Posted in Kafevend Blog

It struck us recently that whenever the history of cocoa comes up (as it has done on this blog many times) a certain aspect of it goes missing. Its beginnings in Central America are fairly detailed, along with the subsequent European interest. But then it goes on at length about what we greedy Europeans did with it after taking it back home, with nary a glance back at what was going on with cocoa in its place of origin. Today then we are going to have a look at how cocoa has been used during these more recent times in Central and South America.

In some areas, a prehispanic drink similar to that enjoyed by the Aztecs is still commonplace. One of those places is the Mexican state of Oaxaca in the south of the country. At one time the Aztec empire held territory in the area, which could explain the presence of the drink- a continuity of tradition perhaps. The drink is called Tejate, and is made to an old recipe which uses maize flour, cacao beans, mamey seeds and flor de cacao (no relation to the beans). These ingredients are first ground up and mixed together to form a paste. The paste is then mixed with water, traditionally by hand, to make the drink. Served cold, sugar is often added these days although some folks still like to add chili just as the Aztecs did.

Further south, the people of Colombia also enjoy drinking cocoa. The rich, thick, sweet and warm hot chocolate they have is a far cry to tejate though. Sugar cane and cacao are grown and processed in Colombia, with a large market for both of them within the country itself. Drinking chocolate comes in bars of 100% ground cocoa, which are considered as much a staple as coffee or tea are here in the UK. The bars are broken into chunks and mixed with water, cinnamon and panela (an unrefined sugar product) over a stove and whisked with a molinillo to make the drink.

Chocolate tablets like those made in Colombia are also a popular item across Mexico and are used to make drinks in a similar way. One of the biggest brands that sells these tablets in Mexico is Ibarra, first established in 1926. They went international two decades later, and can still be found in supermarkets here today if you want to try a taste of Mexican hot chocolate. Alongside their more obvious use in drinks, the tablets are used as an ingredient in a variety of moles (sauces) which can also feature chili peppers, spices, seeds, nuts, tortillas, fruit and sugar. Mole Poblano is perhaps the best known mole in Mexico, and is a rich sauce served with chicken or turkey- the imagination probably doesn't do it justice!

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