The History of Hot Chocolate

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A woman with Hot Chocolate

There’s nothing more delicious than a steaming cup of hot chocolate to warm you up on a cold day, but have you ever stopped to think about where it comes from? The history of hot chocolate goes back thousands of years, but it wasn’t always as rich and creamy as it is today – find out how it’s evolved over the years now.

The Mayan Chocolate Drink

Around 1500BC, the Mayans had discovered chocolate and used it as a drink that was reserved for special ceremonies and events – the recipe for their chocolate drink is not one that we’d recognise today, however! Cocoa would be crushed and added to water along with chilli, honey and cornmeal before being poured back and forth between vessels to create a foamy textured drink that would then be enjoyed by all. While the Mayan chocolate drink is not the same as the luxury hot chocolate we enjoy today, it was where it all began!

The Aztec Effect

As time marched on, so did the way that chocolate was treated, and the Aztecs took it to new heights as they saw it as a gift that was given to them directly by gods. Cocoa beans were prized and valued more than gold, resulting in chocolate drinks being reserved for the upper echelons of society. Montezuma II ruled over the Aztecs and enjoyed litres of chocolate every day. Again, the hot drink that we now enjoy doesn’t really compare to the Aztec’s recipe as they used chilli to make theirs spicy and served it cold.

The Spanish Conquerors

When a group of Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, chocolate was one of the prizes that they took home with them to present to the King – Charles V. Interestingly, the Aztec’s spicy chocolate drink was not well received in the Spanish court, requiring significant adaptions before it was presented once again. During the adaptation process, the chillies were removed from the recipe, the chocolate was heated instead of being served cold, and courtiers added sugar to make it a sweet treat – this new recipe was well received and became a drink that the King loved.

Hot Chocolate Reaches Europe

As hot chocolate became more popular in Spain, the word spread across Europe, with many of the upper and ruling classes demanding to have a taste. As a result, there was an explosion of chocolate shops popping up across France and England. These shops served the adapted hot chocolate recipe that the Spanish had shared, and it was sold as a cure-all for colds, headaches and even hangovers. It was still an expensive treat that precluded the poorest people from being able to join in, but this would soon change as demand for cocoa grew.

Hot Chocolate in America

As the Spanish set sail around the world, chocolate was becoming more and more popular. It was in 1641 that chocolate was introduced to America, with the first chocolate house offering hot chocolate to customers in 1682. As the 18th Century drew to a close, cocoa had become one of the largest imports for the American colonies, signalling that chocolate had earned a spot as one of the most favourite items for militaries as well as individuals. It would go on to be rationed during the American revolution for the army and later used as a form of payment when money had run out.

The Chocolate Revolution

With so many different chocolate shops and a growing demand for cocoa, it’s not a shock to learn that by the 1800s, chocolate was the talk of the country. People were always looking for new ways to improve their hot chocolate experience, and as a result, the art of hot chocolate making became something that customers revelled in experiencing. Hot chocolate shops would set up copper chocolate pots that would gently heat and simmer the chocolate before being served. It was also at this time that milk was added to the mix to create a creamier and more luxurious finish. Interestingly, many people chose to add spices such as cinnamon to their hot chocolate to set it apart from the competition.

Hot Chocolate for Everyone

The popularity of chocolate never dwindled, but many of the working classes wanted to see a cheaper option being released that they could enjoy. In 1828, a Dutch scientist called Coenraad Van Houten found a way to make a cocoa powder that could then be used to make hot chocolate as well as other chocolate items. This new finding helped many chocolate companies design and offer chocolate bars to customers, using a mix of water, cocoa and sugar. It wasn’t until the mid-19th Century that chocolatiers began adding milk to their recipes to make a creamy bar that people loved.

Chocolate in Modern History

The love for chocolate continued to grow into the 1900s, with more people enjoying hot chocolate drinks as well as bars of chocolate for treats. During both the first and second world wars, chocolate was included in ration packs for soldiers, but many civilians struggled to get hold of it due to supply lines being closed or damaged due to war. This supply problem wasn’t to last, and by the late 1940s, there were many different chocolate products on offer for consumers to enjoy.

Hot Chocolate Today

Sadly, as the demand for chocolate grows, it is causing destruction in the rainforest as well as poor working conditions for companies that are looking to get the cheapest and quickest service. In response to this issue, many cocoa farmers and chocolate producers are turning to Fair Trade to help them achieve a fair wage without having to cause environmental issues.

As hot chocolate remains one of the most popular hot beverages around, loved by children and adults across the world, a fairer trade and responsible approach is being used. These days, there is a myriad of flavours to choose from, and you will find that hot chocolate comes in instant options as well as more luxurious and decadent choices. Whatever flavour chocolate you love, you can be sure there is a hot chocolate option out there ready for you to enjoy!

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