Chocolatl and the History of Hot Chocolate

Today is a very important day for many reasons:

1) It’s our first post! Yay!
2) It’s National Hot Chocolate Day
3) Tomorrow is February 1st, and February is National Chocolate Month, a.k.a. the best month of the year. This is all coming together beautifully.


Though entirely by coincidence, it is only fitting that we start our blog at a time of year that is so focused on chocolate, as we are both non-discriminatory chocolate lovers. White, dark, with nuts – we love it all.  For us, a day that doesn’t begin with a square of chocolate alongside our coffee is a day that needs to start over.

To kick-start this chocolate covered month, we begin with the grand-daddy of all cocoa related desserts: Hot Chocolate. That’s right, the cozy drink you snuggle up with after a day spent out in the snow is actually thousands of years old, though it has evolved greatly since its earliest days.

What we drink most often in North America is Hot Cocoa. Hot Cocoa is instant, made from cocoa powder, sugar, and dry milk powder (more on this later). There are variations, but that’s the gist. Hot Chocolate is the original drink, made with both the cocoa powder and butter, along with a variety of other ingredients depending on where you are.


Though one may imagine the warm drink being invented in colder climates, its origins are actually from the ancient Mayan people, who lived in what is now Mexico. The original drink, called chocolatl, was served cold and made of crushed cocoa beans, vanilla, chili peppers, cinnamon, and cornmeal. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, the ancient Central American people put corn in everything, even their chocolate.


When the Spanish came across the ocean in the early 16th century, picked (and won) a fight with the Aztecs, Spanish leader Hernan Cortes demanded the Aztec people hand over their valuables. Aztec leader Montezuma presented Cortez with gold goblets of their finest chocolatl, but he was repulsed by its bitter taste. Despite this, he figured that if the Aztec people drank so much of it (~50 cups/day!) it must be of some value, so he brought gallons of beans and chocolatl making equipment back to Spain. To serve it to King Charles I, they replaced the chili and cornmeal with sugar, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Later on, Spanish nobility determined it was more palatable when heated, though it is unsure if they were the first to heat it or if this had already begun in meso-america.

Hot Chocolate began to spread around Europe via friars and doctors who believed its supposed health and aphrodisiac benefits. Erotic chocolate-based art and literature can be found in France from the 17th century, and hot chocolate became a popular menu item in London coffee houses. The first chocolate house opened in 1657.

At this point, hot chocolate was still a rather intense drink, with spice and a little sugar for flavour. This changed when the President of England’s Royal College of Physicians Hans Sloane tasted it for the first time – he was so offended by the bitterness of the dark chocolate liquid that he added milk to weaken it. He brought the recipe back to England, and thus milk chocolate was born.

Fast forward to 1828, when Coenraad Johannes Van Houten of the Netherlands discovered that if the cocoa powder is separated from the cocoa butter, you can make an easier, instant version of Hot Chocolate by mixing the powder into milk or water. The Dutch later brought cocoa powder over to America, which lead to the drink we know and love today – Hot Cocoa.

In North America, we typically drink hot chocolate made from an instant mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and dry milk, which is then mixed with hot water (or more hot milk) to make a drink, and topped with marshmallows or whipped cream. But what about the rest of the world?

In Mexico, though they do have the instant variety like we do, many still enjoy a more traditional drink made from hard, semi-sweet chocolate and milk, mixed with cinnamon and vanilla. Some will also add eggs, along with honey, coffee, and dried red chilies. In the state of Oaxaca, the popular drink is tejate, which is cacao and cornmeal similar to the pre-Hispanic origins.

In Europe, the drink is much thicker than North American hot cocoa. Italians serve cioccolata densa or cioccolato caldo, which is so thick they eat it with a spoon! In fact, most Hot Chocolate in Europe is more like pudding, with the exception of Belgium, who serves warme chocolade or chocolat chaude, which is steamed milk with chocolate chips on the side. In both Mexico and Europe, hot chocolate is served for breakfast more often than dessert.

Essentially, hot chocolate is the mother of all chocolate. Thanks to the ancient Mayan’s love of bitter, dark chocolate, we now enjoy a variety of cocoa-based treats every day. They considered it a food given by the Gods, and in our opinion (and the multi-million dollar chocolate industry) they were correct.

Side note: We attempted to make authentic-ish chocolatl!  Head over to our youtube channel to check it out:




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