What do you think when you imagine drinking chocolate, a woman curled up in an oversized sweater in a comfy chair in winter? Children coming from the snow drinking mugs of chocolate. I think that is the general perception these days; drinking chocolate is for women and children. You might be surprised to know that has not always been the case. As we saw in the early post chocolate has a long history and was often seen as a sacred magical drink. drunk by the elite few, which would be mainly the warriors caste. The Aztecs viewed chocolate and blood as sacred liquids and as such was often used in initiation ceremonies for warriors, it was a symbol of power, strength and virility often drunk daily, so they could face all those challenges that warriors had. Brought to Europe by the Conquistadores, it became a popular drink for priests and monks, especially the Cistercian Order who had a special room to prepare and drink chocolate, known as the chocolatería; today in Spain and around the world you can find Chocolatería.
It is around this time that milk and sugar were added to what was in effect a bitter tasting drink, these additions increased chocolates popularity. So much so that ‘chocolate houses’ later to become Gentlemens Clubs started to appear. This is where the elite (men) would consume it, combined with gambling and Politic they became quite notorious.One such Chocolate House was Mrs Whites, it was also a very popular gambling club that became known as The Hell Club and gained quite a bit of notoriety at the time, it is still there in London now known as Whites.
Last year we went to Malaysia on holiday and randomly discovered a chocolate museum whilst wandering around Georgetown, Penang! Well, you can imagine what a highlight that was for me, no sooner had I seen it and I was in the door. Actually it was more of a shop than a museum, but it had a small display about how chocolate and coffee is made and with free entry, it was a nice way to spend half an hour. Unsurprisingly due to its tropical climate and location near the equator, both coffee beans and cocoa beans are grown in Malaysia, if you’ve ever tried the local coffee called “kopi” you’ll know how good it is…and it’s even better combined with chocolate!
The display at the museum is quite basic but is colourful and bright using paintings on the wall to show the process. The most interesting thing for me was probably the chart detailing which countries eat the most chocolate (in the form of a bar of chocolate), unsurprisingly chocolate-loving Europeans topped the chart, with Swiss people eating the most, closely followed by Austria and Ireland, whilst us Aussies were somewhere in the middle to lower end of the scale. Talking of scales, Brazilians are easy on theirs because they eat the least, despite producing chocolate, they must be keeping svelte for all those carnivals. The best thing about the museum shop was the free samples, including exotic ones – I liked the chili dark chocolate and tiramasu milk chocolate, but the sesame was good too!
As we saw from the last post chocolate appears to have to come into being as a drink today it is still as popular. The earlier drink was slightly different than we have today more in keeping with the type found in Mexico and South America today. Rich, slightly bitter and spiced, so if you fancy a different drink which I find quite alluring, have a go at making South American or Mexican cocoa.
At home I make a slightly spiced one. For one cup I melt bitter chocolate in my milk (how much depends on you and the chocolate, experiment, I use half a block good quality bitter chocolate – enough for a large mug. I add a cinnamon stick and a dash of ground spice and some orange rind and heat slowly together until the chocolate melts. I then stir in some whipped cream sprinkle with either cinnamon or grated chocolate…decadent! You can spice it up a bit more with some chili flakes. I also like at add a drop of rum or brandy occasionally. On a skiing holiday long ago in the days when Bulgaria was behind the Iron Curtain; our barman liked to pour into a blender,2 bars of chocolate, hot milk enough for 2-3 cups and a bottle; yes a bottle of brandy, some sugar, blend and there was THE most warming cup of chocolate you have ever tasted. If you fancy having a go but want more exact measures take a look here.
Chocolate has a history going back to 1900B.C; there is mention of chocolate drinks from Aztec and Mayan histories called xocolātl (bitter waters). The name entered the English language from Spanish although there is scholarly dissention about its actual origin. It is made from the Theobroma cacao seeds – which by the way translates to “Food of the gods” good name! It is also known as cacao or cocoa tree, in my opinion and after the seeds have been fermented; this is done to reduce the intense bitter taste and improve the flavor; they are then dried, cleaned and roasted. Then they go through a number of processes to get to the chocolate we know today. Cocoa solids produced from chocolate liquor in this process, is known to contain certain chemicals that a have a physiological and psychological effect on the body; so I am not imagining the pleasure of chocolate it is effecting the serotonin in my brain and literally making g me feel better. Some research say it can help lower blood pressure, I have to find that so I can state I am eating it for medical reasons..mmm wonder if it will ever be on prescription!!!. One of these chemicals is toxic to animals especially dogs and cats so please don’t “treat’ your pets to a piece of chocolate however much they want it.