Xocolatl / Chocolate

Part 2 | Chocolate in Colonial Mexico (READ: Part 1)

The Aztecs adopted the chocolate-drinking custom of the Maya, and while the Maya drank their “chocol” hot, the Aztecs preferred it cold with the addition of chile and sometimes pulque — a cactus wine. There is some evidence that the Aztecs may have sweetened their chocolate with honey and vanilla, but this theory is up for debate. There is, however, no debate about the fact that the “divine drink of the gods” could only be enjoyed by royalty and priests.

Maybe after dinner sometime, especially if you make a Mexican meal from, let’s say, Rick Bayless’s cookbooks or, perhaps, Diana Kennedy’s, you could try Moctezuma’s chocolate instead served in small demitasses cups instead of coffee.

Moctezuma’s Xocolatl

This recipe is supposed to duplicate Moctezuma’s divine drink minus the cocoa butter, minus the pulque.


  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. cocoa powder
  • pinch of chili ancho

Bring water to a boil and stir in other ingredients. Beat with a wire whisk until foamy. The Aztecs poured it from one vessel to another to create the foam and served it cold.

Now, picture yourself like Moctezuma (or one of his favorite courtesans) adorned with gold and quetzal feathers, wandering through Tenochitlan’s beautiful pleasure gardens, sipping chocolate from a golden cup.

Chocolate in Colonial Mexico

During the 17th and 18th centuries in Mexico, the rising merchant class amassed great wealth from silver mining and from trade with the Orient. They built fabulous mansions like the Casa de Azulejos, dressed in fine jewel-studded silks. and, of course, drank hot chocolate. Chocolate drinking was so fashionable that ladies carried their silver and coconut chocolate cups to mass daily.

We know this because the Mexican clergy wrote to the Spanish bishops complaining of this problem.

Here’s a recipe that approximates the chocolate Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the famous 17th century Mexican poet, might have sipped in her cloistered study.

Chocolate de Sor Juana (makes one cup)

  • 1.3 oz. of fine quality semi-sweet chocolate like Valhrona, Sharffen Berger or Guittard at least 60% cacao
  • 6-8 oz. water
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla
  • Cinnamon if desired
  1. Grate chocolate on a box grater (add cinnamon now if desired)
  2. Bring water to just below the boiling point
  3. Remove water from heat
  4. Pour in grated chocolate (with optional cinnamon)
  5. Add vanilla
  6. Beat with a Mexican molinillo until frothy, at least two minutes.

If you don’t have a molinillo, use a whisk. However, the drink must be frothy.

READ: Xocolatl / Chocolate, Part 3