The following is a guest blog post from Sophie Edlich, (pronouns she/her).
In this time of year, the world appears cold and desolate. Frigid gusts of wind speed past frosted windowpanes and over frozen lakes. People get used to walking at a quicker pace to outrun the chance of getting frostbite.
Despite being known for stinging cold temperatures and snowstorms that force people to retreat from outside for weeks, winter is a season that for many is centered on warmth. Some favorite moments for this time of year may include burning fireplaces, layers of blankets, and a mug of hot cocoa.
A prized possession during these freezing days, hot cocoa melts the cold away with one piping sip at a time. It also warms up the heart with its sweet taste. Drinking hot cocoa may be a necessity for you or others around you, but it also has an extensive history that has influenced cultures around the world that enjoy this beverage today.
Chocolate was originally consumed as a drink during ancient civilizations that existed in present-day Mexico and Central America. The Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs were the first to enjoy chocolate beverages. However, a taste of this drink would have little resemblance to chocolate that we’re used to. These beverages were unsweetened, as the raw cocoa was mixed with water and spices. Instead of a drink that warms you up, this would be a drink that would heat up your mouth through harsh flavors.
Drinking chocolate was reserved for nobility and for ceremonial purposes in these cultures. And it would only be consumed this way until the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. In the process of colonization and its attempts to westernize this new territory, the Spanish destroyed many aspects of the native peoples’ culture. But one cultural influence that the Spanish adopted from the natives was the use of chocolate.
The Spanish also drank chocolate unsweetened with spices, which gave a different definition to “hot” chocolate than we’re used to today. However, they soon added cane sugar to the beverage, turning it into a sweeter experience. When chocolate hit England, it grew immensely in production, especially when the English took a bigger hold on colonizing the Americas. Until that time period, chocolate in western cultures had only been consumed as a hot beverage. But in the 1800s, chocolatiers blended cocoa powder with sugar and butter, creating the new candies that changed chocolate forever.
Since then, hot cocoa itself has been reinvented with different recipes as many put their own twist on the beverage. In Mexico, you can find a version of hot cocoa called the champurrado, which has cinnamon and spices mixed in with the chocolate to resemble the spicy drink that was enjoyed by their ancient ancestors. In Spain today, they have a version of hot cocoa that is as thick as pudding and is served with churros for dipping, giving it the name churros con chocolate.
Other versions of hot chocolate around the world include tsokolate from the Philipines, chai hot chocolate from India, and the famous Belgian hot chocolate, which includes several types of chocolate in one mug.
As the air turns colder, people around the world are enjoying their mugs of hot cocoa to thaw their spirits. Icicles are hanging off branches and snowfall blocks out the sky, but hot cocoa helps us stay centered around warmth.