‘‘On hot chocolate: It flatters you for a while, it warms you for an instant; then all of sudden, it kindles a mortal fever in you.’’ – Marie Marquise de Sévigné (1626 – 1696)
Chocolate is a luxurious solitary indulgence. A guilty pleasure. Even, somehow, a little naughty. Think about the magic of a chocolate bar, for instance. There is the tactile sensation of running your fingers along the wrapper, as you make creases in the foil where the squares of the chocolate are divided up. The aroma of the cocoa followed by the crisp snap of high-quality confectionery. And the taste – to fully appreciate the wonder of chocolate, I urge you to take a single square, place it on your tongue, and allow it to slowly melt in your mouth. Smooth, rich, a truly sensual experience. If I could have it by intravenous drip, I would.
Hot Chocolate, then, is the next best thing. No chewing involved – the quickest way to get your chocolate fix. A love for all things cocoa-related has been present for millennia. It first began in Mexico, where the Mayans are believed to have created a chocolatey drink around 2,500-3,000 years ago. Their version of cocoa was much different to ours – the drink was served cold, a concoction of ground up cocoa seeds, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers for extra oomph. You could even call them the first baristas – they would mix the drink by pouring it back and forth between two vessels until a thick foam developed. It remained a crucial aspect of Mesoamerican identity, as the Aztecs came to take ownership of it by 1400 under the name of xocōlātl.
Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the conquistador Hernan Cortez brought the chocolate drink back to Europe. Still served cold and extremely bitter, the drink was taken up by the court of King Charles V, which rendered chocolate a fashionable taste among the Spanish upper classes. Chocolate was so highly prized that cocoa was given as a dowry by the Spanish Royal Family when its members married into other aristocratic families! It was ridiculously expensive too – when the first Chocolate House opened in 1657 (think coffee shop that only serves hot chocolate – why is this no longer a thing?), chocolate cost 10-15 shillings a pound, the modern equivalent of around £55. No wonder that it became known as ‘’the drink of the gods’’.
By the 18th Century, the rest of Europe had gone cocoa crazy. Sweet-tasting hot chocolate was invented, which saw the popularity of the drink skyrocket, and Hans Sloane, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, brought the recipe for chocolate mixed with milk back from a trip to Jamaica. Milk chocolate had been invented! The new love for chocolate was particularly prominent in Italy, where, as with most exotic products, it was regarded with equal fright and delight. The chocolate drink was at once godly and diabolical. According to Gaspare Gozzi, the founder of the Venetian newspaper Gazzetta Veneta, chocolate is:
‘‘An excellent drink however you prepare it, it is refreshing and energising, precisely to restore our strength and give more vigour. It manages to contrast our bad moods, fortify our stomach, brain and all other vital parts, it softens all serious matters falling from our brain to our heart, it helps digestion and against wine-induced stupor.’’
Hot Chocolate as a hangover cure? I’ll take that. Well into the 19th Century, hot chocolate was lauded for its salvific qualities, as doctors prescribed it to treat ailments such as liver and stomach diseases. The 20th Century saw the commercialisation of hot chocolate, as powerful chocolate companies such as Cadburys developed drinking chocolate powders, which allowed people to make up a cup of cocoa in an instant.
The long history of hot chocolate is testimony to its power to win over the taste buds. Below you’ll find a compilation of my favourite hot chocolate recipes from all over the globe.
Classic Hot Chocolate – Melt 50g chopped dark chocolate in a pan of 250ml milk over medium heat, stirring gently. Decant.
Viennese Hot Chocolate – As above but add an egg yolk to the mixture. Once added, whisk the mixture vigorously in the pan, to create lots of foam. Be careful not to have the heat too high, as you don’t want to run the risk of creating chocolatey scrambled eggs! This one is decadently rich!
Bounty Hot Chocolate – Classic Hot Chocolate but with a splash of coconut rum.
Ski Lift Hot Chocolate – Classic Hot Chocolate but with a splash of both coconut rum and peach schnapps.
Chocolate Caliente con Queso (Colombian Hot Chocolate) – Classic Hot Chocolate with the addition of a small cube of white cheese on top (mozzarella would be perfect here!). This sounds strange, but it works! The saline edge of the cheese gives an almost salted caramel twist to the drink.
El Submarino (Argentinian Hot Chocolate) – This one is fun and interactive! Heat up a mug of milk in the microwave. Get a bar of chocolate (newsagent-type chocolate will do!). Proceed by stirring the chocolate bar into the hot milk. A delicious chocolatey sludge will develop at the bottom of the mug.
Warme Chocolademelk (Dutch Hot Chocolate) – Classic Hot Chocolate but with the addition of 1 teaspoon of cocoa in the mixture (the Dutch invented cocoa powder!). Those in the know also like to spike this with brandy or rum.