The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa
by Brett & Kate McKay
Art of Manliness
season for hot cocoa.
it is for red-cheeked children who are looking to warm up after
coming in from a well-spent snow day.
And for lady
folk curled up in a blanket watching The
Shop Around the Corner.
But a man,
he’s sitting by the fire in his leather chair, drinking a properly
manly drink like black coffee, or scotch, perhaps.
Such is the
perception of cocoa these days. It is but a sweet confection a
man might drink a few times each year, if at all.
of years, however, it was quite a different story. While we tend
to think of chocolate today in its solid form, for nine-tenths
of its long history, chocolate was a drink – the first true chocolate
bar as we now know it was not invented until 1839. In the thousands
of years before that time, chocolate was seen as an invaluable,
sacred, even magical beverage — a symbol of power, a privilege
of warriors and the elite, and a satisfying tonic that was consumed
daily and offered the sustenance needed to tackle virile challenges.
to its ho-hum, sometimes even junk food-y reputation, real chocolate
is an incredibly complex substance, containing 400-500 different
compounds. Among those compounds are several with mind and body
– a stimulant present in small amounts, depending
on the type and amount of chocolate ingredients.
– a mild stimulant distinct from caffeine which provides the
lion’s share of chocolate’s kick and energizes without greatly
activating the central nervous system the way the former does.
It also enhances mood, dilates blood vessels, can lower blood
pressure, relaxes the smooth muscles of the bronchi in the lungs,
and can be used as a cough medicine.
– releases the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in
– functions similarly to amphetamines in releasing norepinephrine,
which increases excitement, alertness, and decision-making abilities,
and dopamine, which releases endorphins (natural painkillers)
and heightens mood.
– antioxidants which may improve blood flow to the heart and
brain, prevent clots, improve cardiac health, and act as anti-inflammatories.
has also for centuries been rumored to be an aphrodisiac.
hot cocoa is a powerful elixir – one which boosts mood and vitality
and combats stress, anxiety, and pain. For good reason is the
chocolate tree’s scientific name — Theobroma cacao
— ancient Greek for “food of the gods.” For what other drink
tastes great, is filling in nature, and stimulates mind and body?
then that this beverage, far from being a kiddie drink, has been
a favorite of rulers, warriors, and explorers for centuries.
Note on Terminology: Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa
chocolate and hot cocoa are often used interchangeably,
they’re not actually the same thing. Chocolate begins as cacao
seeds (often referred to as cocoa beans) that grow in pods on
the bark of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. These
seeds are then fermented, dried, and roasted. The shells are removed,
leaving the cacao nibs. The nibs are crushed into a thick paste
called chocolate liquor (despite the name, it does not contain
alcohol), which is made up of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The
ancient peoples of Mesoamerica mixed this paste with water to
make a highly-prized beverage.
there was Red Bull…there was cocoa.
was made this way and consumed almost entirely as a drink until
1828 when Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented
a process that could separate out most of the fat — the
cocoa butter — from the chocolate liquor, leaving a dry
cake that is then pulverized into cocoa powder. Before undergoing
this “Dutching” process, the nibs are treated with alkaline salts
to neutralize their acidity, mellow the flavor, and improve the
cocoas’ miscibility in warm water. The end result is “Dutch cocoa.”
“Natural cocoa” is that which does not undergo this Dutching process.
To make quality
solid chocolate, cocoa butter is re-added to the chocolate liquor,
along with other ingredients like sugar, vanilla, and milk.
So, hot cocoa
is made with cocoa powder, either Dutch or natural, and hot chocolate
is made with little pieces or shavings of solid chocolate.
The latter is sometimes also called “drinking chocolate.” Both
of the Gods: Chocolate in Ancient Mesoamerica
cultivation of cacao can be traced to ancient Mesoamerica, in
which it served a religious, financial, and nutritional purpose.
that was made with cacao, xocola-tl, was considered
sacred by the Mesoamericans and used during initiation ceremonies,
funerals, and marriages. Cacao beans were also used as currency.
Because cacao was both currency and food, drinking chocolate was
like sipping on cash — kind of like lighting your cigar
with a hundred dollar bill – and for this reason was a privilege
mainly limited to elites.
cultivated and consumed by the Olmecs and Mayans, but is most
famously associated with the Aztec civilization. Montezuma the
II, who kept a huge storehouse of cacao (supplied by conquered
peoples from whom he demanded the beans as tribute) and drank
50 golden goblets of chocolate a day, decreed that only those
men who went to war could imbibe cacao, even if they were his
own sons. This limited chocolate consumption to royals and nobles
who were willing to fight, merchants (their travels through hostile
territory necessitated their taking up of arms), and warriors.
For the latter, chocolate was a regular part of their military
rations; ground cacao that had been pressed into wafers and could
be mixed into water in the field were given to every solider on
campaign. The drink provided long-lasting nourishment on the march;
as one Spanish observer wrote, “This drink is the healthiest
thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink
in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter
how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.”
thought of both blood and chocolate as sacred liquids, and cacao
seeds were used in their religious ceremonies to symbolize the
human heart – harkening to their famous ritual in which this still-beating
organ was torn from a sacrificial victim’s chest. The connection
between blood and chocolate was especially strong for warriors,
and it was served at the solemn initiation ceremony of new Eagle
and Jaguar knights, who had to undergo a rigorous penance process
before joining the most elite orders of the Aztec army.
chocolate was an after-dinner drink, served along with smoking
tubes of tobacco, much in the way modern gentlemen once enjoyed
brandy and cigars after a meal (and still do). The Mayans liked
their chocolate hot, the Aztecs liked it cold, but all Mesoamericans
preferred it foamy – a quality that was accomplished by pouring
the chocolate back and forth from a bowl held high into one below
(a large, foam-creating swizzle stick was added later through
a Spanish creolization of the practice).
chocolate, unless honey was added, was also bitter. To this strong,
bitter brew was added a great variety of spices and seasonings,
such as ground up flowers and vanilla. The Aztecs were especially
fond of adding chili pepper, which gave the drink a delightful
burn going down. Maize was often added to stretch the chocolate
and turn it into a more filling gruel, but this version was considered
inferior to the pure, potent variety.
Beverage of Movers and Shakers in Europe
was brought back to Spain in the 17th century by conquistadors,
it quickly spread throughout Europe, where it continued to be
considered a luxury and a drink of the elites. Originating on
the continent from Spain, and more expensive than coffee, chocolate
was seen as southern, Catholic, and aristocratic, while coffee
was viewed as northern, Protestant, and middle-class.
was a popular beverage among monks and priests; Jesuits ran
some cacao plantations in the New World. According to the Dominican
School of Philosophy and Theology, many of “the first
recipes using cacao beans came from a 12th century Cistercian
monastery, Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Piedra monasterio.
Extant documents indicate that by 1534 it is already a staple
in the monastic kitchen. According to tradition, a Franciscan
friar, Fray Jerónimo de Aguilar, who had traveled with Cortéz,
gave a recipe and some beans to Don Antonio de Álvero, the Abbot
of the Monastery. As depicted in this photo – located at the
Monasterio de Piedra – Cistercian communities, even to this
day, often have a room located above the cloister, known as
the chocolatería, used specifically for the preparation and
enjoyment of chocolate.” Interestingly, the popularity
of drinking chocolate among Catholics led to sometimes fervent
debate over whether it was a drink or a food, and thus whether
it could, or could not, be consumed during times of fasting.
the Spanish revival of the Mayan practice of drinking chocolate
hot and the welcome addition of milk and sugar, the beverage soon
won converts from many corners – many of whom began to give the
ancient drink some twists of their own. The addition of cinnamon
and black pepper was popular, as was ambergris, a solid, fatty
substance found in the intestines of sperm whales, and musk, secreted
by the glands of the Himalayan musk deer (and believed to be an
aphrodisiac). Other drinkers experimented with throwing orange
peel, rose water, cloves, ground up pistachios and almonds, or
egg yolks into the brew.
was drunk in large cups at Spanish bullfights, and began to be
served across Europe both at dedicated “chocolate houses” and
at coffee houses, where members of the upper class gathered to
sip hot beverages, gamble, and discuss the pressing philosophical
and political issues of the day. In England, each establishment
was typically associated with one of the Parliamentary parties,
and often turned into full-on gentlemen’s clubs. For example,
the Cocoa-tree Chocolate House, located on St. James Street in
London, was patronized by the Tory party, and then became the
Cocoa Tree Club; eminent men like Jonathan Swift and Edward Gibbon
were members. Mrs. White’s Chocolate House, another Tory establishment,
was created on Chesterfield St. in 1693; it was famous not only
for its chocolate but as a notorious center of gambling – the
gaming room was nicknamed “Hell” and patrons placed bets on everything
from elections to which raindrop would make it to the windowpane
first. The chocolate house moved to St. James Street in 1778 and
transformed into an official, and highly elite, gentlemen’s club.
Over 300 years later, it is still around and now simply called
White’s. The club’s rolls have included three monarchs and a huge
consortment of other royals, nobles, and prime ministers.
Expeditions to the Ends of the Earth
hot, filling, rejuvenating qualities, cocoa has been an essential
staple on all the major expeditions to the North and South Poles.
Explorers and their teams of men would drink cup after cup of
it as a bulwark against the morale and strength-sapping task of
trudging across an icy, austere landscape.
daily ration for Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to the South
Pole: 450g biscuit, 340g pemmican, 85g sugar, 57g butter, 24g
tea, 16g cocoa.The sugar was mixed into the cocoa, and Scott
said, prevented the men from wanting to kill each other. As
a side note, these rations only provided each man about 4,500
calories a day, at least 2,000 less than is needed for sledging,
which is why the men starved and died on their return from the
Pole. Roald Amundsen, who beat Scott to the Pole, and actually
gained weight on the way back, brought five times as much cocoa.
Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated attempt to be the first to reach
the South Pole, he had his men drink hot cocoa five nights
a week. Each evening when they stopped for supper, they warmed
up one pot of what they called “hoosh” — a thick stew made
with pemmican (dried beef and fat) and hard biscuits – and a pot
of cocoa. They washed the former down with the latter. While as
one of his men, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, recorded in his dairy,
“Many controversies raged over the rival merits of tea and cocoa,”
and some of the men preferred the former, Scott preferred cocoa
for its milder stimulation. As Cherry-Garrard noted, “the warmth
of your hours of rest depends largely on getting into your bag
immediately after you have eaten your hoosh and cocoa,” and having
to get out of the bag during the night, exit the tent, and expose
one’s peppermint stick to the cold was not a thought anyone relished.
Scott compromised by allowing tea two evenings a week. He also
had his men drink cocoa in the mornings to get something substantial
and invigorating in their stomachs while minimizing bathroom breaks
on the march.
Cherry-Garrard (right), a member of the Terra Nova Expedition,
was asked by Scott to man-haul a sledge 60 miles to Cape Crozier
to retrieve an Emperor penguin egg. The men became pinned down
by a blizzard, their tent blew away, and they laid in their
sleeping bags exposed to the falling snow and -40 degree temperatures.
It was so cold, Cherry-Garrard shattered most of his teeth because
they chattered so hard. The men returned to the base camp a
month later exhausted and frozen and were revived with cups
of cocoa. In his account of the horrific experience, The Worst
Journey in the World, Cherry-Garrard mentions cocoa no less
than two dozen times, saying, “there was always plenty
to be had,” and calling it “the most satisfying
stuff imaginable” and “the most comforting drink.”
when American explorer Will Steger spent 220 days traveling almost
4000 miles in the first dog-sled traverse of Antarctica, he and
his international team of five others went through 2,070 cups
of Swiss Miss.
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© 2012 The Art of Manliness