The history of hot chocolate
Story by Sarah Allen
Chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate cake. Chocolate pudding. Chocolate mousse. Chocolate soufflé.
It’s a flavor that can become nearly anything: from simple treats to elegant delicacies. Chocolate means something to nearly everyone, but there is one sweet in particular that marries both its nostalgia and its elegance: hot chocolate.
The seasonal drink used to be “very bitter and very strong,” said Kathy Creighton, director of the Butler County Historical Society, which has a program on the history of chocolate.
“Everyone eats chocolate,” Creighton said, “but it’s certainly not the chocolate our forefathers ate.”
Chocolate is only grown in a “very limited” area of the world, she added, specifically around the equator. The Aztecs were the first to use it.
“It was actually considered food for just the noble people,” Creighton said.
In the 16th century, chocolate found its way to Europe after explorers came to the New World.
Historically, the hot chocolate consumed then was much more potent than what we know today. Creighton said it often included spices such as anise, vanilla, annatto and even red peppers.
It was enjoyed in very small amounts, she added, because it was so strong.
In Colonial America, Creighton said, hosts would serve their guests tea or hot chocolate as a way to impress them. Hot chocolate would also often be frothed — much like in coffee shops today. However, rather using a machine, colonists would do it by hand, using wooden frothers. Creighton added that a woman’s status in society would be often based on her frothing ability.
She also said that hot chocolate has a safe place in United States history, as it was served both by Martha Washington and at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Nowadays, hot chocolate is sweeter. The milk added to it is “an American thing,” Creighton said. The milk dilutes the chocolate, making it “not as strong.”
However, that hardly means that hot chocolate has stopped evolving. There are a multitude of recipes and styles, all of which give this classic beverage some contemporary twists.
At the Kava Haus in Wilmington, hot chocolate is “one of our most popular items,” said owner Brad Heys.
Kava Haus hot chocolate is made with Ghirardelli coca and a sweet chocolate mix. It is steamed with milk, and never water, Heys said, and topped with homemade whipped cream.
The cream, he added, is made several times a day in-house.
Along with traditional hot chocolate, Kava Haus also serves caramel, raspberry, peppermint and cherry varieties.
Patrons can also purchase a mix in the shop and make Kava Haus hot chocolate at home.
“It’s very warm, very smooth and silky chocolate,” he added.
And that unique, comforting taste is part of what makes hot chocolate such a special part of every winter.
“It’s both a hot drink and a dessert,” said Cynthia Stemple, owner of Xenia’s Coffee Hub. “There’s something about hot chocolate when it’s cold outside that is inviting.”
She described the Coffee Hub’s take on the beverage, saying that they use “quality Monin dark chocolate sauce, steamed with whole milk and soft serve ice cream powder.” The result, Stemple said, is “frothy and delicious.”
She added that, as well as a delicious drink on its own, it’s also a good choice for patrons who are not “into the coffee scene,” or even for coffee drinkers who want something a little different.
“It’s a joy to serve hot chocolate … and put a smile on somebody’s face,” Stemple said.
Indeed, it seems that hot chocolate is a treat that has worked its way into both luxury and tradition. While it may have started in just one corner of the world, it has traveled, and changed, and become a staple of every winter.
“As simple as it sounds, it’s the chocolate part,” said Heys. “Chocolate holds a special place for all of us.”
187 E. Locust St., Wilmington
The Coffee Hub
81 E. Main St., Xenia