Chocolate: From Bean to Beverage

The rich and creamy drinking chocolate we enjoy today could not be more different from the original Aztec drink of tchocolatl which was a chocolate liquor that was bitter, greasy and served cold. The sixteenth-century Italian botanist, Giramolo Benzoni, described one of the methods the Aztecs employed to make tchocolatl:

“They take as many fruits as they need and put them in an earthenware pot and dry them over the fire. Then they break them between two stones and reduce them to a flour just as they do when they make bread. They then transfer this flour into vessels made of gourd halves…, moisten the flour gradually with water, often adding their ‘long pepper’ [chilli].”

Regarding other ingredients added to the Aztec tchocolatl other than chilli, the Aztecs also mixed the chocolate liquor with aniseed, allspice, cloves, black pepper, flower petals, nuts, annatto and vanilla. Maize was used to soak up the greasy cacao butter which floated to the top of the tchocolatl and it also helped bind and thicken the drink.

17th century lithograph showing Aztecs preparing chocolate

17th century lithograph showing Aztecs preparing chocolate

Because of the crude manual process of grinding the cacao beans with a metate (grinding stone), all manner of undesirable bits and pieces such as shells, husks and pith were allowed to remain in the resulting liquor. Benzoni thought that the mixture looked “more fit for pigs than like a beverage for human beings”.

Chocolate pot and molinillo whisk

Molinillo and chocolate pot

The Maya poured the liquor from a height to make a frothy brew. The froth was a very important and delicious part of the drink to them. The Aztecs also like to create a frothy head to the drink but did this by using a device that the Spanish called a molinillo – a wooden swizzle stick with specially shaped paddles at one end – which was twirled in the chocolate pot.The 18th century missionary, Father Jean-Baptiste Labat, described this indispensible item as ” a stick about ten inches longger than the chocolate pot, thus enabling it to be freely twirled between the palms of the hand”.

The molinillo is still in use today and can be found in Latin American shops and markets. The design of the original early wooden stick remains little changed from it’s modern counterparts.

Sugar was not added to the early chocolate drink until much later. The story goes that the nuns of an Aztec town occupied by the Spanish developed new recipes to cater for the Spanish sweet tooth. The nuns added sugar and sweet spices such as cinnamon. In this way, the bitter Aztec tchocolatl drink began its transformation to a version more palatable for European tastes.

The Spanish recipe of the chocolate drink was made by first roasting, dehusking and grinding the cacao beans. The resulting cacao mass was then ground for a second time to form a fine paste with plenty of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, musk and annatto. The chocolate was formed into small blocks similar to modern block chocolate but these were only used to make the beverage and were not eaten as confectionery. This Spanish recipe was used throughout Spain and the rest of Europe until the process was revolutionised in the nineteenth century by the technological achievements of the Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten.

If you enjoyed this second instalment of Alan Philippe’s Chocolate Series, check back next Saturday for Part 3 of the series which looks at how chocolate was developed from a beverage to confectionery.

Images reproduced from and

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About Alan Philippe

Describing himself as an extraordinary guy doing ordinary things, Alan Philippe is the epitome of a people's person and it's no suprise that this perfect host is a typical ESFJ. Before starting his publishing career, Alan graduated with Joint Honours from University College London having read Physiology & Pharmacology. He worked for many years in Learning & Development, although his experience spans much more than this. Indeed, he was even once a recruitment consultant although Alan says he left the Dark Side relatively unscathed! Alan Philippe has a passion for fashion, interior design and all things vintage. When he's not busy in his role as Creative Editor of City Connect, you'll find him in either socialising in his favourite hotspots, getting a culture fix in the world of Art & Theatre, following the latest fashion and design trends or simply enjoying the best that life has to offer at home and abroad. Follow him on Twitter @A1Philippe
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