Tag Archives: Chocolate Beverage

Serving Luxury: The Evolution of the Chocolate Pot

A 1989 article in The New York Times reported that “top-of-the-market” chocolate pots made in 17th and 18th century England were selling for between $30,000 and $50,000 to museums (Deitz, 38). Five figures might appear a steep price for an antiquated household tool intended to produce what we might now consider “hot chocolate,” but––nearly four centuries after their emergence in Europe––chocolate pots continue to fetch high prices at antique auctions around the world.

The status of the chocolate pot, or chocolatière, as a rarity and luxury item is no new phenomenon. Often engraved with family crests, decorated with paintings on fine porcelain, or molded from precious metals, the chocolate pot has, throughout its history, become as much of a status symbol as the chocolate it holds. This blog post will investigate the chocolatière’s role in chocolate’s spread around the globe and how it changed the ways in which individuals enjoyed this delicacy. The chocolate pot, or chocolatière, not only serves as an important artifact aiding in the expansion of chocolate’s popularity but embodies broader themes of globalization, class, and production inseparable from the consumption of chocolate.

“Chocolate Pots Brewed Ingenuity,” The New York Times.

The Origins of the Chocolate Pot

As with chocolate itself, the origins of the chocolate pot remain somewhat murky and reflect a tendency to overlook the roles played by non-Europeans in its creation. Many sources credit the invention of the chocolatières as we know them today to France in the 17th century as aristocrats began to incorporate expensive chocolate––consumed as a beverage first introduced to Europe by Spain––into their fine dining experiences (Righthand). What set apart French chocolate pots, often crafted from silver and other metals like copper or gold, from other cooking vessels was a space in the lid through which a “mill” could be inserted to stir and froth its ingredients (Lange, 131). Such “milling” of the chocolate drink (often consisting of ground cacao, hot water, milk, sugar, and spices) was a necessity before the invention of more industrialized “emulsification” technologies in the 19th century that rendered the pot largely obsolete (Righthand).

Despite this French origin story, scholars like Michael and Sophie Coe in The True History of Chocolate note the degree to which this device was invented outside of the country. As France expanded its diplomatic efforts with Siam, an ambassador from the region was said to have brought chocolate pots crafted from precious metals as a gift to the French despite a lack of chocolate consumption in Siam (Coe, 157). This anecdote reveals the extent to which increasing globalization­­––as well as colonial and imperial ambitions––led to innovation and the modification of chocolate technologies. A 17th century sketch, made by Philippe Sylvestre Dufour (pictured below), depicts stereotypical illustrations of individuals from different parts of the world gathered for a drink, a chocolate pot sitting between them. The imperial connotations of this illustration show the ways in which England hoped to spread its “civility” ––represented by the chocolate pot and other utensils–– as it carved out its colonial empire.

Dufour Illustration.
Source: Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 2019. (Online as Public Domain).

Despite these tales, the chocolate pot’s true invention can be traced back to early Mesoamerica. The Mayan and Aztec people, in addition to other indigenous groups in the region, were some of the first to consume chocolate in its liquid form, relying on vessels to contain and froth chocolate.[1] Early Mesoamerican chocolate was frothed by being poured into several different containers that––in contrast to their smaller metal European counterparts––could be three-feet tall and, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, had a “long, slender body” (Righthand). The chocolate pot is a fascinating example of the ways in which chocolate technologies, like the chocolate itself, was adapted for different cultural contexts and came to take on new meanings as it circulated the globe. The chocolate pot popularized by the French would quickly inspire similar creations in England which soon became a prized commodity and imported good of North American colonists (Lange 131).

Chinese Porcelain Design Chocolate Pot, 19th Century. (Public Domain).

The Chocolatière and Luxury

With its origins tied to the French nobility and their chocolate habits, the chocolate pot was viewed not only as a product of increasing global trade, but as a luxury item. Because chocolate beverages were so expensive and not yet available to the masses, they called for serving equipment made of equally refined materials like silver and porcelain (Righthand). According to The True History of Chocolate, prominent figures ranging from Marie Antoinette to French philosophers like Diderot where pictured alongside, or made references to, the chocolate pot (Coe, 219). The chocolate pot emerged alongside the increasingly popularity of chocolate beverages that, pricier than tea or coffee, became a favorite of Europe’s wealthiest (Mintz, 110). However, like tea and coffee, “unfamiliar” chocolate drinks became more widespread in England thanks to the common practice of adding sugar to beverages (Mintz 137). In both France and England––and eventually in what would become the United Space––the chocolate pot allowed for new types of gathering and social spaces among the elite. Chocolate houses in England, France, and North America became a space in which intellectuals, politicians, and business leaders could meet to discuss pressing issues while pouring from chocolate pots (Mintz 110).

The social implications of chocolate pots are strikingly clear from their portrayals in art. According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, chocolate pots were often included in colonial paintings and portraits alongside the bed as they were considered symbols of leisure and of the wealth that made this leisure possible (Righthand). The detailed monogramming and design of the chocolate pots as indicators of family wealth transform chocolate vessels into their own works of art––further reflected in their contemporary inclusion in museums and auctions. In this way, the European chocolate pot was not unlike its Mesoamerican predecessors which often featured their own hieroglyphics and drawings.[2]

The Legacy of the Chocolate Pot

The chocolate pot began to transform and ultimately see its decline in the 19th and 20th centuries as the result of chemist Van Houten’s introduction of Dutch chocolate which no longer required the pots to contain an opening for mixing, less expensive chocolate production, and the increasing popularity of tea and coffee (Lange, 138-139). However, this tool remains an important item of study in charting the history of chocolate. The chocolate pot reveals the centrality of evolving technologies in altering chocolate consumption patterns and the ways in these technologies were influenced by unique cultural contexts. With limited numbers of authentic chocolate pots surviving until contemporary times, this artifact remains a luxury, status symbol, and rarity.

Media Citations

Chocolate Pot with Design Imitating Meissen, Chinese Porcelain, 1800-1830. New Castle, 8 May 2013. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_pot_with_design_imitating_Meissen,_Chinese_porcelain,_1800-1830_-_Winterthur_Museum_-_DSC01530.JPG.

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 2019.

Deitz, Paula. “ANTIQUES; Chocolate Pots Brewed Ingenuity.” The New York Times, 19 Feb. 1989, p. 38, https://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/19/arts/antiques-chocolate-pots-brewed-ingenuity.html.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 2019.

Deitz, Paula. “ANTIQUES; Chocolate Pots Brewed Ingenuity.” The New York Times, 19 Feb. 1989, p. 38, https://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/19/arts/antiques-chocolate-pots-brewed-ingenuity.html.

Lange, Amanda. “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early 10 North America.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Shapiro, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009, pp. 129–142.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Feb. 2015, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/.

[1] Reference to images of the Rio Azul vessels presented in lecture by Dr. Carla Martin.

[2] Ibid.

Chocolate Consumption and Production: How Mesoamerican Cacao Culture has Faded

The significance of chocolate holds a profound and broad importance in our modern day American society. Chocolate has been incorporated in our everyday life as an indulgence.The commonly found sweet treat melts in one’s mouth, and in American culture, is used to melt one’s heart! However, chocolate is not bound by its asset of sweetness, as that asset was incorporated into chocolate fairly recently; chocolate can be bitter and brittle, and can even be featured as a drink! There are many types of chocolate varying by texture and taste, and the good has evolved over the ages, and so has its pairwise culture as it has moved from society to society, but all types stem from cacao. The original chocolate/cacao and its production can be traced all the way back to Pre-Columbian civilizations where it was valued highly and reserved for nobility and important people. In that time, Cacao was much more than a sweet, refreshing treat: it was a vital and versatile part in Pre-Columbian traditions including religion, status, and health. These traditions are portrayed in several interesting artifacts allowing us to better understand cacao’s significance in the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec and other Mesoamerican societies. Analysis of these artifacts allows us to discern that the culture of cacao has been distorted and watered down over the ages, and this can be seen in a comparison of modern day chocolate related activities to its ancient roots.

Modern day practices with chocolate primarily involve mass production and consumption of chocolate. Because of the bustling chocolate industry, people from all over the world are able to experience and indulge in a version of cacao, thus somewhat honoring the importance of cacao through enjoying its consumption. However, historical companies like Cadbury and others have significantly watered down the original culture of the product in order to capture a larger target market. The process of making chocolate used to be a niche and special thing and rarely resulted in the type of sugar-infused chocolate bars that we love today. There were various unique recipes and methods of production for the cacao beans. In cacao’s historical roots, every part of production was done by hand. Cacao beans were obtained from open cacao pods and were fermented, then dried, then roasted and winnowed, and then finally ground into the “chocolate liquor” paste.

Once this product was created, there were various ways to proceed in the making of the final product. Popular preparations of the time included fresh cacao pulp batidos, cacao and chile balls, and cacao and corn based beverages.

The production of the final cacao product in Mesoamerican tradition is very laborious but feels raw and real. Here, a woman follows traditional practices in making the highly regarded cacao-corn beverage

However, as the world became more interconnected over time, cacao production was adopted and altered primarily by Europeans in the mid to late 1600’s. “Europe is the biggest processor of cacao as well as the largest per-capita consumer of cacao” (Martin & Sampeck 2016, 37). Thus, Europeans altered cacao recipes to better suit their taste and culture. “The industrial chocolate that they produced was higher in sugar and less complex in taste compared to the variety of local chocolate makers” (Martin & Sampeck 2016, 37). So as the primary production center of cacao shifted from Mesoamerica to Europe, variety and quality of the product mattered less to the masses, and cacao’s original tastes were neglected. The driving force for this change in chocolate production was the introduction of chocolate to the world, and the resulting different chocolate consumption.

Cacao consumption was extremely significant in Mesoamerican culture. There weren’t many who were able to consume it every day, especially because of its cultural importance, not just because of its scarcity. “People in Central America and Mexico linked cacao and vital cosmological forces. These associations made cacao the proper offering in rituals related to fertility, health and travel as well as consecrating social unions such as marriage” (Sampeck & Schwartzkopf 2017, 74). Cacao was held in high regard in its original culture and we can confirm this through the analysis of Mesoamerican artifacts. Inscriptions on “monogrammed vases”, such as the one presented, reflect how the Mesoamericans “invested meaning in cacao” through their consumption and production (Martin & Sampeck 39). Analyzing a variety of inscriptions allows us to further understand the presence of cacao and chocolate in one’s life, and we can discern that cacao was pivotal during major social events such as religious practices, marriage rituals and funerals. In marriage ceremonies, cacao beverages were shared between the groom and the bride’s father during a pre-martial discussion. Cacao was dried and dyed red during funeral procession and was believed to ease the soul into the afterlife.

“Princeton Vase”, a Maya cacao-drinking cup depicting a rite of passage during a marriage ceremony – the presentation of a cacao beverage

These cacao beverages were prepared in a very sacred practice in ancient Mesoamerica. The primary ingredients were corn and cacao. In the making and drinking of the beverage, it was crucial that it had a frothy foam on top as it was believed that it “satisfies the soul.”

Depiction of the preparation of the frothy cacao-corn beverage – a tall pour to create bubbles
“Codex Nuttal”, Mixtec funeral scene with funeral procession

On the contrary, once the primary consumption and production of cacao shifted away from Mesoamerica, chocolate lost a little part of its identity. All of the tangible practices of production and consumption of cacao were stolen – the Europeans even crafted their own chocolate consumption drinking vessels – and barely any of the cultural practices that made cacao so special in its original culture were adopted. Instead, Europeans looked to make cacao production the most efficient. They imposed on Africa and coerced African labor for cacao production. And those historical shifts have had lasting impacts today. The ones on the frontline – the farmers – who wether the hot sun and the excruciating physical labor to harvest cacao beans have almost no power in the supply chain of chocolate. According to the “Cocoa Barometer 2018” smallholder cocoa farmers in Cote d’lvoire, already struggling with poverty, have seen their income from cocoa decline by as much as 30-40% from one year to the next”(Fountain & Huetz-Adams 2018, 10), and this is just on example of the perpetuated injustice that grips the chocolate industry. Although Europeans found a way to globalize chocolate for the taste buds of all, the sacrifice of culture and humanity is too monumental.

In conclusion, traditional ways of producing and consuming cacao have been neglected in exchange for the health of an industry that was built upon the tired backs of Africans and South Americans. The significance of cacao in the Pre-Columbian era can be examined in artifacts and documents dating back to the 15th century, and we can learn a lot from them about this faded culture. We can see through these artifacts that their beliefs and culture revolved around these special Theobroma trees, and it is quite fascinating to see how the ancients interacted with cacao.

Works Cited:

“Toledo Ecotourism Association – making a chocolate drink.” Youtube. May 10, 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vC4dq69rqE&feature=youtu.be

Fountain, Antonie, and Friedel Huetz-Adams. “Cocoa Barometer 2018.” VOICE Network. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.voicenetwork.eu/cocoa-barometer/.

Martin, Carla D, and Kathryn E Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, 16 June 2015, socio.hu/uploads/files/2015en_food/chocolate.pdf.

“The Princeton Vase (y1975-17).” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/32221.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica. University of Texas Press, 2017.

Gaddis, Donald. “The Codex Nuttall: Funeral Scene.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/13581236346174560/. IMG.

Chocolate, Religion and Hierarchy: Chocolate’s Religious Symbolism in Pre-Columbian Mayan Culture and its Evolution under Colonialism

The widespread availability of chocolate today hardly hints any relation to hierarchical systems. The mass production of it as a confection and how it readily available for consumption at different quality levels reveals little about its rich history. Long before the European settlement in the Americas, chocolate, or rather the fruit it is borne from, symbolized wealth, and social and religious status in Mesoamerica societies. Here, I will briefly discuss how its hierarchical symbolism with respect to religion evolved in Mayan societies before and during colonialism.

The hierarchical symbolism of chocolate in Mayan culture can be traced through an ethnographical study of Mayan celebratory rituals. In his essay “The Language of Chocolate”, David Stuarts writes about how such ethnographical studies from Central Mexico reveal that chocolate was enjoyed by the elites (Stuart 184). Feasting rites among the elite, in particular, in Mayan Yucatan were heavily documented in chocolate vessels, which describe chocolate’s involvement in extravagant gift-giving formalities in its cacao bean form (Reents-Budet 207). This was viewed as a method for forging sociopolitical alliances among the elite (Reents-Budet 209). In its drink form, cacao was consumed during “ceremonies to seal important social contracts and confirm the legitimacy of dynasties” (Martin et al. 39). Moreover, the use of cacao beverages did not only exist in worldly rituals. Mayan glyphs and art show that the Gods also used cacao beverages to honor guests in divine rituals such as seen in figure 1. Thus, it is apparent that the use of cacao in Mayan rituals reflects how chocolate itself was a symbol of extravagance and hierarchy. 

Figure 1: Mayan God L with Hero Twins, servant behind the God pouring a chocolate beverage.

However, cacao beans and chocolate also possessed religious symbolism that contributed to their hierarchical symbolism. Evidence from Mayan vessels reveal in their hieroglyphs that the Maize God is often embodied as a cacao tree (McNeil 155). Gods in the Mayan tradition are portrayed as trees to show a celestial cycle of death. The roots are in the underworld, the trunk in the middle world and the branches in the heavens. The Maize God is highly regarded in that maize is a staple Mayan crop, thus the association between the Maize God and the cacao tree shows a highly esteemed religious connection and divinity that is possessed by cacao. Beyond representation in religious glyphs, the religious symbolism of cacao can be extended to the notion of “court dwarfs” in Mayan culture. Christian Prager writes that dwarf figurines were placed in Mayan courts to symbolize social power and religious authority (Prager 279). This is rooted in the pre-Mayan Olmec belief that four dwarfs were tasked with propping up heaven. Moreover, dwarfs were seen as companions of the Sun and Maize Gods, thus further solidifying their divine symbolism. Hence, these dwarfs were placed in Mayan courts to further this symbolism. However, it is important to note that these dwarfs would sometimes be sculpted as carrying cacao pods, as seen in figure 2. This further displays that cacao possessed divine value and reflected a type of religious symbolism so that it can be manifested in Mayan society as a hierarchical instrument. 

Figure 2: A Mayan figurine of court dwarf bearing a cacao pod.

This religious symbolism of cacao did not end with colonialism but only transformed under it. The initial European interaction with cacao upon their settlement in Mesoamerica was through the introduction of the cacao bean as a form of currency (Martin et al. 40). However, with the spread of Catholicism by the European settlers in Mayan territory, specifically Mexico, cacao beans soon crossed over into the realm of religiosity. The conversion of indigenous Mexicans led them to create offerings to Jesus. These offerings were often in the form of cacao beans, as was done to indigenous God (Aguilar-Moreno 276). A prominent example is the statue of “Christ of the Cacao” in Mexico City as shown in figure 3. While these offerings were not consumed by Christ, but by the priests of the cathedral, they were converted into wealth, such as in the case of seventeenth century friar in Mexico and Guatemala Thomas Gage (Aguilar-Moreno 276). Here, we see that the symbolism of cacao is multifaceted: it showed a relationship to Jesus and also remained a symbol for wealth. 

Figure 3: Christ of the Cacao: A 16th century colonial Mexican sculpture in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City.

However, does the link between colonial Catholicism and symbolism in cacao extend beyond the borders of the colony? In 1577, Dominican friar in Chiapas did write to the Pope asking for some guidance as to whether chocolate could be appropriately consumed on days when oen is fasting. The Pope never offered a written reply but it is told that he simply laughed with his cardinals. The link to Catholicism in Europe extended beyond this lone interaction, the status of chocolate has long been debated by Catholic scholars in the 1620s and 1630s, with reservations appearing on how to incorporate this seemingly pagan product into the Catholic Church. While here there is a recognition of religious value, it is hard to determine whether or not this religious value was accepted by the Catholic Church in Europe. Nevertheless, the role of chocolate and cacao as a status symbol did cross over into the European continent: it is told that Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were prescribed chocolate by their physician to consume daily during breakfast, seemingly due to chocolate’s energizing benefits. The heavy royal consumption of chocolate and its high regard within the royal court deemed it a luxury item, showing that it did remain a status symbol beyond the Mesoamerican realm. 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that beyond colonialism, Mesoamerican cultures still regarded chocolate highly. Their reverence of cacao beans and their products shifted and adapted to the colonial influences that were introduced into their territory. While it failed to have the same religious symbolism in Europe, chocolate did enter the continent as an item symbolizing social hierarchy. Thus, one can say that the evolution of chocolate as a religious symbol remained within Mesoamerica but its hierarchical symbolism was able to cross the Atlantic into the European continent. 


  1. “Dwarf Figurine.” Wikimedia Commons, Baltimore, MD, 25 Mar. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mayan_-_Dwarf_Figurine_-_Walters_20092036_-_Three_Quarter_Right.jpg.
  2. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72-95.
  3. Anagoria. “ El Señor Del Cacao.” Wikimedia Commons, Mexico City, 22 Dec. 2013, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2013-12-22_El_Señor_del_cacao_anagoria.JPG.
  4. Lacambalam. “Tonsured Maize God and Spotted Hero Twin.” Wikimedia Commons, 25 Sept. 2014, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hero_Twins.JPG.
  5. Manuel, Aguilar-moreno. “The Good and Evil of Chocolate in Colonial Mexico.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 13.
  6. Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37-60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.
  7. Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 8.
  8. Prager, Christian. “Court Dwarfs – The Companions of Rulers and Envoys of the Underworld.” Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest, by Nikolai Grube, Konemann, 2001, pp. 278–279.
  9. Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking Among of the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 10.
  10. Robicsek, Francis. “God L with the Hero Twins.” Wikimedia Commons, Princeton, NJ, 31 Oct. 2009, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.
  11. Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate: References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.”Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 9.

Chocolate & Spice

The production and utilization of cacao continues to be extremely prominent in global economies and cultures. In Mesoamerican history, the use of cacao can be traced to as early as 2000 B.C., where the fruit solely belonged to the elites in ritual. By 400 B.C., cacao seeds began to be transformed into lavish beverages, or “chocolate,” as defined by Mesoamericans. Pre-Columbian regimes “invoked class-based authority” (Martin and Sampeck 2015) of the extractive production of the commodity, and the use of cacao as a chocolate beverage was a delicacy for the noble. However, Mesoamericans utilized the cacao bean itself in a variety of ways. In fact, the refined seed along with the process itself  “defined an experience quite separate from other agricultural, consumable products, largely because Mesoamericans consumed cacao in simultaneously discordant and complementary ways: as a ritual offering, as currency, as a flavouring in foods, and as a beverage” (Martin and Sampeck 2015). Cacao is historically unique because of its versatility as a spiritual symbol, a flavoring, a stimulant, a marriage ritual, and most importantly within the context of Mesoamerican culture, a beverage. As shown in the photo below, this chocolate beverage held great significance as a symbol of virtue and celebration in the Mesoamerican regions, as it is given as a beverage at a wedding ceremony.

Historically, the cacao seed itself is highly social and ritualistically significant, and Mesoamerican practices have even had the power to influence today’s use of chocolate. 

The ways in which cacao was prepared, consumed, and flavored was not consistent amongst the various regions of Mesoamerica. Pre-Columbian inscriptions and recipes depict that “different spices, colorants, and kinds of cacao” (Martin and Sampeck 2015) used in “various stages of ripeness were emblematic of a particular place; taste and place designated each other” (Stuart 1988). The standard mode of cacao and chocolate preparation was established by the nobility of each region. Terroir, or the impact of the natural environment such as “the manner of production and almost ineffable qualities of genetics, climate, soil, and place” (Martin and Sampeck 2015) strongly influenced the variety of cacao use across Mesoamerican regions.

Both “cacao” and “chocolate” are terms that come from Mesoamerican languages, “chocolate” referring to the processed cacao seed in the form of a delicious, highly regarded beverage. However, chocolate was only one of various cacao drinks, so what made Mesoamerican chocolate so unique? Aside from the pre-Columbian nomenclature and the term of “chocolate,” “preparing and consuming cacao beverages were sensory experiences that stood cacao apart from other foods and drinks” (Schwartzkopf and Sampeck 2017)  The Mesoamerican procedure for conditioning the cacao seeds set the region apart from others: “the distinctive tools and preparation of cacao beverages – the molinillo, the steep-sided cup, and the spouted pot – created a highly distinctive sensorial experience of cacao beverages in Mesoamerican foodways” (Martin and Sampeck 2015). In particular, the pouring of the hot cacao liquid from a height, conserving the foam, set the drink apart. The photo below depicts this almost sacred act of pouring the heated chocolate liquid from a height, allowing the foam to naturally rise. This technique was specific to Mesoamerican cacao procedures.

The pre-Columbian, chocolate beverage was so alluring because it satisfied social, political, and sensual needs all at once. Though Mesoamericans regarded the foam as the beverage’s most desirable feature, additional ingredients, flavors, and spices that were added to the chocolate not only enhanced the beverage but also differentiated the chocolate from other foods and drinks.

Hot chocolate beverages were more often enhanced by other flavorings than not, and “pre-Conquest chocolate was not a single concoction to be drunk; it was a vast and complex array of drinks, gruels, porridges, powders, and probably solid substances, to all of which could be added a wide variety of flavorings” (Mintz 1985). Early colonial Mesoamerican recipes show that vanilla and water, among an array of other aromatic flavors, were delicately incorporated into the chocolate recipes. Depicted in the chart below, Mesoamericans were notorious for incorporating a large variety of secondary ingredients into the chocolate for consumption.

Over time, Mesoamerican recipes also show a European influence, with the adoption of sweetening flavors, and vice versa, Europe obtaining Mesoamerica’s strategy in using the chocolate beverage as a caffeinated stimulant. Between the various colors of the cacao pods, the sweeteners, aromatic flavorings, and herbs, Mesoamericans often incorporated other ailments into chocolate.

A common theme among the additional ingredients that Mesoamericans paired with cacao was the theme of flowers. Despite one’s immediate assumptions, flowers in Mesoamerican life do not symbolize “sentimental, cloying sweetness,” but rather “forces of warfare, power, death, and life” (Schwartzkopf and Sampeck 2017). One recipe, in particular, utilizes one of the three flavorings that is known to be highly prized by the Aztecs: hueinacaztli. Hueinacaztli, most importantly “nacaztli” meaning “ear,” or the “ear-shaped petal of the flower” (Mintz 1985). This particular recipe is unique because of its ability to lead to drunkenness, and it’s similarity to beverages that we consume today. Hueinacaztli’s flavor can be described as similar to black pepper, but “other sources compare it variously with nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon” (Mintz 1985). These flavor descriptions of warm and hot spices are similar to flavorings that we pair with chocolate today, such as cinnamon, hazelnut, and other blends.

These recipes are historically significant because they demonstrate that one substance, cacao, was able to be modified in so many different ways, utilized by a diverse group of regions, but still able to represent something used by the elite. Chocolate’s ability to simultaneously be used in so many different ways make the substance so unique and distinct in Mesoamerican history.

Works Cited:

  • Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” The Social Meaning of Food Workshop. The Social Meaning of Food Workshop, 16 June 2015, Budapest, The Institute for Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
  • Stuart, D. (1988) The Rio Azul Cacao Pot: Epigraphic Observations on the Function of a Maya Ceramic Vessel. American Antiquity 62 (1), 153-157. – 
  • “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 72–95.
  • Sampeck, Kathryn E. (2017) “Cacao and Violence: Consequences of Money in Colonial Guatemala” Society for Historical Archaeology 2019. Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State.
  • Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985.

Changes in Chocolate Recipes Through the Lense of Colonization

This blog post will analyze the changes in chocolate recipes through the lense of colonization. The primary text that will be referenced throughout this blog post is Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica by Kathryn E. Sampeck and Jonathan Thayn. Sampeck and Thayn contend that “a key to understanding cacao consumption is to see what people in each region selected to emphasize or edit out.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 85). These ‘edits’ as Sampeck and Thayn termed them to be, “[offer] an opportunity to scrutinize how colonizers came to terms with a strange substance and the degree to which the process of learning and modifying involved transforming native understandings and experience as well.”  (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 72). To aid in their analysis, Sampeck and Thayn utilize “Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling [to] [allow] us to assess in a rigorous manner where and when chocolate tastes might have varied.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 72). The results from the GIS map quantify “how much regional conditions varied geographically and over time.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 72). This blog post will first delve into the background of cacao and colonization, and then go over the changes in recipes from Mesoamerica to Anglo-America and all the way to Europe. I will then summarize Sampeck and Thayn’s take on the colonization of chocolate before offering my own. In accordance with Sampeck and Thanyn, I contend that the colonization of chocolate is significant because it laid the groundwork for future appropriation of ethnic and exotics foods and cultures (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93).

Cacao cultivate first started in Mesoamerica due to the fertile land and climate (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 74). Cacao “is an important ritual offering and has a range of associations (water, fertility, rebirth), most of which appear to have originated in the pre-Columbian era.” (Cameron McNeil 2009: 341). Cacao was both a “comestible, but also a wealth item […] given as tribute, eventually [becoming] a token of currency.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 75). While cacao was cultivated throughout Mesoamerica, the recipes for chocolate differed from region to region; with different additives added for each region’s preferences(Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 77). In terms of the differences within Mesoamerica, the GIS results discovered that:

“Maya and southern Nahua regions are strongly linked to each other in terms of taste. In contrast, the Peruvian branch is really an isolate, a highly distinct branch. This suggests that these are not just slight differences in tastes but sharply divided lines. Latin America in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries had strongly regional taste.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 88)

When colonizers began to explore Mesoamerica, they became familiar with cacao and chocolate beverages (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 79). Said colonizers “embraced chocolate in the Mesoamerican manner and then spent time coming up with alternative ways to think and feel about it.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 79).

The development of said ‘alternative ways’ of concocting chocolate occurred rather slowly according to the GIS results (Marcy Norton quoted in Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 80). Sampeck and Thayn highlight a key finding in the GIS results in which “within a mixed group of America, French, English and Mesoamerican recipes, the Mesoamerican ones sort out as a set of ingredients that Europeans and Anglo-Americans did not copy exactly.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 89). The differences in recipes could be attributed to taste preferences, or could be due to the lack of availability of predominantly Mesoamerican resources (especially in the case of Europeans) (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 89-90). Sampeck and Thayn highlight the geneticist N.I, Vavilov’s finding that “as a cultigen moved from its area of domestication, selectie forces not present in the homeland would make new characteristics favorable.” (N.I. Vavilov quoted in Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 89). If we are to concur Vavilov’s finding, then it would follow that the Europeans and Anglo-Americans by default had to alter chocolate recipes (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 90). Dr. Carla Martin and Sampeck contend in their chapter The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe, that “the earliest European recipes in many sense follow in many sense the Mesoamerican flavor profile, but by using much more familiar and established flavourants acquired through trade or produced in Europe, such as cinnamon, anise, and pepper.” (Carla Martin and Kathyrn Sampeck 2017: 42).

Sampeck and Thayn conclude that “the patterning suggests a chronological shift away from Mesoamerican ingredients, perhaps more gradually from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century as recipes from those periods are not as well differentiated from each other compared to later recipes.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 90). Furthermore, “changes in just what chocolate was at home and abroad show that ‘chocolate’ was a vehicle for defining new relations with the colonial economy, tastes of the body politics, and colors of changing social realms.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 95). Sampeck and Thayn’s findings beg the question: why is the gradual change in chocolate recipes significant?

I concur with the premise of a subset of Sampeck and Thayn’s argument; ingesting chocolate has ‘become so commonplace’ that chocolate has begun to arguably loose “part of the allure […] [it’s] strangeness.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93). Colonizers shifted “centers of cacao production […] from places of indigenous production in Mesoamerica such as the Izalcos to plantations employing coerced or enslaved labor […]” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93). In essence, colonizers took over chocolate (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93). They took something that was a local process and tradition and capitalized it and turned it into a process that is no longer recognizable (recipe-wise and production-wise) (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93). Yes, the process of cultivating cacao and making chocolate is more efficient now than it used to be, but one could argue that chocolate has lost what made it once so special to Mesoamericans (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 93). While Mesoamericans “continue to cultivate or purchase cacao, using it in beverages and foods and in rituals,” the same cannot be said for the Western world (McNeil 2009: 341). This is significant because the colonization of chocolate provides the framework for the future appropriations of ethnic and exotic foods and cultures across the West. As stated by Sampeck and Thayn: “we rob chocolate of its flavor by letting present experiences overdetermine how we understand it in the past.” (Sampeck and Thayn 2007: 95).

Image 1:

The table above is from Carla D. Martin and Kathyrn E. Sampeck’s article “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” The table highlights the recipe ingredients found in colonial European chocolate.
Source: Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. Special Issue 3 (2015): 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

Image 2:

This figure is from Sampeck and Thayn’s chapter “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.”. The figure illustrates the “degrees of similarity and difference among recipes.”
Source: Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction : Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, 72-99. Austin, 2017: University of Texas Press.

Image 3:

This image is from Cameron McNeil’s chapter “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica” in her book Chocolate in Mesoamerica. This image is an example of cacao being used in ceremonies and rituals.
Source: McNeil, Cameron L. “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica.” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 17. University Press of Florida, 2009.


Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction : Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, 72-99. Austin, 2017: University of Texas Press.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. Special Issue 3 (2015): 37-60. doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

McNeil, Cameron L. “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica.” In Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, Chapter 17. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Cacao: Then and Now

The influence of chocolate in Mesoamerica was seen in many aspects of Mesoamerican life prior to the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas: it was present in cultural, religious, and economic areas of life in Mayan communities. In Mayan culture, it is clear that they believed that the “gods provided recipes for making cocoa drinks, which gave those drinks high status and political significance”. 1 It is true that many aspects of Mesoamerican life changed after the arrival of Hernan Cortes and the Spanish in what is modern day Mexico and parts of Central America. The strong influence in Mesoamerican culture was one of the aspects of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that did survive many of the transformations that occurred once the Spanish began to introduce European culture into the way of life of the Mayans. Although chocolate was still a mainstay in Mesoamerican society after the Spanish arrived, there were many aspects of the role of chocolate that did change from the time that chocolate was seen as a sacred item in Mayan society. One clear example is how in “ancient Maya religion cacao was the first food to grow from the body of the maize god.” 2 This shows how cacao was not only used practically in religious rituals, such as during Mayan marriage and baptism rituals 3, but it held a critical role in the sacred texts and stories that served as the foundation of what quotidian Mayan life was like. Similarly, cacao seeds were also seen as important because they were used as currency which you could use to buy food and other items in Mayan society.4 We see traces of the power that had been assigned to chocolate in modern Mesoamerica—which exemplifies the power that the cacao seeds had in Mayan societies since it was able to maintain a role culturally despite the massive cultural changes that were imposed on indigenous people once the colonial period began. The most striking example of how the role of cacao seeds has largely remained unchanged is how it is still used to make chocolate beverages that are still very similar to the recipes that were being used during the colonial period by the indigenous population.5 Although the essence of the chocolate beverage drink has remained the same since the Spanish conquered the Mayan people, there has been a couple of changes to the original chocolate beverage recipe: the indigenous people now use chocolate tablets when they start making the drink instead of starting from scratch with cacao seeds.6 What is most telling of the evolution of this ingredient is the fact that these tablets are usually purchased and they are made in a factory—quite different from the rigorous process of grounding the kernel and beaten with “water, flavorings, and usually maize to make a drink.” 7 Similar to this aforementioned change in chocolate, indigenous people now add sugar to the chocolate beverage recipes—which is different from the classic Maya hot chocolate and a byproduct of the evolution of hot chocolate once there was European influenced involved8, as you can see in the video published by National Geographic (that can be accessed through https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/ ). Yet, if we fast forward to modern day Mesoamerica we do see a more dramatic change in how current-day Mayans use cacao seeds in their culture and in their society. A significant change we can see is that Mayans no longer use cacao seeds as currency as they used to back in Pre-Columbian times since researchers have not been able to find any 20th century ethnographers that have been able to document the use of cacao as money. 9

An explanation for why people may no longer use cacao as currency is because the new generation of indigenous people in Mexico see a tie between chocolate and poverty since it is so laborious to cultivate and not financially sustainable.10 As mentioned in the video below.

Additionally, there are examples of how much more localized the use of cacao has become in modern Mayan societies. Indigenous communities in Guatemala and Honduras have a cacao market where trade is restricted within the “Maya and Ladino communities in which it is produced or between closely associated areas.” This is in contrast to the use of cacao and cacao-based feasts during feasts that were intended to create sociopolitical alliances between different tribes and different Mayan factions.11 All in all, the connection between cacao and Mayan culture has evolved and/or disappeared, but there are also many characteristics of Mayan culture that have remained the same throughout the years and throughout all of the political and cultural changes that started happening during the Colonia Period. However, it is certain that ever since 1900 BCE12 —the earliest record of cacao seeds, cacao has been a critical part of Mesoamerican culture that has transformed and evolved from the chocolate beverages that the Mayans prepared in Pre-Columbian times to the chocolate bars that indigenous people now use to help emulate the chocolate drinks that their ancestors drank. This is eloquently explained in the video below by Ted-ed.

1 Kristy Leissle, Cocoa (Cambridge: Polity, 2018), 21
2 Cameron L. McNeil, “Introduction,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 14.
3 Ibid, 18.
4 Mary Ann Mahony, review of Chocolate in Mesoamerica, by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009. Review page 175
5 Cameron L. McNeil, “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 346.
6 Ibid, 348.
7 Terrence Kaufman and Justeson, “The History of the Word for ‘Cacao’ and Related Terms in Ancient Meso-America,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 117.
8 Gulnaz Khan, “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making,” National Geographic, September 11, 2017, Accessed March 14, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/.
9 Cameron L. McNeil, “Traditional Cacao Use in Modern Mesoamerica,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 356.
10 The Perennial Plate, “An Act of Resistance,” Filmed [February 2014], Vimeo video, 04:03. Posted [February 2014], https://vimeo.com/85727477.
11 Dorie Reents-Budet, “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica, ed. Cameron L. McNeil. (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009), 209.
12 Ted-ed, “The history of chocolate,” Filmed [March 2017], YouTube video, 04:40. Posted [March 2017], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibjUpk9Iagk.

Dear Silicon Valley: Chocolate Entrepreneurs Wanted

When most people think of the word “entrepreneur”, they usually think of a person who works in the startup/ technology space, but entrepreneurs are best characterized by their willingness to disrupt established industries with innovations. Most theoretical economic reasoning would assume that the market for chocolate is an established and outdated market that cannot be disrupted by new ventures, but by examining the history of modern chocolate two things become clear: 1) the industrial revolution lead to a oligopoly in the Chocolate Market and 2) lucrative opportunities are currently present that would help bring chocolate back to its original roots.

Chocolate, in one of the oldest candy products known to the human race, with its origins dating beyond 1,000 BC (Coe 35), but the rise of modern chocolate has created a product that greatly differs from how our ancestors of the human race viewed Cacao. Along with the obvious differences between a processed candy and an organic food, one thing that most people do not realize is that “during nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe 12). Even once European explorers “discovered” chocolate, it was still enjoyed as a drink throughout Europe. “The sixteenth-century Spanish conquest of Central America diffused chocolate around the world, as a hot, sweet, and mildly addictive stimulating beverage” (Clarence-Smith 6.1). Unlike most beverages, the chocolate beverage is unique insofar that “no product has ever been discovered to match the subtle taste of cocoa powder” (Clarence-Smith 6.3). Originally, the costly measures of producing the chocolate beverage were so high that it was not a drink that was enjoyed by the masses, but rather it was a drink enjoyed by the social elites. In Europe, the consumption of chocolate would take place publicly and privately by the wealthy, but in North America, the drink was less prevalent in the public. Even though chocolate was not available outside the home “despite the rarity of places of public consumption in British North America, drinking chocolate was available and was consumed by the well-to-do” (Clarence-Smith 6.9). This long history of chocolate as beverage and its scarce availability quickly changed with one man: Milton Hershey.

Milton Hershey was the first person to successfully produce candy by using technology from the industrial revolution. “The industrial revolution… changed chocolate from a costly drink to a cheap food” (Coe 232). Hershey’s success had two major implications. First, his mass production of chocolate candy allowed for chocolate to have a lower price. At this lower price, the average person was able to experience chocolate for the first time. Secondly, by being the first kind of mass produced chocolate, Hershey set a standard for the market of chocolate.

The major issue with Hershey’s industrialization of chocolate is that it created a new form of chocolate that dramatically shifted Cacao away from its original roots. The graph below depicts the complicated process in the making of chocolate.


This complicated graph shows how far chocolate went from its origins. Chocolate was produced in this multi-step process because the industrial revolution technology could not produce a more simple method, but with our current technology, it could be possible to more easily mass produce a chocolate beverage that is closer to Cacao.


The tale of oligopoly is best seen from the makings of Mars company. Forrest Mars met his father, Frank Mars, in the summer of 1924 while selling cigarettes in Chicago. At the time, Frank was making $60,000 per year, which is the equivalent to $837,336 in today’s dollars (Brenner 54). Frank used his large income to start mass producing chocolate candy, which his son helped market across the country. If Frank did not have such a large income, it would have been impossible for him to invest in creating a chocolate candy bar. Since such large amounts of money were needed to buy the technology used in the industrial revolution, only a small number of firms were able to seize the opportunity to mass produce chocolate. The dramatic amounts of money made it nearly impossible for anybody else to enter this market. “The Hershey Food Corporation…. and… its arch-rival the M&M Mars Company, controls about 70 percent of the American candy market” (Coe 253). The result of the oligopoly in the Chocolate Market, produced as a consequence of the industrial revolution, is that a few firms enjoy control of the market and have produced chocolate candy instead of chocolate beverages.  The graph below depicts the global market for candy, and it is clear that a small number of firms, dubbed “the big 5”, control a majority of market share. Since technology has advanced and Venture Capital is now available to entrepreneurs, a new company that brought back the chocolate beverage could be commercially successful by penetrating the oligopoly and this could be achieved at a relatively low cost.



Entrepreneurs should now enter the market for chocolate with a new manufacturing process that is now possible since there have been increases in technological knowledge. By disrupting the chocolate market, entrepreneurs could be successful in producing an organic chocolate beverage that is closer to Cacao, altering the real cost of chocolate so that farmers receive a larger portion of sales, and challenge the oligopoly in the market for chocolate.




Works Cited

Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. New York: Broadway, 2000. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Swinnen, Johan F.M., Mara P. Squicciarini, and William G. Clarence–Smith. The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.


The Real Cost of a Chocolate Bar and Pie Graph comes from a slide show in the African Americans Studies Class 119x at Harvard College.


The Chocolate for the Masses image comes from the Coe book.



The Evolution of Drinking Chocolate

In modern times, hot chocolate is enjoyed by people around the world.  The most familiar types found in the grocery store are made up of a pre-sweetened powder that comes in a small package and may or may not contain 15% cocoa depending on the type of drink.  Other types of drinking chocolate, such as Abuelita, come in pressed chocolate bars that are then dissolved in milk.  Today, hot cocoa is available to people of every social and economic class.  However, historically chocolate drinks were made in a very different manner, and they were most often only available to the elites.


The cultivation of cacao began as early as 1900 BC with the Olmec civilization (Presilla, 2001, p.10), but the oldest known cacao recipes come from the Maya and the Aztec civilizations.  For the Maya civilization, cacao was available to people of every social and economic class, although little evidence remains of the drinking vessels used by the less affluent members of society (Presilla, 2001, p. 12)  As cacao is difficult to grow, it is likely that the more affluent members of society had easier access to drinking cacao due to its rarity.  Maya drinking chocolate was often made from water that contained the starch of lime-treated corn mixed with the cacao beans that had been ground into a paste.  Mayan cacao was also flavored with ear flower, vanilla, honey, allspice, and chiles (Presilla, 2001, p. 13, 14).  Frothy chocolate was favored by the Maya, and it would later also be favored by the Aztecs and the Spaniards.

Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs limited cacao consumption to the elites and the warrior class.  Aztec cacao drinks were available (to the members of these social classes) in the market, and the makers of these drinks were considered true artisans, as:

“She who sells remade cacao for drinking first grinds it in this fashion:  At the first [grinding] she breaks or crushes the beans; at the second they are slightly more ground; at the third and last they are very well ground, being mixed with boiled and rinsed corn kernels; and being thus ground and mixed, they add water [to the mixture] in any sort of vessel [vaso].  If they add little [water] they have beautiful cacao; if they add a lot, it will not produce froth.” (Saghagun, Historia General)

Frothy cacao was considered to be the very best of the Aztec cacao drinks, and all other cacao drinks were considered inferior (Presilla, 2001, p.19-20).  Today, cacao is drunk throughout the day or as a nightcap, but the Aztec elites drank their cacao at the end of meals (Coe, 2013, Kindle location 1330).  The Aztecs, much like the Maya, used locally available ingredients to flavor their cacao.  These ingredients included honey, ear flower, vanilla, string flower, magnolia, piper sanctum ( pepper flower), heart flower, chiles, and allspice.  According to Coe in The True History of Chocolate, Aztec cacao was made with roasted ground cacao beans and sopata seeds that were mixed with ground corn and spices (Coe, 2013, Kindle location 1314).

Aztec Woman

The Spanish assimilated their own flavors when they brought chocolate over from Mesoamerica, including: cinnamon, sugar, and black pepper (Coe, 2013, Kindle Location 1599).  The Spanish also began mixing cacao with cow’s milk.  In order to grind the beans, a heated metate was used, and the precious and sought after froth was obtained using a molinillo stirring stick (Coe, 2013, Kindle Location 1599-1614).

While the historical flavors of drinking chocolate remain, cacao has become a much sweeter drink in modern times, and flavorings have continuously expanded.  With the current trend towards a diet low in refined sugars, I wonder if the Maya and Aztec way of drinking unsweetened cacao might make a comeback.


Coe, Sophie D.; Coe, Michael D. (2013-06-28). The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition. 

Presilla, Maricel. (2001).  The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press.

Image 1:  Swiss Miss Cocoa Collection, from the Swiss Miss website

Image 2:  Abuelita Cocoa, from the Abuelita website

Image 3:  Maya cocoa frothing, from the course slides

Our Dual Relationship with Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate today occupies a distinct place in our culture. Children (and adults) drink it with marshmallows on snow days, families sip it around the fireplace during the Holiday season, and gourmet chocolatiers serve it year-round in various forms. In a lot of ways, however, the Swiss Miss “Rich Chocolate Cocoa Mix” is far removed from the origins of the drink, even though some companies work hard to forge an image of selling “authentic” hot chocolate.

Chocolate beverages as a whole have their own rich history from the Mesoamerican time period, starting as a godly drink which was made by combining crushed chocolate beans with corn kernels and adding water. The mixture was then frothed by pouring it from one container to another, leading to a type of “cacaoatl” or “cacao water” (Presilla 19-20).

What we think of as hot chocolate today, however, is closest to the Colombian preparation of the drink. A 19th century newspaper article written by Jose Maria Vergara y Vergara called “Las Tres Tazas” or The Three Cups, decries the hot chocolate of the time, outlinining the process by which “true” hot chocolate was made in early Colombia. The cacao (from the Colombian Andes) was grinded and moistened with wine. Spices, such as cinnamon were then added and the chocolate bar was left, wrapped in paper in cedar chest for eight years. The hot chocolate was then made by boiling water, adding the chocolate bar to the water, and reboiling the mixture (Presilla 20).

The Spaniards transformed this beverage by adding sugar to it, a habit which spread throughout Europe and became particularly popular in late 18th and early 19th century England (Mintz 108). The combination of chocolate and sugar has continued from that time into the present, and while today we often embrace our sweet hot chocolate, there is an interesting duality to this relationship. On one hand, companies like Swiss Miss, market their products as fun and family-oriented, focusing on the beverage being sweet and simple, made even sweeter by adding marshmallows. This (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP-UUrWm-3M) Swiss Miss commercial from 1977 shows this – highlighting that instant cocoa is easy to make and fun to drink.

On the other hand, however, there is a serious effort made by some companies to highlight their connection to Colombia, as if serving chocolate that originates in Colombia today will bring customers closer to the hot chocolate of early Colombian times. Hasslacher’s, a UK company which makes “solid bar Colombian drinking chocolate” is an example of this. On their website (http://www.hasslachers.co.uk/) they emphasize that their product is 100 percent Colombian, made “where the finest native South American Criollo and Trinitario beans are grown”. Their website has pictures of cocoa beans and the Colombian landscape, and their product is packaged to look “vintage” as opposed to modern.

Interestingly, Colombian hot chocolate exists today in its own form, where chocolate is broken in pieces and melted in a “chocolatera,” an aluminum pitcher, and then beaten with a molinillo or bolinollo (wooden beater). Milk, water, or coconut milk is then added and the beverage is served with white cheese (full recipe here: http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/chocolate-caliente-con-agua-hot-chocolate-with-water). This, of course, is also quite different from the hot chocolate that Vergara writes about.

The dual relationship with hot chocolate that we have today is particularly interesting because it highlights the two various places that chocolate as a whole occupies in our culture. It is both a fun, childhood treat, reminding adults of memories of dinking a cup of hot chocolate with their friends or buying a Hershey’s bar. But as much as we have moved away from early preparations of hot chocolate (Hasslacher’s may use Colombian chocolate but they definitely don’t store their chocolate bars in a cedar chest for eight years), companies continue to tap into the widespread, Western obsession, with “authentic” of the former Euroean colonies. This obsession with native products mostly focuses on the image of the item, leading companies like Hasslacher’s to distinctly package their chocolate bars, which are, in reality far removed from the authentic Colombian hot chocolate they are trying to imitate.


“Chocolate Caliente Con Agua (Hot Chocolate with Water).” My Colombian Recipes. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“Hasslacher’s Colombian Chocolate.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.

“Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa 1977 TV Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.