Drinking chocolate was around for many more years before eating chocolate arrived on the scene. It was never called drinking chocolate, just ‘chocolate’, because eating chocolate had not yet been developed. The early Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs treasured cacao as a restorative, mood-enhancing cure-all. They prepared their xocolatl (meaning ‘bitter water’) by grinding the beans to a coarse paste which they mixed with spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and chilli. The concoction was then boiled in water and subject to vigorous stirring so that a greasy, scummy froth formed on top of the bitter tasting liquid. This drink was sometimes mixed with pulverised corn to make a runny porridge.
Xocolatl was Always Drunk Cold
Xocolatl was a ceremonial drink and was enjoyed by the nobility and the wealthy. The king drank copious quantities, especially before entering his harem. In essence, xocolatl was the Mayan substitute for alcohol. It was high in nutrients and very healthy, but completely unpalatable by our standards and a far cry from the chocolate that we enjoy today.
It was said that Christopher Columbus attempted to promote the idea of imbibing xocolatl to the Spanish courts, but that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would not hear of it. Only when Hernando Cortez introduced the drink in 1520, using the correct equipment and adding sugar did the drink take off; and then the Spanish hid it from the world for more than eighty years.
Eventually chocolate became the favoured drink of the royals and aristocrats all over Europe and England. It was regarded as having medicinal properties. The French loved it for its so-called aphrodisiacal properties and apparently the Marquis de Sade would mix it with crushed blister beetle Commonly known as ‘Spanish Fly’ and offer this to his guests! Still, it was a sweet, watery, dark chocolate drink and quite different to what we drink today.
Chocolate and coffee houses were very popular and many ‘gentleman’s clubs started out as Chocolate Houses. These were places where people gathered for Political chatter and social opportunities. The advent of cocoa only came about after van Houten, a Dutch Chemist, discovered a way to press the cocoa butter out of the cocoa, to leave a cake of dried cocoa solids that could easily be reduced to a fine powder. He took out a patent to manufacture chocolate with a much reduced fat content in 1828. Cocoa could now be made on a large scale which meant it was more affordable to all.
Originally he processed his cocoa with alkaline salts. This alkali-treated cocoa was known as Dutch processed cocoa. It has a darker colour and a higher more alkaline pH. It blends more easily into liquids and jhas a milder flavour. Bakerrs, however, prefer the natural, ‘non-Dutched’ cocoa for its intense chocolate flavour.