Xocolatl is a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water”. This bitter, spicy chocolate beverage is made from raw cacao beans. It’s where modern hot chocolate comes from. People tend to refer to this drink as “Aztec hot chocolate”. The word “Aztec” is an umbrella term for various ethnic groups of central Mexico, especially those who speak Nahuatl, and their ancestors who dominated large areas of Mesoamerica for thousands of years.
It’s hard to understand how special chocolate once was, especially since numerous variations of it are so readily available today. It was first used as a medicine — as an aphrodisiac, for religious rituals, and for opening the Third Eye chakra — with no recipes for personal or casual use. Chocolate was reserved for the grandest occasions and for the ruling classes, to be enjoyed by Aztec kings, royalty, and holy men.
Cacao beans were even used as a form of currency at one point. Chocolate as we know it today was not available to the common people until it had arrived in Spain thousands of years later — around the 16th century — after being consumed by only upper-class citizens. By the time chocolate was in Europe, the Spanish colonists had altered the traditional xocolatl drink by mixing it with milk and raw sugar from the sugar cane. This diluted it to a sweet, sugary, light taste as opposed to its original dark, fermented, bitter taste.
I decided to experiment with making xocolatl for a number of reasons. Mostly because I believe that in our Westernized culture we take a lot of precious commodities for granted, including the cacao bean. The chocolate most of us are used to today has been altered and tampered with so heavily that the final product can be considered a bastardization of this sacred medicine. Going back to the roots of things allows one to appreciate more of what they are.
This has been more of a historical experiment than anything. To get the desired results, this recipe has come from a lot of reading on Mesoamerica and the Nahua peoples, along with a lot of experimenting (and tons of failing). If there is anyone who has done this before and would like to give me any more tips — or correct anything that I’ve done — please do so. I would like to get this practice down to the most traditional way possible.
This drink tastes entirely different compared to the modern types of chocolate drinks most people are used to nowadays. In which case, I don’t think it will do too well for a lot of modern taste buds — but as always, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
You will need:
15-20 cacao beans, OR 50g dark chocolate
1 cinnamon stick + 2 cinnamon sticks for garnish
A pinch of chili pepper, ground (or powdered)
1-3 orange rinds (optional)
A dash of honey (optional)
Let me get things straight — you can get this done in one of two ways: 1) the old-school way, or 2) the cheater-way. The old-school way requires an actual mortar and pestle and some serious patience! If you do things via the traditional method be prepared to spend a lot of time grinding. This way is a lot more fun (if you consider a bit of labour in the name of history fun). It can be a test of your will and patience. The cheater-way is a lot easier because you can just buy the darkest chocolate you can find. However, since any chocolate bar is already mixed and prepared you will get further away from the authentic taste of the cacao. You decide.
I am basing this recipe off of 15-17 cacao beans, which will result in approximately 6 heaping tablespoons of finely ground cacao. 3 heaping tablespoons will give you enough cacao for 1 standard cup (8-10oz). So, this recipe yields about 2 standard coffee mug servings.
If you are a cheater or feel at loss for time, and wish to melt down store-bought chocolate, then about 50g of the darkest chocolate around will suffice for approx. 2 standard coffee mug servings (8-10oz).
To put this in formulaic terms:
15-17 cacao beans = 6 heaping tbsp. finely ground cacao
Approx. 50g of dark chocolate, melted down = 8 tbsp.
Step 1: Cacao
First you will want to purchase your cacao beans. There is a lovely health shop down the road from us that sells a brand called, “Mum’s Original”. They are organic cacao beans. A standard-size bag will give you about 80-100 beans for around $10. (Not bad, considering that for 100 beans you could buy a whole canoe filled with fresh water back in 1400s!)
If you’re cheating you’ll want to get at least 50g of the darkest chocolate you can find — i.e. 90% or more — with the least amount of additives possible. You want to keep the taste as pure as you possibly can. This means no flavours, additives, sugars, or fancy things.
Step 2: Grind (and grind…and grind…), or Melt
Envision gulping down the chocolate in your drink. You do not want shards of un-dissolved chocolate to shoot down your throat as you’re drinking — you want it to be smooth and even. In which case you will have to grind (or melt) away.
The cacao bean will be coated in a soft shell. If you rub the bean back and forth between your thumb and forefinger the shell will start to crack off (often in one shot if you are patient enough). The bean inside will be very dark and has a fermented scent, like a strong dark coffee blended with wine. The smell itself is intoxicating.
To make things easier for yourself, you can first grind the cacao in a clean coffee bean grinder (I emphasize clean because any stray coffee bean morsels mixed in with the cacao is not ideal). The grinder will chop it up to a good size so you don’t have to do as much manual grinding.
Tips for grinding with the mortar and pestle: I grind cacao on my downtime, such as when I am watching T.V. I rarely grind everything all at once. Instead I spread the practice over a period of 2-3 days, grinding for about 1 hour each night. If you’re doing this make sure to cover the mortar with plastic wrap overnight and keep it on the counter (not in the fridge). Grind how you see fit — you will get into your own rhythm. Or you can watch this video for grinding tips.
As you go along it’s easy to see why this was a sacred ritual. The method of grinding and preparing is very meditative. Keep mortaring-and-pestle-ing away until a fine powder results.
At the final crushing stages you will discover that the cacao will stick to the sides of the mortar (almost annoyingly). Not to fear — this is a good sign you are just about finished! You will want to take a spoon and gently chip the chocolate away from the sides to get your powder.
15-17 cacao beans = 2.5-3 hours, without a coffee grinder
15-17 cacao beans = 1.5-2 hours, with a coffee grinder
If you want to take the easy way out, skip Step 2 and simply melt your dark chocolate over the stove. Make sure the heat is level and continue to stir or else it will burn (and burnt chocolate can taste pretty disgusting!). You will want to time your melting properly so that it’s ready at the same time as the boiled water (see Step 3).
Step 2: Sift
Grab a sifter and put your ground cacao through it and into a bowl. It should come out as a fine dusting. Any pieces that are too large will stay in the sifter. You will take these larger pieces and continue to work away at them until they, too, become a fine powder. Collect your powder into a small, resealable baggie.
Step 3: Boil
Boil about 4 cups of water. You will only actually need about 2 cups, but adding more water than what you need compensates for when the water will evaporate, and it will dilute the flavours properly.
When the water is at a rolling boil throw in 1 stick of cinnamon. Lower the heat to medium-high and allow the cinnamon to dissipate and disperse. After about 5 minutes remove the cinnamon stick. The water will be a slight yellow-ish colour. Now add a very small pinch of chili, either the ground powder or a small pinch of the crushed fresh chili. Continue boiling for about 3 minutes.
Reduce your boiled flavoured water to 2 cups. (I took a measuring cup and poured out 2 cups into a smaller pot.) Then add 6 heaping tbsp. of your finely ground cacao beans OR 8 tbsp of your melted dark chocolate to the boiled water. Important: once your chocolate is added turn off the heat. While the water is still hot stir the contents for about 10 minutes until your chocolate is pretty much dissolved.
Note: I have read elsewhere of people adding water to the ground cacao to make a paste. Another way is to grind the cacao onto a wooden board (i.e. a cutting board) until it becomes soft, without adding water and mixing it instead with chili to make a paste. I have read many accounts of these various techniques and feel free to take any, or a combination of, these other routes — however, I continue to use the powdered procedure due to conflicting viewpoints (and a lack of clarity) on these other methods. If anyone has done this before in a more traditional way, please enlighten me and I will add it here. If you create a chili/cacao paste do not add any chili to the boiled water.
Add the finishing touches
Stir the liquid vigorously and then pour it fast, or from higher up, into your mugs to create froth. Pour 1 cup into each mug. If so desired you can add a dash of honey (raw, unpasteurized is best) OR an orange rind (a whole orange slice can be too powerful; make sure it is only the rind). Try either the honey OR the orange rind, for too many flavours can create a botched taste.
And there you go.
This, my friends, is one of the original tastes of chocolate known to man! You might be surprised about the taste. It’s got a very bitter, spicy, and fermented taste, almost like a dark coffee mixed with red wine. It’s very strong and can be quite unpleasant to most people.
You can drink this beverage hot or cold. Interestingly enough, I personally enjoy it cold. (Apparently the Aztecs used to enjoy xocolatl cold.) You will discover that it may be difficult to drink the entire cup, partially because many modern taste buds are unaccustomed to the flavour, and because you will notice its strong effect on the body. No wonder it was used as medicine!
Let me know your thoughts!
P.S. I would recommend consuming this in the morning (and not at night) for you will probably be jumping off the walls! It opens up the senses and can spike your nervous system.
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