Tag Archives: molinillo

From Earthy to Elegant: The Evolution of the Chocolate Pot


Chocolate drinks created from cacao beans date back to the Mesoamericans many centuries ago. In fact, researchers have identified an instance where cacao residue was found on a pottery shard at the archeological site of the  Paso de la Amada village occupied by the Mokaya people dating to 1900 to 1500 BC (Presilla 10). Serving vessels used for the precious chocolate elixir created from cacao have varied over time. As the various ingredients for labor intensive chocolate beverages have evolved, so have the vessels that were blessed with the liquid.

Ancient Barra ceramics- oldest know chocolate vessels (dated to 1900-1500 BC) (Coe and Coe 89)

The early chocolate vessels of the Mesoamerican culture were crafted of ceramics and adorned with colorful designs and hieroglyphics. Specific hieroglyphics offered a hint of Mayan life depicting images that represented parts of their culture. Through scientific analysis, chemist W. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Company determined that both theobromine and caffeine were detected in a jar discovered in a Rio Azul tomb in Guatemala, evidence that cacao had been contained in the vessel (Presilla 9). Cacao is the only Mesoamerican plant that contains both theobromine and caffeine (Coe and Coe 36). In the image below, the hieroglyphic for cacao is labeled on the exterior of the jar, another telltale sign that it contained chocolate at one time (Martin). The clever locking lid on the burial object was an industrious way to keep the sacred chocolate beverage safe and secure. Not only was the vessel sturdy and functional, it also boasts a lovely shape where the lid can be likened to a halo or crown, perhaps worthy of an important person or ruler buried in the tomb.


Chocolate jar with locked-lid found in a Rio Azul tomb, dated to ca. 500 A.D.

Fast forward to 1125 AD and the shape of the vessels appeared to have changed. As pictured in the image below, the jars were taller and cylindrical in nature. Black and white jars attributed to that era found in the New Mexican Pueblo Bonito offer evidence of the influence of the Mesoamericans and their trade between the Toltec merchants (Coe and Coe 55). Archeologist Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico sought confirmation from W. Jeffrey Hurst that sherds from the cylindrical jars from New Mexican Pueblo Bonito trash mound contained elements of cacao (Coe and Coe 55). Hurst confirmed that the sherds (dating between 1000 and 1125 AD) tested positive for theobromine, sufficient confirmation that the Anasazi elite, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians drank chocolate from these vessels (Coe and Coe 55).



Cylindrical jar from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.

Credit: James Garber

As the Spanish invaded Mesoamerica, their influence on the native culture was undeniable and the ritual of chocolate drinking was no exception. In the pre-Conquest days, Mesoamericans raised foam on a chocolate beverage by the simple task of pouring the chocolate beverage from one vessel to another (Coe and Coe 85). In the early 16th century the molinillo, a wooden stick, was used to twirl the liquid to form a foam on the top, a method still used today in some preparations in Mexico and Latin America. However, in the post-Conquest era, vessels that held chocolate beverages changed and spanned a broad range of designs that were both functional and fashionable.

Chocolate was introduced to the United Kingdom  during the third quarter of the 17th century (Mintz 108). At that time, craftsman designed chocolate pots that were appropriate for both the liquid and the elite drinkers.  In addition to ceramic or porcelain, chocolate pots evolved to include pewter, silver and even gold.

18th Century silver British chocolatière

The image above  represents a pot with an adjustable finial that can be removed to allow the insertion of a stirring rod, the British version of a molinillo.  This shiny design is representative of a delicate serving pot that nods to the refined practice of serving chocolate to the British elite.

In contrast to the British pot, the image below represents a design created by Edward Winslow, an 18th century American silversmith from Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike the delicate three legged British pot, Winslow’s handsome pot is constructed with a solid base, perhaps indicative of the sturdiness required of early colonists in the new world.

Chocolate Pot

Early 18th century silver chocolate pot 

If we compare the image of the Barra ceramics in the first image and the last photo of the Winslow chocolate pot, it is hard to believe they were used for the same purpose. The striking difference of the rich warm colors of the rounded ceramic vessels versus the hard cold metal of the 18th century pots are quite opposite and distinct.

Just as the chocolate vessels have evolved over time so has the desire or lack thereof for chocolate beverages. Regardless of the type of chocolate pot, the prominence of drinking chocolate in North America and Europe began to wane at the beginning of the 20th century when solid chocolate first appeared. Chocolate aficionados  seem to prefer the quick fix of a chocolate bar that can satiate chocolate desire without spending time on the ritual and lengthy preparation of a chocolate beverage and need for chocolate pots.

                 Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and power : the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Mcgovern, Pat. “RioAzul Chocolate-Pot.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/patmcgovern/4113214840/in/photolist-7gtitf&gt;.

Parry, Wynne. “Sweet Trading: Chocolate May Have Linked Prehistoric Civilizations.” LiveScience. Purch, 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.livescience.com/13533-prehistoric-chocolate-trade-cacao-chaco-canyon-puebloans.html&gt;.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate : a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley Calif: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“Chocolate Pot | Edward Winslow | 33.120.221 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/33.120.221/&gt;.

Digital image. Chocolate Pot. Wikimedia Commons, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph-Th%C3%A9odore_Van_Cauwenbergh_-_Chocolate_Pot_-_Walters_571802.jpg








Not Quite European Enough: A look at the molinillo and its exclusion from hybridization

The hybridization of chocolate in Europe was important in defining and distinguishing Old World chocolate from New World chocolate. New ingredients, such a sugar and cinnamon, along with new containers for chocolate are the foundation of this hybridization era. However, while these new ingredients and containers define hybridization, the molinillo, a type of wooden whisk introduced by Spanish colonists to froth chocolate, pictured below, is generally left out of this definition.

A traditional molinillo.

More so than simply being left out by historians, the molinillo is often incorrectly attributed to being part of the ancient Aztec or Maya process for preparing chocolate. While the molinillo fits a basic definition of hybridization as being a) related to chocolate and b) introduced by Europeans, the molinillo was likely rejected from the European idea of hybridization because it was heavily adopted not only in Europe but also in the New World. If this is the case, then the more formal definition of hybridization is a) relating to chocolate, b) introduced by Europeans, and c) exclusively used by Europeans.

Before the molinillo was introduced, the Aztec and Maya made chocolate by pouring the liquid from one vessel to another. Colonial dictionaries regarding the Mayan languages have words like yom cacao, meaning “chocolate foam”, or t’oh haa, meaning “to pour chocolate water from one vessel into another from a height” (Coe and Coe 48). Generally, the greater the height between the two vessels, the easier it was to raise the froth. The Aztec and Maya both believed that the froth was the most desirable part of the drink and put much effort into raising this froth. These ancient chocolate drinkers did have stirrers or spoons to help with chocolate production, but there is no mention of a tool with such a specific purpose as the molinillo (Coe and Coe 85). While the molinillo would have certainly been useful for the Aztec and Maya, it did not exist in pre-Conquest Mesoamerica.

It is unclear when exactly Spanish colonists introduced the molinillo. The idea that the molinillo was introduced during the 16th century stems from careful deductive reasoning. As explored, there is no indication that the molinillo existed during the time of Aztec or Maya. Similarly, no word for molinillo appears in the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary which was published in 1571; however, a report published in 1780 by Jesuit Francesco Saver Clavier on native Mexican life and history heavily cites the molinillo as a tool for chocolate production (Coe and Coe 85). In this same extensive report, there is no mention of the Aztec and Maya technique of pouring chocolate from one vessel to another. This suggests that sometime between 1571 and 1780, the molinillo was introduced and quickly replaced the traditional Aztec and Maya process for producing the chocolate froth. Given that this timing lines up well with the end of the Spanish Conquest, it is inferred, and widely accepted, that Spanish colonists introduced the molinillo in the 16th century.

Besides inventing the molinillo, Europeans created new containers for making and serving chocolate. As Europeans discovered, covering the pot of chocolate with a lid while using the molinillo could produce even more froth. This new invention required a hole in the middle of the lid for the essential molinillo (Coe and Coe 158). These new lids were generally made out of wood, but it later became customary to use a more elegant pot for table service with nobility (Presilla 32).  The introduction of the chocolatiére in France, shown below, was often made out of gold or silver and was able to hold the handle of the wooden molinillo (Coe and Coe 158). Unlike the molinillo, these pots are regarded as a part of hybridization, likely because they remained in Europe and were not heavily used in the New World.


Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 4.10.28 PM
French chocolatiére, note the hole at the top for the molinillo.

Besides introducing the molinillo and creating containers, Europeans experimented with adding new ingredients. The most important of these new ingredients, sugar, was added to counteract the bitter taste of chocolate (Mintz 109). Making the chocolate sweet was thought to make chocolate more appealing to new consumers and contributed to chocolate’s quick rise to popularity in Europe (Mintz 109). Similarly, Europeans began to drink their chocolate hot, rather than cold like the Aztec. This was not new however, as the Maya, before the Aztec, had also taken their chocolate hot (Coe and Coe 115). Lastly, Europeans added spices not found in the New World, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. This was not out of pure ingenuity, but rather because New World spices like chili pepper and “ear flower” were not readily accessible in Europe (Coe and Coe 115). In this sense, really the only new innovations Europeans provided were the addition of sugar and the molinillo. Everything else the Europeans introduced, like cinnamon and elegant chocolate containers, were variations on previous New World practices. Regardless of this, all the new ingredients and drinking vessels were included in the concept of hybridization while the molinillo was not.

Along with being left out of hybridization, the molinillo was actively disassociated from being a European invention. Often, the Aztec are shown as using the molinillo, which, as discussed, is false. For example, in the scene below from John Ogilby’s America, which displays the Aztec making chocolate, the man second to the right is shown using a molinillo (Coe and Coe 113).

Aztec men making chocolate, note the man second to the right is using a molinillo.

Similarly, in a drawing from Dufour’s 1685 treatise on coffee, tea, and chocolate, shown below, an Aztec man drinking chocolate mistakenly has a molinillo on the ground below him (Coe and Coe 165). These inaccuracies were likely not intentional and, instead, highlight the European assumption that because the molinillo was also used in the New World it was neither new nor European and, therefore, must have predated European contact with the New World.

Aztec man drinking chocolate, note the molinillo on the ground.

Europeans had no issue with taking New World chocolate back to Europe to be improved, but were unable to accept the idea that European inventions and practices, like the molinillo, could or would also be utilized in the New World. Instead of considering the molinillo as part of the European hybridization of chocolate, like cinnamon, sugar, and the chocolatiére, the molinillo was incorrectly casted as a pre-Conquest tool incorporated into European innovation. The contrast between the treatment by early historians towards the molinillo and towards other European chocolate technologies signals that hybridization is not simply defined as a chocolate related tool or innovation by Europeans. Instead, hybridization is outlined as a chocolate related tool or innovation made and used exclusively by Europeans.


Multimedia Sources






Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson. 157.


Aztec men making chocolate:



Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Aztec men:



Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

On the Preparation of Champurrado: The Cultural Relevance of the Molinillo

Through the history of chocolate, there have been many artifacts that have been relevant to the cultivation, harvest, processing, and consumption of cacao, but one of them stands as particularly interesting due to its complexity and specificity: the molinillo. The molinillo is a wooden kitchen utensil used extensively in Mexico and other areas or Latin America, particularly Colombia, as well as in the Philippines. It is formed by a long narrow stick with a thick head on one end, and by several rings that are placed around the main stick and fall next to the head. It is used by placing it between one’s hands and rotating it back and forth, making a rotational motion in the utensil that creates froth in hot chocolate or champurrado drinks. Some molinillos, as the ones shown below, are beautifully ornamented, with colors and carvings that are characteristic of Mexican culture, as well as additional loose parts that help in the frothing of the beverage (Bowman).

This is a particularly relevant tool in the history of chocolate because it represents Mexican culture to an extent that other utensils fail to achieve. Before the Spanish arrival to the Americas, cacao was consumed by the Mayans and Aztecs in cold drinks that were unsweetened. Instead of using sugar and cinnamon, the indigenous peoples of the Americas prepared cacao beverages and mixed them with chiles, corn, and vanilla. These drinks were of great importance to the people of these civilizations, but when the Spaniards brought cacao and some of its derivates back to Europe, they got rid of the spices and added milk and sweeteners instead. Suddenly, cacao drinks went from spicy and cold to hot and sweet, and they occupied a privileged place in the tables and kitchens of the European high classes (Mintz).

Mexican hot chocolate disk used to prepare champurrado.

Just like the current Mexican civilization is the product of mestizaje, due to the interaction between Spanish colonizers and indigenous people who already inhabited the lands, the beverage of champurrado represents the adaptation of ancient Mayan and Aztec cacao techniques to the costumes of the European colonizers, who modified them into a sweeter type of beverage that was meant to be consumed hot. This type of beverage was assimilated into Mexican society to the extent of creating a different recipe
champurrado—and the tool that went along with it to assist in its preparation: the molinillo. Although the invention of this utensil is attributed to the Spaniards around the year 1700, it happened on what is currently considered Mexican lands, and it was mostly used by the novohispanos.

Molinillo on top of Mexican hot chocolate disk.

Its integration to common Mexican culture is such that there are even nursery rhymes that describe the preparation of champurrado with a molinillo, such as “Bate, bate, chocolate,” which is commonly sang by older members of the family to toddlers and young kids in order to celebrate the act of drinking a beverage made with chocolate, and thus cacao (TSL; Fain). During the chorus of the rhyme, children rub their palms together and pretend to be preparing champurrado. This situation makes one reminisce of the original meaning of the Mayan word chokola’j, which literally translates to the verb “to drink chocolate together.” The social component of cacao beverages is enhanced by the specificity of the tools utilized in their preparation, and the particular processes that go into it, such as the turning of a molinillo in a pot to create the characteristic froth of champurrado. A kitchen utensil turned into a nursery rhyme provides the tool with a whole different social dimension of cultural integration and identification, as well as socialization and preservation of traditions.

Preparation of champurrado using a molinillo.


Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).” Gourmet Sleuth. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

“El Día De Los Niños/El Día De Los Libros.” Texas State Library and Archives Commission. N.p., 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.” Homesick Texan. N.p., 26 Dec. 2006. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

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

“Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Multimedia Essay 1: Chocolate Aeration

After eventually being convinced of the many wonderful properties of chocolate, the Spanish quickly set to work adapting chocolate consumption and manufacture to better fit their own cultural traditions.  One novel introduction they made in chocolate aeration was the molinillo, pictured below.


The molinillo is particularly significant for three reasons: its early design and etymology, its continued use, and its intricate appearance.  But before delving into those reasons, it is first necessary to know a bit about chocolate’s history.

As all chocolate comes from the cacao pods on a cacao tree, it is best to start there. The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is believed to have originated in the Amazon River Basin (Martin 3).  It gradually made its way to Mesoamerica, eventually becoming revered by cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs.  These three cultures developed their own techniques for making “chocolate”, which in those days typically meant a frothy liquid drink made from cacao beans.  To aerate the drink and produce the frothy texture that was so desirable, some cultures like the Maya poured the drink from one vessel to another.  Evidence for this technique is present in pictorial form, such as in the Princeton Vase pictured below.  The Princeton Vase is a Maya artifact and according to Michael Coe, “may well be the finest example of Maya pictorial ceramics yet known” (Coe 91).


This process of aeration viewed on the Princeton Vase allowed air bubbles to be trapped between the liquid components of the drink and thus produce a lighter and airier drink.  Though the Princeton Vase depicts the Maya performing this technique, additional evidence suggests that the Azetcs did something similar, if not identical.  While very effective, this technique did not seem appeal to the Spaniards when they arrived.  To remedy this, they developed the “molinillo”, essentially a chocolate beater.

The molinillo quickly became wildly popular among Spaniards both in Mesoamerica and in Spain.  According to Marcy Norton, a professor of history at George Washington university, the “molinillo (chocolate-frother) used to produce the foam became standard in representations of chocolate in seventeenth-century Spain” (Norton 683). As Hernán Cortés firmly established a Spanish presence in the early 1500s, it is clear that the molinillo was rapidly adopted by the Spanish as it was in widespread use about 100 years later.

However, while it is evident that the molinillo itself spread so quickly, the reasoning behind the use of the word “molinillo”, which in Spanish means “little molino” or “little mill”, to describe this artifact is not so clear. From the verb “moler”, meaning “to grind” in Spanish, it is possible that the “molinillo” was chosen as a reference to the fact that cacao beans were ground in an early step of the chocolate-making process.  In use, the molinillo does not actually grind anything.  Instead, it beats and aerates the chocolate mixture.  Another possibility is that “molinillo” was a Spanish word adapted to the creation of this artifact.  There is some evidence that “molinillo” was used in Spain as early as 1219, well before Spanish invasion of present-day Mexico.  Additionally, there are other related Spanish words such as “molinia”, which means to “wiggle or boil something” (Alatorre 24).  These similar words indicate that “molinillo” has Spanish origins.  Regardless, the word “molinillo” itself ties the two cultures together as firmly as the artifact does because it is a Spanish word used to describe the thoroughly Mesoamerican idea of frothing chocolate.

Second, molinillos are still in use today.  Growing up in San Diego, I often ventured into Mexico, where molinillos were commonly for sale.  Additionally, I had many friends whose parents were born in Mexico and who still ate traditional Mexican cuisine.  It was always a treat for me to visit one of their houses and watch as the molinillo was rolled back and forth to create champurrado or some other adaptation of Mexican chocolate.  The continued use of molinillos further proves their significance as they are still valued by many families.

A quick aside on how to use a molinillo today: The round end of the molinillo is placed in the chocolate concoction while the long slender cylindrical end of the molinillo is held between ones hands.  The slender end is twisted between ones fingers so that the entire molinillo spins.  The motion made by the hands is similar to that made when trying to warm one’s hands up.  The video below shows a molinillo used to make modern day “Mexican chocolate”.

Finally, the molinillo is more than just a tool to aerate chocolate.  It is an artistically expressive artifact that is valued by its owners.  The process of making a single molinillo is quite lengthy and requires a great deal of skill.  Below is a very long video of the process by which a molinillo is made today.  Just watch a few minutes!

From the video, we see that there are many decorative elements on a finished molinillo.  Though not strictly necessary for aeration, they add beauty and weight to the tool.  The finished product is almost revered by the owners because it transcends a simple tool.  The molinillo’s decoration and the fine craftsmanship needed to produce it elevate it beyond that.  All the families that I’ve encountered only own one molinillo each and in every case it holds a special place in the kitchen.  Perhaps this is because the molinillo is a reminder of Mexico, the birth country of many of these families.  If that is the case, then it could be argued that the molinillo has come to be a symbol of Mexican culture, which itself is a blend of Spanish and Mesoamerican traditions.

It is clear that the molinillo has great historical significance.  Its early use as a Spanish adaptation of the Mesoamerican aeration technique, its continued importance to Mexican families, and its artistic value all indicate that the molinillo is more than just an artifact – it is a culturally important, functional piece of art.

Multimedia Sources

Figure 1 – http://www.deandeluca.com/ProductImg/500/109104/cooks-tools-main/cooks-tools/utensils/mexican-molinillo.jpg

Figure 2. – Kerr, Justin. Rollout View of Princeton Vase. Digital image. Princeton Art Museum, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Video 1 – Readandeat’s Channel. “Mexican Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Dec. 2007. Web.

20 Feb. 2015.

Video 2 – Rodriguez, Fernando. “EL ARTE DE HACER MOLINILLOS.” YouTube. YouTube,

10 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Works Cited

Alatorre, Antonio. “Sobre Americanismos En General Y Mexicanismos En Especial.” Nueva Revista De Filología Hispánica T. 49.1 (2001): 1-51. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Coe, Michael D. The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: Grolier Club, 1973. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 3 – Mesoamerica and the “food of the Gods”” AAAS119x Class. Emerson Hall, Cambridge. 4 Feb. 2015. Lecture.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.

How the Molinillo Historically Changed Chocolate Drinks, Leading to a Modern Revolution in Perfecting Drink Making

DSCF0615_sm       img39

 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!


Works Cited:

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/&gt;.

“Chris Coffee – How to Steam Milk for Cappuccinos and Lattes.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q2xH1i3ByU&gt;

Chocolately Junctions Between the Old and New World

Chocolate has a rich history spanning the cultures of civilizations belonging to both the Old and New World. One would expect nothing less from the divine cacao plant Theobroma cacao, roughly translated as “food of the gods.” The attractive properties were widely recognized globally as the food of the gods’ popularity in Europe was translated from the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations thousands of miles away (Coe & Coe 110, Presilla 25 ). This was not a fluke. There is a distinct reason behind the rise of Chocolate’s popularity and its significance in history.

Today, chocolate has become one of the most consumed foods in the world. Whether you’re shopping at the mall and pass a Godiva store or buying a box of Crunch at the movie theater, you can clearly see that chocolate has becomes ubiquitous in many countries. In many countries, individuals consume an average of around 10 kilograms Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 1.51.03 PMevery year.  The uses of cacao, however, go farther than just the chocolate you see at the grocery counter. Cacao products have a gamut of uses that range from the cacao nibs, which can be used in cooking or eaten like nuts, to the cocoa butter, which is the waxy and fatty substance extracted from chocolate liquor used medicinally as a skincare product.

How did chocolate become like this? What led to this high level of popularity? Could it be simply the mass marketing and advertising that surrounds chocolate as a commodity? Or is there something deeper? Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” History proves that if chocolate were a person, he or she would have belonged to the first group, the group born with greatness.

Like many great things usually, Chocolate is shrouded in myths and long painted stories. One of the most widely misunderstood stories associated with the chocolate-dipped junction between the New and Old World is Christopher Columbus’ discovery of chocolate. In fact, when Christopher Columbus first encountered cacao he mistakenly took the plant for almonds. Coe and Coe draw from Columbus’ account of the New World’s obsession with “roots and grains,” specifically the “almonds which in New Spain are used for money” (Coe & Coe 109). Columbus stated that the people of the New World held “hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, [he] observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe & Coe 109).

This aura that surrounded cacao and chocolate and made it truly special translated between the New and Old Worlds. With the advent of chocolate, White_s-Chocolate-_2764825bEuropeans started using chocolate as a platform to meet and discuss important ideas, such as politics. It is during this time that “a cluster of super-elite self-styled ‘chocolate houses’ sprouted and flourished” (Green). Chocolate also served as a path for the New and Old World to engage each other with different ideas and perspectives. The Mesoamerican technique of creating froth by repeatedly pouring chocolate liquid between cups led to the invention of the molinillo (Coe & Coe 115).MolinilloThe molinillo was used as an easier way of creating froth by using rings to invigorate the liquid.

Chocolate is more than just a sugary treat. It is a history of the intersection of the Old and New World, a unique way to view the transfer of ideas. From across an ocean, one thing remained the same about chocolate: it stayed divine.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2013. London.

Green, Matthew. “The surprising history of London’s lost chocolate houses.” <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;

Nieburg, Oliver. “Interactive Map: Top 20 chocolate consuming nations of 2012.” <http://www.confectionerynews.com/Markets/Interactive-Map-Top-20-chocolate-consuming-nations-of-2012&gt;

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Chocolate and Change: How the Molinillo Represents Cultural Transmission

Traditional process of frothing chocolate by Maya (Princeton Vase, c. 750 ce)
Traditional process of frothing chocolate by Maya (Princeton Vase, c. 750 ce)

Although both the Spaniards and Mesoamerican Natives thoroughly enjoyed and were even addicted to chocolate, artifacts from the period such as the molinillo, help to show both some of the similarities and differences in the two cultures. As the original cultivators and consumers of chocolate, the mesoamericans had a long history of customs and traditions centered around the chocolate beverage, and specifically the foam on top. This foam, which was thought by natives to nourish the soul, was usually achieved by pouring the drink continuously from one vessel to another repeatedly. The Spanish also came to hold chocolate as a delicacy and specifically the foam, however as they preferred their chocolate hot, they invented the molinillo – a wooden instrument which froths a chocolate drink while allowing the beverage to retain its heat. Far more than a small innovation to gain foam, the molinillo is part of, and represents, a mixing of cultures and genes on a grand scale between the Spanish and the natives of Mesoamerica.

Three simple modern molinillos.
Three simple modern molinillos.

Having been revered by natives for over a millennium, when Europeans first arrived in America the natives could not understand how the new world explorers did not covet chocolate as well. In fact, to many early explorers such as Girolamo Benzoni chocolate “seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity” (qtd. in Coe&Coe 110). In time, the cacao plant would not only win over conquistadors, but the entire old world and eventually the entire planet. The way in which chocolate drinks were prepared at Benzoni’s day  were not palatable to the Europeans, but once the drink was hybridized to include tastes appealing to a European tongue, chocolate’s popularity quickly grew. Different ingredients were used, as well as different instruments such as the cup and saucer, which highlight differences in the two cultures. With the addition of sugar, chocolate became a sweet drink to be enjoyed by the elite of Europe, and then the entire world (Mintz 6). The molinillo was born out of necessity by the Spaniards, who greatly desired foam on top of their beverage, but preferred to drink it warm. It was held between both hands, placed through the top of a pot and spun repeatedly with the notched end in the drink, frothing the drink and creating a thick layer of foam while maintaining its temperature.

Although only one of many changes made by the Spaniards to mesoamerican chocolate and the process to make the beverage, the molinillo is a good representations of this hybridization as well as the hybridization of South America. This is because it shows a hallmark of European colonization – taking all of what is in their eyes good aspects of the native culture,

Woman using molinillo to froth chocolate beverage.
Woman using molinillo to froth chocolate beverage.

and using them to their own benefit, often in different ways from the original use. The molinillo is just one example of this, as the Spaniards adopted the positive aspects of the mesoamerican chocolate beverage and changed it to their liking. Although changing the frothing procedure, the metate remained in use, as well as many other indigenous customs which further illustrates the adoption of beneficial customs by the Spanish.  At the crossroads of two very different worlds, chocolate serves as a way by which we can learn about those two cultures, and the interactions that took place between them. It can also help us to see the roots of modern South America, and how the similarities and differences between the Spanish and Native peoples led us to the vibrant and hybrid culture we see today where the Maya, Aztec, and other indigenous people once lived.

Multimedia Sources:

  1. http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html
  2. http://www.marketmanila.com/archives/batidor-batirol-molinillo-chocolatera-atbp
  3. http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cold-xocoatl

Works Cited:

  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
  • Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. Print.

The Silver Chocolatière: a 1500-year collaboration between the Mayan, Aztec, Spanish, and French people

A silver chocolate pot created in 1774 in Paris, France by Joseph-Théodore Van Cauwenbergh

The Silver chocolatière pictured above, which features a hinged lid with hole in which a wooden stirrer, a moussoir, could be inserted, was designed to create and hold a frothy chocolate beverage. With its long wooden handle, the pot allowed not only for ease of pouring, but also protected the pourer from the heat of the chocolate that would likely permeate the metal surrounding it. Silver chocolate pots designed in this fashion are widely credited to have been invented by the French in the 17th century; however, such accreditation provides only a small portion of the story behind these devices (Coe and Coe 158-160). The so-called French chocolatière of baroque Europe was actually developed over 1500 years, constructed not only with the ideas and traditions of the French, but also with those of the Mayan, Aztec, and Spanish people.

The Mayan civilization, which thrived in its’ Classic Period on the Yucatan Peninsula of present-day Mexico from around 250CE-900CE, both cultivated cacao and consumed it – primarily as a hot beverage. Contrastingly, in the Aztec society that chronologically followed the Mayan, cacao was consumed as a cold beverage (Coe and Coe 114-115). When the Spanish conquistadors reached the shores of Mesoamerica in the 16th century, their main interactions were with the Aztec civilization; however, in 1519 Hernan Cortes led a band of conquistadors into the Yucatan Peninsula, where they encountered remaining bands of Mayan people (“The Spanish Conquest”). It is likely that these Yucatec Mayans passed their tradition of consuming chocolate hot onto the Spanish, who then brought that tradition back to Europe where it spread to France, necessitating chocolate vessels, like the silver chocolatière, that could withstand heat (Coe and Coe 115).

While the Aztec tradition of consuming chocolate as a cold beverage was passed over by the conquistadors in favor of the Mayan practice of taking it hot, another Aztec chocolate tradition – the desire for chocolate drinks that had foam on the top – was something the Spanish took from the New World back to Europe. In order to create foam, or froth, on the chocolate they were preparing for their masters, Aztec servants would pour chocolate from a raised vessel into a receptacle placed on the floor, and repeat this several times – a process that is depicted in the picture below (Coe and Coe 86).

An Illustration from the 16th century Aztec Codex Tudela

If the chocolate was of good quality, according to Aztec standards, froth would develop on the top when it was poured from vessel to vessel, and this would signal a highly desirable drink. The Spanish accepted and adopted this standard, transmitting the desire for a frothy chocolate beverage back to Europe, while at the same time developing their own means with which to achieve the desired foam (Presilla 20).

The Spanish conquistadors developed themolinillo, pictured below, which allowed them to achieve the Aztec ideal of chocolate with foam, in a more compact and less labor-intensive fashion.


The molinillo is a wooden device comprised of a long stick with rings that rattle when the stick is turned back and forth in the hands. When the rings are inserted into a chocolate beverage and the molinillo is rotated, foam will form on top of the chocolate (Presilla 26). It was the molinillo, a Spanish invention, that formed the basis for the French moussoir, the wooden stirrer that would be inserted through the lids of silver chocolatières, in order to create a frothy chocolate beverage (Coe and Coe 115).

Thus, the French combined the Mayan tradition of serving chocolate hot, the Aztec desire for foam in chocolate beverages, and the Spanish method of producing that foam, into a silver chocolatière. The French were the first in Europe to add a long handle to the chocolate serving device, and were perhaps the first to produce such devices in silver; however, these were small alterations to the larger concept about the proper way to prepare and serve chocolate, a concept that had been building for more than a millennium, first in Mesoamerica and then in Europe (Coe and Coe 158). While traditions and ideas about chocolate and the correct way to serve it altered as they traveled from civilization to civilization, the Mayan, Aztec, and Spanish people all left a heavy mark on the way the wealthy baroque French took their chocolate

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Joseph-Théodore Van Cauwenbergh – Chocolate Pot. N.d. Walters Art Museum. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Molinillos. 2008. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Mujer Vertiendo Chocolate. N.d. Museo De América. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

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

“The Spanish Conquest and Its Aftermath – National Institute of Culture and History.” Institute of Archeology. The National Institute of Culture and History, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

The Mystery of the Molinillo

The introduction of chocolate to the New World in the 16-17th century led to multiple transformations and transmutations of the original Old World cacao. When chocolate became commonplace in the Spanish court in the first half of the 1600s, it had changed in name, taste, preparation, believed health properties and even type. However, this hybridization was not restricted to just chocolate, but in fact applied to many objects journeying from one world to the next. Nor was this hybridization a one-sided phenomenon. The molinillo, a whisk-like tool used to froth drinks, is an important artifact in the history of chocolate because it shows that the encounter between the New World and the Old World was mutually influential and, at the time, also mutually beneficial.

During the age of the Aztecs, chocolate, known as cacahuatl in their native Nahuatl language, was primarily served cold (Coe and Coe 114-115), and one Mesoamerican method used to froth the drink was to pour it “back and forth between two vessels” (Presilla 26), like in the image from the Aztec Codex Tedula below.

Aztec woman frothing chocolate by pouring drink from one vessel to another

However, in the mid-16th century, Creole Spaniards introduced the molinillo in Mesoamerica, an innovation in the field of foaming drinks (Coe and Coe, 120). The molinillo, as pictured below, is a wooden instrument, with rings around the center stick that would shake and rattle and also create air bubbles in the chocolate liquid when spun between the hands.

Molinillo from the Hearst Museum

Beyond just acting as a frothing instrument, the molinillo, called molinet in some early English texts (Gage), seemed to also be once used to grind chocolate tablets (or wafers), which may explain the origin of its name, meaning “little mill” (Ledesma). Another potential explanation for the name is that it may have undergone a transmutation in the other direction, deriving itself from the Nahuatl verb molinia, meaning “to shake, waggle, or move” (Coe and Coe 120).

Once introduced, the molinillo quickly became adopted by the native Mesoamericans, as evidenced in this image of an American Indian with a chocolate pot and molinillo next to his feet from 1693. Based on just this drawing, the origin of each of the objects, especially the molinillo seems ambiguous, as the man pictured here may be a Native Aztec or a Creole Spaniard. Thus, this shows the complicated nature of the exchange between the two worlds.

OLD DRAWING OF AN AMERICAN INDIAN; AT HIS FEET A CHOCOLATE-CUP, CHOCOLATE-POT, AND CHOCOLATE WHISK OR “MOLINET.” (From Traitez Nouveaux et Curieux du Café, du Thé, et du Chocolate. Dufour, 1693).

Another highly disputed topic, even today, is the linguistic origin of our word “chocolate”. According to Thomas Gage, an Englishman who travelled the New World, the word chocolate (chocolatte in his text) originated as a hybrid of the Nahuatl word atl, meaning water, and the sound from which the water mixed with chocolate makes when it is stirred to frothing with a molinet (an English word for the molinillo at the time), “choco, choco, choco” (Gage). Because the molinillo was a New World innovation around the 16th century, we can hypothesize that Gage’s retelling doesn’t represent the whole story of how chocolate received its name. Modern scholars in fact tend to agree that the world chocolate was more likely a hybrid between the Maya word “chocol”, cacao and the Aztec word “atl”, water, a hybrid that first occurred in print around 1570 (Coe and Coe 117-119). In this theory, the molinillo may have been just a bystander.

Today, the molinillo is used widely in Mexico and around the world – more evidence that the innovation has crossed cultural borders many times over and has been adopted by many different peoples. The innovation itself, though originally a Creole Spanish creation, was shaped through Aztec linguistic influences and itself shaped Aztec culture and even possibly the linguistic origins of our own “chocolate” word today. By studying artifacts such as this, we can see how complicated the New World – Old World hybridizations can become, and how they can produce mutually influential outcomes.

Multimedia Sources




Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Gage, Thomas. The English-American, His Travail by Sea and Land, Or, A New Survey of the West-India’s. London: R. Cotes, 1648. Early English Books Online. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

Ledesma, Antonio Colmenero De. A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate. Written in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, Doctor in Physicke and Chirurgery. And Put into English by Don Diego De Vades-forte. London: By I. Okes, Dwelling in Little St. Bartholomewes, 1640. Early English Books Online. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

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

Spanish Changes to Chocolate: Innovations or Adaptations?

Soon after arriving in the New World, the Spaniards realized the importance and value of chocolate to the Mesoamericans (Norton, 2004). Under Spanish rule, cacao production was increased, and soon it arrived in Spain, becoming a popular drink for the elite (Norton, 2004). Interestingly, there are many accounts that when the Spanish first tasted chocolate, they disliked the drink, finding it savage and not suited for Europeans (Norton, 2006). How, then, did chocolate become so popular in Spain? The Spaniards adapted the New World chocolate recipe to suit their tastes, adding innovative ingredients to make it more delicious (Norton, 2006). The Spanish were said to have hybridized the drink of chocolate, drinking it hot instead of cold as the Aztecs did, sweetening it with sugar, and putting Old World spices such as cinnamon and vanilla into the drink (Norton, 2006). The Spanish were thought to have appropriated the New World chocolate drink to make it suitable for European palates (Norton, 2006). However, I argue that many of these first accounts of Europeans disliking chocolate until it was more developed by the Spanish was created to mask the fact that a “sophisticated” culture enjoyed a drink made by “savages” (Norton, 2006).


A Mesoamerican woman creating a frothy chocolate drink by pouring it from one vessel into another from a substantial height (From Wikipedia)
Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 8.58.10 PM
A Spanish painting depicting a molinillo, or chocolate frothing device, highlighting the presence of traditional Mesoamerican chocolate practices in Spain (From Norton, 2006)


There has been opposing evidence that the Spanish actually did enjoy the taste of the New World chocolate, and that adding sugar and other spices was the easiest way to recreate the New World chocolate flavor that they developed a taste for (Norton, 2006). In Mesoamerica, chocolate was consumed as a beverage, sometimes hot and sometimes cold, sometimes with maize, and often mixed with honey and other spices cultivated from the New World for flavor (Norton, 2006). It was also often poured from one container to the next to produce a froth (Norton, 2006). While the Spanish did change some of the ingredients of chocolate or ways it was consumed, it was all done to preserve the original flavor using ingredients more easily found in Europe (Norton, 2006). For example, Spaniards added sugar to the chocolate drink, which was just a modification from the Mesoamericans already adding honey as a sweetener to their drink (Norton, 2006). Sugar was not a revolutionary addition to chocolate, but simply a substitute for honey. Often many of the spices the Spaniards “innovatively” added to the drinks were trying to copy many of the flavors already added to chocolate in Mesoamerica; because New World flowers that were much harder to come by than spices already found in Spain, the recipe needed to be modified (Norton, 2006). Furthermore, Spaniards valued the customary foam of the Mesoamericans, and often used molinillos to froth their drinks to create a texture found in the traditional chocolate drinks of the New World (Norton, 2006). Finally, the Spanish seem to have even adapted the Mesoamerican social views of chocolate – in Spain, chocolate drinking was a social, and elite activity, just as it was in the New World (Norton, 2004).

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 8.58.18 PM
A Spanish painting of an aristocratic chocolate gathering, highlighting the presence of chocolate as a part of elite society (From Norton, 2006)


In conclusion, it can be argued that the desire for chocolate flowed “from the ‘barbarian’ to the ‘civilized,’ from the degenerate ‘creole’ to the metropolitan Spaniard, from gentry to royalty” (Norton, 2006). It is thought that the cultural bridge that allowed the taste for chocolate to infuse into the Spanish culture were the native women who served in the households of the Spanish men, some voluntary, some coerced, cultivating their taste in chocolate (Norton, 2006). Many chocolate encounters were also made in marketplaces in the New World, further introducing Europeans to the novelty and deliciousness of the chocolate drink (Norton, 2006). The common belief that the Spaniards improved the Mesoamerican drink of chocolate to make it fit to drink in Europe has evidence against it, as many of the Spanish adaptations were ways to recreate the New World flavor using common European ingredients. Perhaps this viewpoint was spread by the feelings of conquest over a lesser society, and that a drink had to be altered to be consumed by the more sophisticated culture. In reality, Europeans acquired a taste for Mesoamerican chocolate, and simply had to adapt it to the ingredients more commonly found in the Old World (Norton, 2006).



“History of Chocolate – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. Accessed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660–691. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. Accessed at: http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/10.1086/ahr.111.3.660

Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History 18.3 (2004): 14–17. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. Accessed at: http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/25163677