‘Tis that time of the year again! Of fuzzy feels, of cosy comforts, of decadent delicacies and of course steaming mugs of sheer magic. Winter has already begun setting in and with its onslaught have also heralded in the season of indulgence. Attribute this embarking on rich tastes to the many festivals awaiting to see the world through the dreary days of chill or simply seek solace in the route being the way to make the damp existence all the more better but all the same, there’s no denying how the season of winter is also one of all things glorious- from the glory of Christ to the beginnings of the new year, from the withdrawal of chores to leisurely pursuit of bliss, winters are meant to gorge, cuddle and love!
There’s nothing that lends better comfort on a chilly winter midnight than a cup of hot chocolate to sip on at leisure, as you burrito yourself in those warm cosy blankets, with perhaps a romantic song on loop, lending your soul the ultimate comfort of the world. Indeed, winters and the hot cuppa are inseparable and what better than hot chocolate to fill your tumbler with? An all time favorite of millions across the globe, there’s something even better than the divine food in its liquid, messy form. And winters with all its pourings of comforting chills is just the perfect time to explore the history of hot chocolate while of course savoring ounces and ounces of its rich taste. Just for the record though, it’s far ancient a phenomenon to get ‘drunk’ on chocolate rather than overeating on it!
In its fancy aesthetics and warm vibe, it might be convenient to assume that hot chocolate is a beverage of the modern times, driven by consumerism and all things so extravagantly alluring. However, this delicious chocolate drink is in fact quite a timeless existence, with evidence that traces its presence as early as the Mayan period! As early as 500 BC, the Mayans were drinking chocolate, albeit cold, by grounding cocoa seeds into a paste and mixing it with water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other ingredients which was then poured back and forth to attain a beverage with some foam, much like how we prefer to drink it today- frothy but decadent. The chocolate drink of those times however were a bitter, and evidently spicy concoction, predating as it did the rather recent spurt of the sugar.
This chocolate drink had its own name xocolātl, a combination of “xococ” meaning sour or bitter, and “atl” meaning water or drink. And yet, despite its widespread prevalence among the Mayans, the xocolatl still was perhaps a hands down from the Olmec. It however is the chocolate beverage of the Aztecs that enjoys rather famed distinction as being the precursor to modern day hot chocolate. The Aztec leader Montezuma II had been particularly known for his consumption of goblet after goblet of the hot chocolatey beverage in an ample show of status and power and privilege and even as an aphrodisiac. With the defeat of the Aztecs however at the hands of Hernan Cortes, the drink of the opulent also spread through Spain and from there to Europe and eventually the world. It was while in Spain that hot chocolate began to be served indeed hot, also sweetened and not spiced.
By the 17th century this sweet, comfort drink became a luxury item among the European nobility and the first Chocolate House was opened in 1657. Still expensive and still mostly a choice of beverage for the upper strata of society, hot chocolate however was used also for such purposes that catered beyond the realms of the gastronomic. Apart from providing warmth and a host of nutrients that chocolate has always been largely steeped in, the delicious drink was used as a treatment for stomach and liver diseases. Today however we rave over our cuppa more as a means of indulgent comfort and a sinful treat for the appetite. In its many traditional recipes as well as modern iterations, hot chocolate today flourishes as a favorite beverage all through, with liberties to make additions and replacements as per the gourmet like.
For a country that has gifted the world with some of the most iconic foods, it’s only natural that hot chocolate version of Italy would not be any humbler. And a serving of the Cioccolata Calda, as the winter drink is known in the country, totally justifies the legacy. Intensely creamy and so dense that you need to be eating it with a spoon rather than drinking it straight outta the mug, this is a recipe that is all kinds of indulgence. It’s obviously generous amounts of chocolate in whole milk but what makes the Cioccolata Calda also characteristically thick is the addition of cornstarch into it. Almost like a mousse in texture but still authentically hot chocolate, this is one variant that will get anyone instantly hooked.
The classic Dutch hot chocolate is a very decadent drink to savor in during the cold winter evenings. With Dutch processed cocoa making for this authentic cuppa of indulgence that which also makes use of chocolate chips, it is mandatory therefore to serve it also the Dutch way with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top, dusted further with some cocoa powder or cinnamon. And that’s not all about it- sometime making its way into the goblet of dual indulgence is also some brandy or rum for a sipping delight that combines just about every good element of the winters!
The variant of hot chocolate native to Argentina and also enjoyed in parts of Uruguay is popular as Submarino. The name itself alludes to a submarine, because of the way the chocolate bar is made to sink in the hot milk, much like a submarine. Served in a long, glass cup held in a handled metal cup holder, the submarino consists of a piece of dark chocolate in the milk that is meant to be stirred and stirred till the choco piece totally melts in. Flavorfully rich just as it speaks to be in its combination of just chocolate with thick milk, the el submarino is a really popular drink during the winters in Argentina.
Perhaps the simplest variety of hot chocolate, the Tsokolate of the Philippines is however no less tasty an addiction. A quite thick preparation, tsokolate is also unique in that it is prepared by mixing cacao tablets in water and milk and that too in a method that involves traditional equipment like the tsokolatera and the molinillo. Grainy in texture, this very rich tasting hot chocolate is sweetened also with a bit of muscovado sugar and makes for a traditional Filipino breakfast when paired with the kakanin bread. Also a staple characterising Christmas celebrations in the country, this is a frothy delight unlike no other.
Cinnamon Hot Chocolate
A close drawing from the hot chocolate in its earliest form that was prevalent among the Mayans, Mexican hot chocolate is a spiced version of the favorite beverage. Infusing the flavor of cinnamon into its sweet hot chocolate, Mexico though goes subtle with the spice but not everytime when they go a step further and even incorporate some chili pepper as well for more of the ‘original’ taste. Frothed also with a molinillo, the cinnamon hot chocolate is rendered also more distinctive when made from Mexican cocoa that smacks of floral notes.
Hot Chocolate Viennese style
Quite an experimental version of the hot chocolate, the Austrians take their hot chocolate with such ingredients that are stark to the perception. With egg yolks and brandy making for a concoction that which is smooth and rich, this thick whip up of chocolatey goodness is certainly not for the faint hearted.
(Aztec Hot Chocolate)
Definitely spicy as the Aztecs preferred it and maybe also bitter if your tastebuds permit so, every sip of the Xocolatl is a dive into intense flavors. Rich dark chocolate melted and infused with vanilla, cinnamon, and spicy chili pepper, your xocolatl will be closest to its authentic version if you also care to have it cold. For once, served cold would be a compliment for sure.
Parisian Hot Chocolate
Parisian Hot Chocolate already sounds so artisan and that indeed is what you would expect out of a beverage hailing from the flavorful explosion that is French cuisine. Luxuriously thick, smooth, creamy and flavorful, the Le Chocolat Chaud is made with rich dark European chocolate and is therefore only sweet enough to not be overbearing to your taste buds. Speak of the overall experience however and you cannot help but be overwhelmed with the wonderful, wonderful warmth that washes over you both in terms of the taste and undoubtedly the comfort of indulgence.
Kuna Hot Chocolate
One of the most unique hot chocolate recipes that you can lay hands on is that of the Kuna Indians of Panama. With a recipe that does away with the milk and sugar, it however would be a mistake to write this one off as not being delicious enough. With such ingredients as banana and some spices making for an intense yet pleasant tasting cuppa, this is one recipe to adapt if you want to match the exceptional cardiovascular health of the Kuna Indians.
Chocolate Santafereño (Hot Chocolate with Cheese)
Chocolate and cheese are perhaps two of the most favourite nibbles in the whole world. Imagine then pairing the divine decadence of chocolate with the creamy bursts of cheese for a hot chocolate straight out of flavorland! Behind this absolutely lipsmacking craving of the winters is the nation of Colombia, where the sweet and the salty comes together in a delightful fusion of flavours. Hands down the most unique and most refreshing of hot drinks anywhere, Chocolate Santafereño sounds and feels so much like heaven!
Spicy Hot Chocolate
Once again staying true to the basics of hot chocolate in its spicy avatar is the hot drink from Morocco. Flavorful in the many infusions of cardamom and cinnamon and orange with also probably ginger and saffron and black pepper, this is one beverage designed to endow you with double warmth during the cold winter days.
Attributed to the European country of Spain as well as the American land of Mexico which means either way it is closer to the authentic version of origins is the drink known as Chocolate Caliente. Characteristically thick as well, the chocolate caliente makes however for a complete snack rather than a standalone drink. Made thick to pair it really well with the traditional fried snack churros, this is a delicious combination that will have you return to it time and again for its richness.