Who does not enjoy a frothed beverage?
The molinillo artifact was invented by the Spanish colonists in the 16th century and is often described as a “whisk”, “stirrer”, or “stirring spoon” and was designed to assist in the frothing process for drinks such as hot chocolate and champurrado. Post Spanish conquest in the early 17th century, the Spaniards initial opinions about the Mayans technique to transfer and pour the chocolate mixture back and forth was less than positive as they felt it was a tedious step in the process and uncivilized (Presilla, p.26). The Spaniards took control over chocolate preparation as they eventually saw that wealth and prosperity could be gained from chocolate production and consumption. With time, the Spaniards concluded that the foaming process with a molinillo improved the drinks flavor and temperature. This made the Spaniards happy as they preferred their drinks hot. How did the drink improve with the help of a molinillo? Through the motions required for frothing, the aromas from the mixture are extracted and more pronounced, and the drink increases in temperature, thus making it more desirable. Where does this process occur today? A Starbucks, the Diesel Cafe, and other cafes all over the world, just with a different frothing method; or is it that different?
Historically, the first molinillos were simple containing a medium to large sized ball at the base of the stick used for the frothing and a simple wooden handle for stirring. In the 18th and 19th centuries, and more notably after the Spaniards took the chocolate back to Europe, the molinillos changed drastically in color and shape (Coe & Coe, p.118). The ball appeared more colorful, detailed with shapes, and creative. In my opinion, the molinillos changed over time in an effort to try to enhance the frothing process and increase their value for profit. The images below show how molinillos have evolved: the first image is a historic moliniloo that is simple including just the necessary parts, a whisking ball and long handle for secure handling; the second image shows a more modern molinillo that includes additional detail, vibrant colors, and a thicker handle.
The molinillo was a crucial artifact during the Mesoamerican era and even into the present day (though much less common). The well thought out tool helped change the way the Spaniards perceived chocolate drinks and contributed to their desire to bring chocolate to Europe so countries like Holland, Italy, Germany, France, and Switzerland could profit from chocolate. Currently, the machine and tools used to froth milk are equally crucial in chocolate drink making as they add pleasure for the drink buyer, the drink is often more costly with frothed milk, and this adds to the overall profit of the drink. Chocolate drinks today like hot chocolate or coffee mochas are made with chocolate and milk, and often include espresso. The milk is the ingredient being frothed and it is done so at different consistencies and in a different way from the molinillo tool. Although molinillos are still used in Mexico and other parts of the world, the greater population now uses steamers to froth. The frothing procedure is typically done with a heated spout that releases hot air pressure and froths the milk into a wet or dry foam, thus adding a superb element to a drink. So, is the process in which Mayans and Aztecs used the molinillo to froth the chocolate mixture that much different from a present day coffee barista using a heated spout to froth milk? I would say no, and would even go further to say that the current benefit of frothing a beverage would never exist without the original molinillo artifact teaching future generations how to perfect a drink by adding froth.
The video below shows accurately the process in which milk is frothed in present time. You will notice that the barista taps the container at the end of the steaming process to settle the milk from the foam. This is often done presently to distinguish different drinks like lattes (containing wet milk) from cappuccinos (containing dry foam).
The below website will direct you to Rock City Coffee, a cafe and coffee bean roaster in mid-coast Maine producing wonderfully crafted chocolate and coffee drinks, often with delicately frothed milk that takes time to prepare. I worked here many years ago and spent hours learning how to perfectly froth milk. Stop by and enjoy!
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. 25-27. Print.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 115, 118, 156-157. Print.
“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-Spot. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/>.
“Chris Coffee – How to Steam Milk for Cappuccinos and Lattes.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q2xH1i3ByU>