The History of Drinking Chocolate

When we think of chocolate, we think of bars. For in the 21st Century, chocolate is generally eaten and not drunk. But this was not always the case. Indeed the chocolate bar is a relatively new invention, having been created by Joseph Fry in 1847. Before this, for thousands of years, chocolate was drunk. As a drink, it was used by Mayans in religious rituals and sacrifices, and later drunk by the aristocracy throughout Europe.

The drinking chocolate enjoyed thousands of years ago by the Mayans was not the delicious milky drink we know and love today. Instead, it was a much more intense drink, generally made from a ground up paste of fermented cocoa beans, water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other spices. It was not sweet, but a well made cup did come with a frothy head, that would be created by pouring the finished drink back and forth between two cups before serving.

There was clear evidence that drinking chocolate had permeated all levels of society in Latin America, but this simply was not the case when it arrived in Europe. Instead, it remained the preserve of the wealthiest echelons of society. Early Spanish conquistadors brought this exotic new drink back to Europe from the New World, with Cortes first bringing cacao to Spain in 1528.

When chocolate arrived in France, it was quickly embraced by the nobility. At court, it quickly became a firm favourite of four successive monarchs. It first arrived during the reign of Louis XIII, but it was Louis XIV who was its true champion.

The two clearest contenders for the title of ‘biggest royal chocolate fan’ at the French Court were to come… Louis XV was a superfan of drinking chocolate – indeed he was said to be such a big fan of chocolate that he created his own drinking chocolate recipe that he would make in his apartments in the Palace of Versailles. He believed that a truly great drinking chocolate should be made of equal parts chocolate and water, with an egg yolk whisked in just before serving to give the drink a silken finish.

Marie Antoinette was the final super-fan of craft chocolate to grace the French Court. In 1770, famed bakery fan Marie Antoinette arrived at the French Court with a dedicated Personal Chocolate Maker To The Queen in her retinue. His role was to combine ingredients such as orange blossom and sweet almonds that were en vogue at the French Court at the time with Marie Antoinette’s beloved chocolate.

Drinking chocolate had spread throughout Europe, before reaching England in the 1650s, with a rush of trendy Chocolate Houses and Clubs taking the social scene in London by storm. But drinking chocolate itself presented an ongoing dilemma for the fashion conscious gents of this time. It was the fashion for men to wear a full beard at this point in history, but the cocoa butter in drinking chocolate had a nasty habit of becoming ingrained in their neatly coiffed beards, leaving a greasy residue behind.

It wasn’t until 1828 that enterprising father and son Dutch duo the Van Hootens created their eponymous cocoa press. This machine pressed the cocoa butter out of the beans. By removing the cocoa butter the Van Hooten press delivered to significant benefits to hot chocolate fans:
The absence of butter meant that cocoa combined more evenly with water when making a drink
The resulting drink was less greasy, and gone were the days of getting greasy residue in your beard every time you fancied a cup of hot chocolate.

This innovation also meant that makers were, for the first time, able to add sugar to the de-cocoa-buttered cocoa mass, before adding a smaller percentage of cocoa butter back in later in processing. In short, this paved the way for early innovation in chocolate as a stable, edible treat that could eventually be sold as bars.

Today, chocolate is widely popular as an ingredient within baking and ice cream, an edible snack within the confectionary and craft chocolate worlds, and so much more besides. But there remains a clear place in the hearts of many for a cup of drinking chocolate. And the latest wave of baristas and coffee innovators has embraced craft drinking chocolate anew.

We’re often asked by chocolate fans how best to use craft chocolate to create a truly awesome drinking chocolate. We have teamed up with top experts from the craft coffee world to bring you an easy to follow recipe that you can easily make at home.

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