It may have been the Olmec or one of the other mother cultures of Mesoamerica who first learned to ferment cacao beans into chocolate and turn it into a drink. It was the Maya who took a particular love to it, and it was the Triple Alliance, or Aztec Empire, which carried on the tradition.
Ancient Mesoamericans didn’t add sugar to their chocolate. They loved the bitter taste, though they did like to flavor it with other things, like vanilla and most famously chili peppers. This frothing draught was a blast of intense flavors.
Modern Mexican hot chocolate, or champurrado, is made by combining sweetened chocolate with tamalified corn, or masa. This recipe is a combination of the ancient drink and the modern treat, made from pure raw ingredients: corn, cacao beans, and chili pepper.
(Makes about 4 cups)
50g Dent or Field Corn (NOT sweet or popcorn)
2g pickling lime or cal
1 cup fermented and roasted cacao beans (you can find them on Amazon)
1 cayenne or or other chili pepper
1/2 cup sugar (if cheating. You want to cheat on this one, trust me)
The night before, tamalify the corn. Combine the corn and the cal in a saucepan with 300ml of water and bring to a simmer. Cook the corn until its mostly cooked through, but still has a powdery white, raw interior, 25-45 mins. Turn off the heat and let it sit overnight.
Congratulations, you’ve just turned a meager grain into a nutritionally balanced meal. The next day, rub off the brand between your hands under running water. You don’t have to get every single kernel perfectly.
Now pound it in a metate (or a mortar and pestle) until it is as finely ground as possible, somewhere between flour and dough. That’s masa!
Oh, meanwhile, you should be drying some chilis. Or you can just buy a dry one at the store. Cut up the chili into small pieces and grind it into dust. Then add just a few drops of water to stir it into a paste. Careful, this stuff can be hot.
Now for the main event. Unfortunately, you have to peel all the cacao beans, which I found no convenient way to do. You can lightly pound them and then remove the shards, or smash them a bit and then try to peel it, but either way is a pain. If you get some whole beans out, nice job! But don’t worry if you end up with a broken jumble.
Go ahead and eat one and experience that pure cacao flavor. It’s a kick. Then grind it all up as finely as possible. Add 2 cups of water and stir to make the chocolate drink. Tasting it as it is as this point, was just how the Ancient Mesoamericans liked it, although with more foam.
To make champurrado, we’re going to combine all ingredients, add 1/2 cup of sugar, and bring it to a gentle boil while stirring, adding more water if necessary to achieve the right consistency as the mixture thickens.
Now it’s ready to serve. Warm, delicious. Sweet, spicy. Filling. This is a great treat for a cold day, but really it’s enjoyable any time. After all, it was most popular in the sweltering jungles of the Yucatan.