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Ancestral Spirits

Non-alcoholic, purely indulgent, hot chocolate as gift has endured the ages

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Cocoa powder—the powdery remains of chocolate liquor after cocoa butter is removed;
used in baking and in low-fat and low-calorie recipes and as a flavoring for ice cream.

Chocolate—a food made from roasted ground cacao beans.

Dutch-processed cocoa—cocoa powder treated with a mild alkalizing agent (such as baking soda)


Oh! we oft lament, if money only grew on trees we would have plenty, right?

Well chocolate does grow on trees, but even so, most of us can’t get enough of the stuff.
And so it has been for thousands of years.

Early chocolate was consumed exclusively in beverage form. The word chocolate is derived from the Mexican Indian words of choco (foam) and atl (water). Mexicans did and do believe that the spirit of the drink is in the foam and while Americans obsess with their coffee drinks, in Mexico they take time for hot chocolate at least twice a day.

Chocolate was first used by the Olmecs, the oldest civilization of the Americas, followed by the Maya, who consumed cacao-based drinks harvested from the beans growing in pods on trees upwards of 50 feet.

Cocoa beans were valued and often bestowed as gifts for coming of age or religious ceremonies. The beans were traded for other commodities, like cloth, jade and even ceremonial feathers. A prized drink called chocolatl made from roasted cocoa beans, water and a little spice was the reward.
It is widely held that Columbus tasted cocoa during his fourth voyage to the New World while in Nicaragua and even brought back beans to Europe, but no one knew how to use them.

Hernan Cortez was more savvy. When he landed with his Spanish conquistadors on the Mexican coast and marched on to see the famed riches of Emperor Montezuma and the Aztec empire, he was offered a golden goblet of the chocolatl.

Historian William Hickling’s History of the Conquest of Mexico reports that Montezuma used the drink as an aphrodisiac before visiting his harem and that he, “took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold.”

When Cortes returned to Spain in 1528 he arrived with galleons laden with cocoa beans and chocolate drink-making equipment like the molinillo, a special foam-rendering whisk, explaining of his find, “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food.”

The first recorded recipe for a chocolate drink was in Spain by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, an Andalusian physician, who wrote that chocolate was healthy and made its drinkers fat and amiable and could be an aphrodisiac that causes fertility in woman and eases delivery.

The delicious recipe, according to whatscookingamerica.net, required 100 cocoa beans, two chiles, anise seed, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar and annatto for color, creating the “king of chocolates.”

The recipe got warmer and sweeter in the hands of the Spanish and at one point nearly as controversial as liquor and wanton women. Historical entries show that the women of Chiapas were excommunicated by the bishop for refusing to give up sipping their cups of chocolate, which sustained them during lengthy high mass. Eventually, Pope Alexander VII declared that it didn’t break the fast, but only after the bishop was poisoned with chocolate.

By the 1700s, chocolate houses were as popular as today’s coffee houses, serving as precursors to cafes and bars and frequented by politicians and writers.

Today, we enjoy gathering in Valley coffee houses like Hailey Coffee Company, Zaney’s, The Grinder, Cowboy Coffee and Java on Fourth where one can still get a great hot chocolate, with or without caffeine. For those who want to take a trip back in time, try the following recipes at home.

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