I’m sitting on the train reading Tannahill’s Food in History , nibbling a piece of creamy milk chocolate, and contemplating this journey on which I am preparing to embark: Twelve Days of Cocoa.
Beginning today and ending on Christmas Day my gift to you is a new hot cocoa recipe daily. I showed you how to make simple hot cocoa and do a Tim Tam Slam. I also confessed that my usual hot cocoa is extremely chocolate-y. I realized that night how many flavors chocolate so beautifully complements and thought they deserved a chance to shine with cocoa in a tasty, hot beverage. Maybe I’ll even share my crazy chocolate lover’s overkill cocoa.
Where better to start than at the beginning? As with many things in food history there is some debate as to who first turned chocolate into a drink and for what it was used. I like the version that says the Mayans roasted cacao beans then ground them into a paste with water and chili peppers, quickly poured this mixture back and forth between two vessels to create a foam, and drank it cold. Some accounts say that they thickened this beverage with cornmeal, and flavored it with crushed flowers.
I have not yet received my shipment of edible flowers (more on that later) and I do not have cacao beans so I improvised. I had fun shopping for chocolate and flavorings so I have a lot to play with. I broke out my mortar and pestle and ground up some cocoa nibs (cocoa nibs are as close as you’ll get to full cocoa beans if you’re shopping in a regular grocery store). This took quite a bit of time and strength and I still didn’t get it ground up as fine as I felt it should be. Of course I could have used a spice grinder, but this little project was already such a departure from what the Mayans would have done that I wanted to feel authentic in at least one aspect. I ground my cocoa nibs into as fine a powder as I had the patience for, mixed with a pinch of ground chili pepper and some water to form a paste. I then added a drop of honey (it’s made from flowers! I know, cheating) and some more water to make it a drinkable consistency.
I quickly poured this mixture back and forth between two drinking vessels to attempt some sort of foam. What this actually accomplished was a mess on my countertop and a few bubbles that disappeared a few seconds after I stopped pouring.
It wasn’t the best looking drink I’d ever seen, but it was chocolate and so it tasted just fine. Cocoa nibs are 100% cocoa, they come straight from the cocoa bean. No sugar or milk or anything added so they are very bitter. Similar in flavor to coffee beans. This drink is bitter, spicy, and just a tad sweet. Perfect for cacao purists who don’t appreciate all the goodness chocolate has been transformed into over the last 1500 years.
“The drink was gulped down in one swallow with admirable pleasure and satisfaction of the bodily nature, to which it gives strength, nourishment and vigour in such a way that those who are accustomed to drinking it cannot remain robust without it even if they eat other substantial things. And they appear to diminish when they do not have that drink.” -H. Weinstock, My Voyage Around the World (1964), p.53
Original Mayan Drinking Chocolate
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Nibs
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Chili Peppers
1 Drop Honey
4 Ounces Water
-Grind cocoa nibs into a fine powder
-Mix with ground chili peppers, honey, and just enough water to form a paste
-Add remaining water
-Pour back and forth between cups to create foam (if you dare!)
-Serve cold and gulp it down like the Mayans did