a British friend!)

    I’m very interested in the Argentine bit – have they always done it like that. All over Europe I’m seeing these fancy chocolate houses selling these small blocks of chocolate stuck to a wooden stirrer. Just need to stir into a bit of hot milk.

  5. mmmm, right at merenda time, you want me to go crazy ;))
    You posts are always very interesting!!
    I like chocolate also in not sweet dish, as Mexican mole poblano or Sicilian ” ‘mpanatigghi”, brought there by Spanish in XVI° century.

  6. Great job here! I read every line with a curiosity as I am a big lover of chocolate. You’ve a great collection of chocolate history here, you are a real research woman. I always find in your so informative blog what I’ve wondered before. Thank you!
    I read somewhere that it is scientifically proved that chocolate gives happiness to people. And I love to drink hot chocolate and eat a bar of it.

    An addition from Turkey, you know Turkish coffee, on which I wrote a post in my blog. That was the plain one. Sometimes to make a different version, we add some chocolote to it. While boiling it, crumble bitter chocolote in it and feel the combination of flavors. If we don’t put it in it, we eat a piece of chocolate near a demitasse of Turkish coffee.

  7. Zerrin – I learn something from as well, and I am grateful for the advanced classes in Turkish food and culture you offer through your blog.

    Simona – No attempts to drive you crazy, I promise. I love chocolate in savory dishes as well and mole has to be at the top of the list. Happy merenda time.

    Gastroanthropologist – How I wish I could throw out in coversation, “when I was in Andalucia a few weeks back” – in the mean time I’ll have to live through you. I agree Cadbury is not necessarily fine chocolate, or any chooclate for that matter, you’ll have to agree – they’re leaders in the marketing. That’s interesting about the chocolate on the stirreres – reminds me of the rock sugar on the woodened stirrers you can find in specialty shops for tea.

    Brendabest – Thanks! I like Ibarra chocolate as well, but when I picture Mexican chocolate its that little old lady that pops in my head – marketing again. I’m on the look out for the Phillipino chocolate around here – there’s a Fillipine community just south of San Francisco and I am hoping to stirke gold as it were. I’ll swap stories with you if I’m lucky.

    Daily Spud – The addition of churros was shear genius!

    5 Star – If you have the name of the place you tried in Barcelona – please share – I sense a quest for the world’s best hot chocolate coming on.

  8. Isn’t it great when food drives you to song or sonnet! The hot chocolate and churros could totally be dinner right now.

  9. I wish I could travel the world to taste all of them. A “Hot Chocolate Tour” would be a wonderful indulgence.

  10. Me too – especially as I keep uncovering new and wonderful options.

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