Mexican Hot Chocolate
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 3.3-ounce Mexican chocolate tablet, roughly chopped, (or semisweet chocolate flavored with cinnamon, cut in chunks)
Heat the milk with the chocolate in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring constantly over medium-low heat until chocolate is dissolved. Add sugar to taste and simmer a few minutes more. Beat vigorously with a whisk (a Mexican mollinillo is a beater especially designed for the task), or use an electric beater or blender to create a thick foam, then pour immediately into cups.
Famed Mexican-restaurant owner, Zarela Martinez, favors the Ibarra brand of sweet chocolate found in Mexican grocieries. Rick Bayless, a well-known chef, also recommends these 3.3-ounce tablets because their generous portions of almonds and cinnamon bring a rich, smooth flavor to the brew.
I am Ka-ka-w. I am power and wealth, good fortune and health. Accompanying rulers into the afterlife, I am libation, the last drink of the sacrificed to Calchiuhtlucue and Tonacatecutli. I’m the annointing oil, smeared on infants’ foreheads, faces, fingers, and toes. A lovely maroon-colored pod, I am born on a tree so delicate, so meek, it is sheltered by one larger, whose fronds protect me from the sun and wind. Moss, lichens, and tiny silken orchids cling to the bark near where I reside in this paradise. I am the chosen one, surrounded by thousands of waxy pink and white blossoms that huddle together, never to mature into full fruit. My flesh is tinged deep gold when plucked from this lush Mayan garden. And then I am transformed: dried, roasted, and fermented; pulverized into powder and added to boiling water; sweetened and flavored with honey, chili peppers, dried petals of ear flowers, vanilla, and spices. I am vigorous, my whole being surges like a frothy cataract when poured between vessels. Bubbling into foam, I slide down soldiers’ throats as they drink me hot from a calabash gourd, arched necks relishing each drop, fortifying for the coming battle.
Quetzalcoatl brought me here. He taught them how to make me into cacahuatl, granting power and wisdom to my people. Xochipilli watches over me, as he does the sacred plants and fungi that convey my people to the sun realm. All things on Earth have both the lightness and invisibility of the spirit as well as the heaviness of death. I am no exception. Drunk cold by warriors and kings after a feast, I transport their spirits while nourishing their bodies. Sometimes I am bathed in achiote, the bloody hue of human sacrifice. I am precious, traded as dried nibs for merchandise at the market — eight for a prostitute, 10 for a rabbit, 100 for a slave — more valuable than the vessels in which I am hoarded, these great lavish urns of Aztec gold.
My nights are haunted. Ghosts from my homeland pillage my dreams with tales of the ravaged. I long for the trees that cradled me softly in that sun-drenched paradise. Shuddering, I wait in the darkness of this damp stone lodge for the fear to subside. I am grateful for the gentle hands of my wardens — Jesuit monks — who grind me into the drink, chocolate. I am whisked into a froth with molinillos that whir when flicked between sweaty palms. Served hot with sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, or anise, I am processed in stealth, a coveted commodity. Until my true value is revealed to Europe, I remain secreted away in this monastery, trembling.
The secret is out, enjoyed by the elite throughout the continent. It is here, where blood boils under rich robes and behind closed doors, that jewel-encrusted Crowns plot my fate. I am ciocolatto, providing thick layers of gold to the coffers of the rich. Desired for my delicate fragrance — ambergris, musk, jasmine, and citron — and savored by devout clergy as sustenance during the long Lenten days, I am controversial: forbidden fruit or a precious potion? In the end, as popes expire behind the brocade of their bed curtains, I have become a drink for men of silk, not sackcloth.
The harvest is soon to come. But it is the hands and hearts of those who pluck me that bleed, carried first in chains on stench-filled ships to Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Brazil. Now here, in a land whose gods are more ancient than my own, I have arrived, brought by the Portuguese. Ripening slowly and rejuvenated by equatorial sun, I bide my time until snatched from the tree, a ripe, golden pod living in a fecund Eden. The knowledge I’ve gained is sluggish in me. So far from home and stripped of my ecstasy, I don’t bring delight to all.