Friday, February 22, 2013

A Cup of Hot Chocolate, S’good for What Ails Ya, Part 1

Virginia Breakfast Gift Box
Winter Cheer
We are currently selling Steamer Traditional and White Chocolate Hot Cocoa in gift boxes and gift baskets. Steamer Cocoa's award winning recipe is an indulgent and rich combination of quality ingredients. The can of Traditional Hot Cocoa comes with an awesome old fashioned picture of a horse and carriage. The can of the White Chocolate Flavor comes with a gorgeous picture of ice skaters on a frozen pond. Brings back memories of long ago. The history of hot cocoa is an interesting one as told in an article in the Winter, 2012 edition of a popular history magazine published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation called "A Cup of Hot Chocolate, S'Good for What Ails Ya. 

Conquistador Girolamo Benzoni, one of the first to taste the spicy Aztec beverage called cacahuatl, wrote, “It seemed more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity. I was in this country for more than a year and never wanted to taste it, and whenever I passed a settlement, some Indian would offer me a drink of it and would be amazed when I would not accept, going away laughing. But then, as there was a shortage of wine. . . .” Benzoni, a sojourner in Mexico, was forced to relent. The taste he found “somewhat bitter” and noted “it satisfies and refreshes the body but does not inebriate.”

The drink had come to the Aztecs from their predecessors, the Mayas, and had originated with their predecessors, the Olmecs, who had domesticated the cacao tree three thousand years before. Made from the cacao seed, the drink was said to possess mystical properties and was consumed primarily by Aztec rulers and priests during sacred ceremonies.

Making cacahuatl was a tedious affair that involved roasting the cacao seeds—also called nuts or beans—to a precise degree of doneness, removing the shells, grinding them on stone to a paste, mixing that with other dried and ground ingredients like chili pepper, vanilla, flowers, and spices, dissolving the results in water, and pouring it from one vessel to another, back and forth, until it developed a foamy froth. The Aztecs drank it at room temperature.
The conquistadors sweetened New World cacahuatl with another exotic ingredient—Old World sugar—and called it chocolate.

Other Spaniards shared Benzoni’s opinion of the Aztec beverage but grasped its benefits: “He who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.” An “anonymous gentleman” in Hernando Cortes’s party proclaimed the nutritious liquid food “the healthiest thing.” The Spanish noted that the beverage stimulated the senses in general and, they believed, one sense in particular—it was widely considered an aphrodisiac. Still, they didn’t like the taste. But, sweetened, they served it hot with breakfast for its energy boost.

Of concern to Catholics was chocolate’s definition. Was it a food or a drink? This had serious religious implications: if it was a food, it could not be consumed on fast days. Theologians and popes debated the question for two hundred years.

Yes, one drank chocolate, but then again, so many foods could be added to it, including bread crumbs, eggs, and milk, that it functioned more like a food than a beverage. And there was no denying that the highly caloric drink alleviated hunger pangs. Complicating matters was its reputation as a sexual stimulant, something that seemed doubly sinful on a holy day. In the end, those who judged it a beverage prevailed. Protestants and Jews did not share the Catholics’ concerns.
The first recorded instance of chocolate in Spain came in 1544 when a gift of cacao seeds was presented to King Philip II. The steady stream of priests, soldiers, and aristocrats back and forth across the Atlantic for the previous five decades makes it likely, however, that it reached Spain earlier than that. The Spanish kept the ingredients to themselves for almost a century.

Initially, all the chocolate was consumed by the Spanish aristocracy, not re-exported, so few people outside Spain and Portugal came into contact with it. As supplies of sugar and cacao increased, chocolate drinking spread gradually throughout the courts of Europe and became the preferred beverage of the rich and royal.

Only the rich and royal could afford it. The drink was time-consuming to make, and its exotic ingredients—cacao, sugar, and spices—had to be imported from faraway continents. All were labor-intensive crops that required large plantations with many slaves. Increased demand spurred the Spanish to spread cultivation of the "chocolate nut tree" throughout their ballooning empire, from the West Indies to the Philippines.