Mayan Spice Chocolate Milk - A Delicious History of Drinking Chocolate
Greetings Chocolate Lovers!
In honor of our new 'Mayan Spice Chocolate Milk', I'd love to share some of the awesome story behind the ancient Maya and their sacred Cacao Drink!
The first people to use Cacao were most likely the Olmec, in what is today southeast Mexico. They lived in that area around 1000 BC, and their word "kakawa" is the original root of our word "cacao". Their cultivation and reverence of Cacao carried over into the Maya culture, who inhabited the same general area a thousand years later (from around 250-900 AD). The Maya held Cacao in the highest regards, literally a "gift from the Gods", and centralized it as a key component to their traditions and culture.
The Maya prepared chocolate strictly for drinking, which was essentially the only way Cacao was consumed for over a thousand years! They figured out the essential parts of the process- harvesting, fermenting, drying, roasting, grinding, etc. A thick paste would be made from the straight Cacao, which would be mixed with hot water and spices such as chili peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, annatto, allspice, honey, and flowers. Depending on the occasion or what was available, different Cacao drinks would be made- some sweeter than others, some with more medicinal ingredients- but all the drinking chocolate had one thing in common: chili peppers. They liked it served hot, frothy, and with a nice spicy kick. The froth was actually very important- they achieved this by painstakingly pouring the drink back and forth between two containers-separated by multiple feet. Cacao has the natural property of creating its own foam when agitated in this way (nowadays a blender achieves the effect much more easily!). They also had a special "beater" tool called a Molinillo, which was rubbed back and forth by hand, also to create froth.
Most people in the classic Maya society would drink chocolate only ceremoniously, once in awhile. But it was consumed by Royalty in great volumes. Since Cacao beans were actually used as currency, most Mayans didn't want to "eat their money", which explains why only the more wealthy and elite drank chocolate on a regular basis. The rich enjoyed drinking it from elaborately painted vessels, specifically for chocolate. Emperors were buried with the ornate jars of chocolate and Cacao beans at their side. There's the classic story of Emperor Montezuma drinking as much as 50 cups a day (before visiting his harem!). Seen as a direct link to the Gods, Cacao was a central part of most royal and religious events. Brides and Grooms would exchange Cacao beans and drinks during weddings. Children would be anointed with ground Cacao mixed with special flowers during (pre-conquest) baptisms. Priests presented Cacao beans as offerings to the Gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. There was a specific Cacao God and Goddess, as well as many other Gods associated with Cacao.
"Chocolate drinks were even more highly prized by the Aztecs- and unless you were a ruler, priest, soldier, or honored merchant you probably might only have a chocolate drink a couple times, if at all!"
The Aztecs came a couple hundred years after the majority of Mayan civilization had mysteriously disappeared. But much of the Mayan Cacao traditions were absorbed and continued by the Aztecs. Chocolate drinks were even more highly prized by the Aztecs- and unless you were a ruler, priest, soldier, or honored merchant you probably might only have a chocolate drink a couple times, if at all! Aztec chocolate legend says that the God Quetzalcoatl brought Cacao to Earth, and subsequently was punished by being cast out of paradise for giving it to man- only the Gods were fit to drink chocolate! One thing I find interesting is that the Aztecs preferred their Cacao drinks cold, whereas the Maya preferred a hot drink. Both cultures, of course, had lots of chili peppers in there!
During the sixteenth century Spain colonized Central and South America, taking control of the Aztecs. Cortes was made Captain General and Governor of "Mexico". When he returned to Spain in 1528, he was loaded with Cacao beans and chocolate drink-making equipment, and it wasn't long before chocolate began working its magic on the Spanish! The beans brought to Spain were hidden away in monasteries where they were processed into the chocolate drink. The formula was kept secret and the extremely expensive drink became VERY popular amongst the wealthy and the Spanish nobility. From then it took nearly a century for the news of Cacao to spread across Europe.
"By the 1700's, chocolate houses were as prominent as coffee houses in England and there was a chocolate house for every type of clientele..."
The chocolate drinks Europe developed are much like the Hot Chocolate of today, lots of milk and very sweet. By the 1700's, chocolate houses were as prominent as coffee houses in England and there was a chocolate house for every type of clientele: politicians, gamblers, professionals, socialites, etc. In 1828, a Dutch chemist developed the patent for separating Cacao beans into two components: cocoa butter and cocoa powder. This made for much easier preparation of drinking chocolate, and also opened more doors for confectioners and dessert makers to create new chocolaty things. In 1847, the Fry's chocolate factory in England made the first chocolate bar, and the rest is chocolate history. From that point on, drinking chocolate would forever become secondary to the almighty chocolate bar.
DRINKING CHOCOLATE BENEFITS
Drinking chocolate beverages is obviously a time-honored tradition. It seems like the effects of the chocolate come through stronger and faster when consumed in a drink. This is especially true with un-roasted, cold-pressed cacao. Cacao powder is a very strong superfood, and without all the fat that it once had, it is quickly metabolized and you can feel it right away! My general theory is that when you simply combine superfoods with water for a drink, the two components actually activate each other and increase each others' effectiveness.
"Cayenne is also a vasodilator, meaning it helps to open and expand blood vessels, equalizing circulation and lowering blood pressure."
Regarding the Mayan Spice flavor profile, the most important aspect of that profile is the chili pepper. The capsicum family includes red peppers, bell peppers, paprika, cayenne, and many others. We use both cayenne and paprika in our Mayan Spice flavored Milks and Truffles. Cayenne is quite an amazing catalyst herb- meaning its stimulating properties speed the absorption and effectiveness of any herbs taken in combination with it. Essentially it increases the power of all other herbs. Cayenne is also a vasodilator, meaning it helps to open and expand blood vessels, equalizing circulation and lowering blood pressure. It's also known to strengthen digestion, boost metabolism, and soothe nerve pain. Chocolate really is perfectly complimented by cayenne- nutritionally and in terms of flavor. If you've never tried a spicy chocolate before, we recommend you give yourself a new life experience and try it! Visit us at any of our Farmer's Markets if you're in the Bay Area and come sample our new Mayan Spice Chocolate Milk, made with Cayenne, Paprika, Cinnamon, Maca, and Lucuma, it's incredible! (Not in the Bay Area? Experience the ancient flavors of the Mayans in our Mayan Spice Truffle.)