Posted in Kafevend Blog
It's that time of year when the desire for a hot drink is frequent and the decision as to whether to opt for tea or coffee is complicated further by the tempting thought of a steaming mug of cocoa. A cold snap really does focus the mind on hot chocolate and with little guilt either. We don't mind indulging ourselves with the extra calories because we use up more energy in the cold. There's the comforting feel good factor too; chocolate contains the right chemicals to give our brains a positive boost.
In some parts of the world drinking cocoa is the cultural norm. In Central America and many parts of South America it's far more common to drink chocolate than to eat it as a confectionery item. Mexicans are particularly committed cocoa drinkers. The ancient civilisation of the Olmecs was situated within the borders of present day Mexico and it's to their society that the first domestic consumption of cocoa beans is attributed. The Mayans and Aztecs who came afterwards carried the same torch for drinking cocoa, so Mexicans are continuing a practice which has held for over three millennia.
By contrast, cocoa enjoys much greater popularity as a food item here in Europe, with Switzerland topping the per capita consumption league tables. The Spanish were the very first Europeans to encounter the cocoa bean via the exploits of the conquistadors in the sixteenth century. Solid chocolate was yet to be invented and so the chocolate houses which slowly spread out through the continent were places that people visited for a drink, rather like coffee houses or tea rooms today. Nevertheless, it was only the well off who could afford to partake of this newly fashionable drink. It wasn't until the 1800s that a succession of European scientists and manufacturers developed the effective means to produce solid chocolate, an invention that also coincided with the advent of mass production techniques, thus quickly making chocolate bars affordable to a greater number of people. Undoubtedly, this method of introduction has a lot to do with solid chocolate's continued dominance over drinking chocolate in Europe.
There's another factor which sometimes puts us off drinking chocolate too, and that's the difficulty of stirring the cocoa into the milk. For anyone not convinced by this suggestion, think back to childhood – did you ever add Nesquik to your milk? Just how much easier was it to stir in the strawberry flavour than the chocolate?! There's a scientific explanation for the phenomenom. When we add cocoa to milk it's the starches on the outside of the powder that get wet first, then expand and form a waterproof seal leaving plenty of dry lumps in the centre. This effect is magnified by the fat molecules in the cocoa which are also averse to getting wet! This is why it's best to stir the cocoa into a small amount of milk initially because it won't have as much surrounding liquid to escape into and your stirring will be more effective. For an even better result try using a molinillo. The little whisk is rubbed between the palms of the hands to blend the chocolate in and produce a good froth. It hails from Mexico and as we've already seen, they certainly know a thing or two about drinking chocolate!