Mmmm. Hot chocolate on a cold day! Whipped cream on top? Or marshmallows?

At one time known as “the drink of the gods,” today hot chocolate is considered a comfort drink and is a favorite around the world.

The characters in my upcoming novel Heart’s Desire like hot chocolate. To satisfy my curiosity about chocolate’s origins, I took some time to find out about it.

Historical records indicate that the Mayas, in what we now know as Central America and Mexico, grew cacao trees and consumed cocoa as early as 500 B.C.They served cocoa cold, grinding cacao seeds into a paste which they mixed with water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other things. They poured the drink from pot to pot until it developed a thick foam. All classes of Mayan society could and did drink it.

This was before sugar arrived in the Americas.

The Aztecs of Mexico limited cocoa consumption to the upper classes. It was considered a bad omen if someone “low” or “common” drank it. The Aztecs required conquered people to provide them with chocolate. Cacao became used as money. Many drinks were made from cacao, and they were enhanced with floral flavorings.

Columbus was the first European to record contact with chocolate on his fourth voyage in 1502.

Spaniards called “xoc­olati” an acquired taste—a spicy and bitter drink. They added vanilla and other spices and served it cold.

In 1528, after conquering the Aztecs, Cortez brought cocoa beans and chocolate-making equipment back to Spain, and chocolate slowly became popular in Europe. The Imperial Court of Emperor Charles V adopted it and made it a fashionable drink for the upper class. Very expensive in Europe because, at that time, it was grown only in Mexico and Central America, the Spanish Royal Family used it as dowry in arranging marriages to European aristocrats.

Sweetened chocolate became a luxury among European nobility by the 17th century. The first chocolate house opened in England in 1657. They mixed spices with the hot chocolate. Sir Hans Sloan introduced the recipe for milk chocolate.

Dutch colonists brought chocolate to North America in the 17th century.

Conraad Johannes van Houten of the Netherlands created the first cocoa powder producing machine in 1828. This was easier to stir into milk or water than the ground cacao paste. Then solid chocolate bars were created by mixing cocoa powder with cocoa butter (1847). The term “chocolate” came to mean solid chocolate rather than hot chocolate.

Chocolate was used as a medicinal drink from the 16th to the 19th centuries. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers received chocolate as rations and pay. It was also given to soldiers in World War 2.

Do you know the difference between “hot cocoa” and “hot chocolate”?

Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder. Hot chocolate is made by grating or chopping dark, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate into milk. Unless you like a bitter drink, you’ll probably want to add sugar or another sweetener. Of course, many brands of hot chocolate or hot cocoa mixes are available at stores.

Do you have a favorite hot chocolate or hot cocoa recipe?


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