The botanical name for chocolate is Theobroma, which means "food of the gods". The name is appropriate for the importance of chocolate in the Mexican culture. Chocolate is among the many things the Spaniards acquired from the Aztecs. The native Aztec people made a variety of drinks made of chocolate combined with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices. The drink was used in rituals by priests as well as nobleman. While many historic references are made to the Aztecs and chocolate, the Aztecs actually adopted the use of chocolate from the earlier Mayan Culture.
Chocolate was so revered it was used by the Aztecs as both a food and currency. The Spanish explorers were so enamored with the flavor that they took chocolate back to Spain where it became the the Kings' Official Drink in the New Spain and Europe. Around the end of the XVIII century(1780 - 1800) , Europeans started preparing chocolate with milk and sugar to create what we know today as Hot Chocolate. In fact the drink became so popular many of the leading European porcelain manufactures such as Limoges in France began making specialized pots and cups just to serve chocolate.
This photograph is a nice example of a chocolate set made by Haviland, Limoges. Sets normally included a pot, cups, and many times matching saucers, trays. These sets are still manufactured today. The antique and vintage pieces have become quite collectable and valuable.
Chocolate cups and pot image by tburns
This is a Mancerina and jícara (chocolate cup and fitted plate). As the story goes; a Spaniard watched ladies trying to balance their cups of chocolate on their laps so he devised this special cup with a built in "holder" so the chocolate would not be so easily spilled. Photo by: Museuceramica
Hot Drinks - The most traditional use for chocolate was for hot beverages such as Atole, Champurrado and Mexican Hot Chocolate. Learn more about Mexican Hot Beverages. Also see the recipe links on this page.
Atole is frequently served with tamales. Champurrado is also served as a dessert with Churros or a sweet bread call Pan Dulce. These drinks are whipped up using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (moh-lin-nyee-oh) (or, a blender). The whisk is held between the palms of your hands. Then using a back and forth motion the whisk moves back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy.
Tejate - A Oaxaca specialty. An interesting cold drink is made of dark chocolate, corn masa, cocoa flowers, then marinated and frothed. (See photograph on left).
Mole (moh-Lay) - A sauce that varies in content depending on the region. The traditional red mole contains chilies, garlic, nuts, tomato, spices and chocolate. It is important to note that the amount of chocolate is very small and enhances but does not overpower the sauce. The sauce is served with turkey or chicken. Mole does not use the Mexican flavored chocolate but instead a dark bitter, unspiced version.
The molinillo was actually an invention of the Spaniards. The tool was used to froth chocolate which in the early days was not processed and defatted and tended to clump. Read more about the Molinillo.
mexican molinillo (chocolate whisk)