Mmm, I love hot chocolate. Especially on a cold winter day. But we’re not the only ones to enjoy these warm treats, the Mayans and the Aztecs drink hot chocolate too!
The Mayans first developed hot chocolate and called it Xocolatl. It was cultivated as early as 900 AD in Mesoamerica. The Mayans, and later the Aztecs, made a beverage from the beans of the cocoa pods. This was used for a drink but it was also used in rituals and healing practices. Xocolatl was bitter because it was made without the sugar we are used to having today. Xocolatl actually means ‘bitter water.’ The Mayans didn’t have sugar but they made xocolatl by crushing cocoa beans, adding chili peppers and water. Before serving, they would rapidly pour it from one cup into another until a frothy foam formed on the top, much like some of today’s drinks.
The Mayans believed that xocolatl was a gift from the gods and should be shared with the people. Anyone was allowed to drink xocolatl, regardless of their social standing. The Mayans consumed xocolatl on a daily basis (*cough*like coffee*cough*). That changed drastically when the Mayan civilization gave way to the Aztecs. The Aztec people didn’t grow their own cocoa beans and had to trade for the beans. Therefore, they placed a higher value on the xocolatl drink. Only the very wealthy, the royalty, and the high priests could afford to drink it. In fact, the beverage was so valued that it was served in goblets made of gold that were discarded after just one use. Talk about a waste.
Neighboring civilizations established trade with the Mayans for the precious cocoa beans. After this, the beans eventually became a form of currency for the Mayans. When the Aztecs conquered the Mayans, they forced the Mayans to pay high taxes to them in the form of cocoa beans. The valuable beans were kept under lock and key. I’m sure they had cops and robbers.
Both the Mayan and the Aztec used xocolatl in rituals. The drink was thought to have the power to alter the brain and open the mind to the spirit world. The festival honoring Ek Chuah, the Mayan cacao god, was an annual event that included offerings of cocoa beans, blood sacrifices, ritual dancing, and more. Similarly, the Aztecs had a yearly cocoa festival, held at their capital, Tenochtitlan. This included the sacrifice of a warrior from an enemy tribe as a way to honor the god who gifted mortals with the cocoa bean. They were intense when it came to cocoa.
The Spanish conquistadors who invaded Mesoamerica and defeated the Aztec empire were introduced to the xocolatl beverage but were unimpressed. They found the drink to be bitter and nearly unpalatable. They couldn’t even say the name! They hesitated to even bring the cocoa beans back to Europe with them. They changed the name to xocolate, and later to chocolate. Eventually, the Spanish monks found that they could make the drink more pleasant by adding sugar to it, giving us the sweetened chocolate that we all drink and love today.