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  1. dreamstime_l_96019182

    When do you drink Hot Chocolate? As a warm, comforting cup on a cold winter’s evening or as an afternoon treat with marshmallows on top, with friends after shopping perhaps? Whenever you drink hot chocolate and for whatever reason, I sure you feel better just from enjoying the rich, hot taste and savouring the relaxing feeling it often brings.

    But do you ever think about who discovered hot chocolate? Or how the drink in your hands and taste in your mouth has changed a lot since it was first discovered?

    It was always thought hot chocolate was first discovered and drank by the Mayan peoples of what is now Central America over 500BC. But recent research in the last year or so now puts the discovery of hot chocolate making back to at least 2,500BC and the Olmecs civilisation in Mexico.

    What we now regard as a hot, smooth and sweet beverage, would then have been much more of a cold, spicy and rougher tasting concoction.

    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Chocolate itself comes from the seeds or beans inside the pods of the cocoa plant. The beans themselves were often dried and so highly prized that they were stored and used as a form of currency.

    Archaeological research indicates that the seeds were ground up with water, corn meal and other plant-based products such as maize. The mixture was then poured back and forth until the ingredients formed a foaming, thickened brew. This was then drunk cold. Chili peppers were often added, to give the drink, a spicy, bitter after taste.

    So who actually drank chocolate? It appears that this spicy, cold drink was readily drank by all classes of Mayan society. Poorer people would have drunk it from rough earthenware bowls. But richer people enjoyed chocolate poured from elaborately decorated drinking vessels. These were probably status symbols – so much so that they drank from them in life and were buried with them in death. Treasured possessions, indeed.

    These days tea drinkers pour over the respective merits of how long to let the leaves brew for. Mayans would have poured the cocoa drink and its many grains, back and forth endlessly, without a second thought; while discussing the harvest or the weather.

    Evidence indicates that the Mayans were clean shaven, so they probably wouldn’t have literally wet their whiskers over a foaming brew; but it’s seems clear that drinking chocolate had a firm and important social place in Mayan society.

    The invasion of the Americas, by Spanish conquistadores, like Herman Cortes, led to cocoa beans being brought back to mainland Spain. As, the Hapsburg imperial courts of Emperors like Charles V, began to drink chocolate, it started to be served hot and sweetened.  Hot chocolate as we know it today was well on the way to being served for the refined and so refined in both its ingredients and its taste. Rich pickings, indeed.

    In Northern Europe and an island sometimes called Britain, the first coffee or chocolate houses started to appear around 1690s. By this time, Britain had overseas possessions of its own in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, which was seized from the Spanish during Cromwell’s reign in the 1650’s. But hot chocolate was still an expensive drink, for the rich and elite who consumed it ostentatiously in public with rituals every bit as elaborate as a Mayan nobleman.  Georgian society had discovered hot chocolate not just to gossip with – but to gossip over.

    The addition of milk to the cocoa mass that made up chocolate gave the drink an altogether different, lighter and more refreshing flavour. This led to hot chocolate being an addition to the menu as an after-dinner drink.

    In the middle of the 18th century the Dutch discovered how to make cocoa powder. This enabled chocolate to be blended much easier with water and milk. But it wasn’t until nearly a century later that Joseph Fry manufactured what is now considered to be the first chocolate bar by melting cocao butter back into Dutch cocoa to form a chocolate paste which could be moulded into a bar shape.

    It wasn’t long before more chocolate was eaten in a solid bar than drunk from a cup or mug.

    Fast forward another century and a half and hot chocolate is approaching a new height of regaining popularity. Today it’s enjoyed in a range of different ways and flavours. Variously know as drinking chocolate or cocoa chocolate, hot chcolate can be made from shaved chocolate shards, melted cocoa or cocoa powder. It’s often made either hot milk or water. Often the milk when heated is frothy – a nod to its Mayan roots.

    Viennese chocolate houses were among the first to start the tradition of using whipped cream as topping and all sorts of colourful sweets from candy to marshmallows now adorn the top of a cup or tall glass of hot chocolate.

    Where hot chocolate is made from chocolate itself, rather than powder, it’s often much thicker in texture and richer in taste. So, the Spanish drink chocolate a la taza or chocolate con churros – with fried cyrated conical shaped dough topped with sugar. The thickness of the rich and intense chocolate, allows the churros to be dipped into it and stay on the dough.

    Around Christmas time, gingerbread flavoured hot chocolate is especially popular; vanilla is always a favourite and cinnamon is often added for an extra warming effect. Fashions come full circle, so they say, so the trend for chilli to be added to dark chocolate to give it that extra kick, may well take off with hot chocolate. Another nod to our Mayan drinking forebears.

    Over the years, various medicinal properties have been ascribed to drinking hot chocolate. It’s been advertised as a way of combating tiredness to alleviating stomach and liver problems. More modern medical research has pointed to the benefits of antioxidants in reducing heart disease. These are found in higher quantities in chocolate (especially dark chocolate) than in red wine or green tea. Similarly, the flavonoids in chocolate, help to keep our arteries healthy.

    So, wherever you are, whatever the occasion and however you prefer to drink it, raise a glass (or a cup or a mug) to the rich and lovely taste of the humble hot chocolate. Delve deeper into the history of hot chocolate and you’ll find it’s full of rich discoveries – whoever actually discovered hot chocolate in the first place.

    So, what’s hot chocolate’s recipe for success? Do you have a favourite hot chocolate drink or flavouring? What’s the essence of good hot chocolate? Here’s one recipe that you might like:

    What ingredients do I need?

    590ml full milk

    475ml gold top milk or single cream

    113g plain chocolate, chopped

    113g milk chocolate, chopped

    1 tbsp sugar

    1 tsp pure vanilla essece

    1 tsp instant espresso or coffee powder

    4 to 5 vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks, for garnish

    How do I make the hot chocolate?

    First, heat the milk and gold top or single cream in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point.

    Then, remove the pan from the heat and add both chocolates, stirring to dissolve.

    Next, when the chocolates are melted, add the sugar, vanilla extract and espresso and whisk vigorously.

    Finally, reheat gently and serve immediately. Use a vanilla bean or cinnamon stick to garnish each serving.

    This recipe makes about 4 very generous mugs, so if you are after smaller quantities, just half all the ingredients. And if you want to make your life a little easier, head over to our online shop and have a look at our hot chocolate spoons or festive hot chocolate cones to make your hot chocolate drink making a little easier!

    I'm off to make my own hot chocolate - until next time!


  2. golden-69463_1280

    Giving Chocolate Coins for Christmas is a seasonal festive tradition. But what exactly is its origins and what form has it taken over the ages? As a child, I can remember receiving wrapped up shiny and glistening coins in my Christmas stocking. The temptation was always to bite them before unwrapping them. Big mistake!

    Unwrapping the giant coins was always harder than it seemed as well. Maybe, my eager hands were all festive fingers and thumbs. Or perhaps, I tried to heed my Mum’s instructions to look after the wrapper. I doubt Mum’s entreaties to keep the nice shiny paper, had much effort on my as I picked away furiously at the silver foil paper to get to the milk chocolate inside. Either way, the coin itself was probably a sticky mess long before I actually got round to eating it.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just how did chocolate coins get to be given as presents at Christmas? It’s all probably wrapped up in the legend of St Nicholas himself which may date back to Turkey or Greece in the 5th century. St Nicholas is often portrayed as a Bishop who was especially kind to children. Being a shy figure, he would go around parishioners houses at Christmas and drop coins down the chimney or through windows and into the stockings of the little children inside. Either that or he didn’t want people to know where the largesse came from. And so, began the tradition of giving gifts and presents at Christmas.


    St Nicholas’s day is actually on 6 December so many parts of the world, celebrate it by giving little gifts, like chocolate coins in Christmas Stockings before the 25th December. In the Netherlands, St Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas and visits little children on the evening of 5th December. Other traditional gifts that you can find in your stocking include an orange and a lump of coal!

    What is the significance of chocolate coins for hanukkah?

    The Jewish festival of Hanukkah – a festival of light held in December, also features the giving of coins to children. Known as Hanukka gelt or geld (German/Dutch word for gold) it appears to have started as a tradition between school children and their teachers.

    When were chocolate coins invented ?

    That's tricky to say, but in the 1920’s US chocolate makers introduced chocolate wrapped in the shape of silver foil money pouch bags for Jewish immigrants to hand out in their communities at Christmas time.

    A little bit earlier, in late Victorian Britain, farthing coins were used be wrap chocolate inside. Christmas trees were also traditionally decorated with chocolate coins although not placed too close to the fire, I hope. Coins would be either gold or silver in colour with milk chocolate being the usual filling inside.

    How many calories are in a chocolate coin?

    Ever wondered about this? If you are very health conscious, you might like to know. First of all the amount of calories, depends on the coin size. A bag of 400g milk chocolate probably has around 500 calories- so maybe that weighs in at  40 calories per coin. So, not a lot of calories in one chocolate coin, as long as you don't eat the whole bag in one setting!

    In 2014, Cadbury’s shocked the chocolate world by announcing that it was stopping selling chocolate coins. Amongst the reasons given were that it was ‘fiddly’ wrapping the foil around the coin. ‘Fiddly’! I kid you not. That came in quotes from an official spokesman. Fiddly for me, trying as a kid to wrap them. But aren’t there machines for wrapping them all up? Or were Santa’s elves too wrapped up in Argos’ packing bay to help any more? Foiled again.

    Another more plausible reason Cadburys gave was that without their purple but not trademarked wrapping, the coins were not so indistinguishable from the chocolate coins of other manufactures. Hang that on your Christmas tree and eat it.

    Most supermarkets will sell their own Christmas coins – large or small – individually or in a bag. The foil imprint may even be a Christmas theme since it’s possible nowadays to print most images onto the wrapping. Look out for chocolate foxes, owls, unicorns and even llamas!

    Indistinguishable or not, the history of giving chocolate coins at Christmas starts with St Nicholas and is now an important part of the festive season. After all, the ancient Mayans used cocao beans as a form of currency. So, if flattery is the sincerest form of imitation, then perhaps we’ve come full circle; because for some people, chocolate, like money, truly makes the world go round!

    So, there you go a potted history of chocolate coins!

    Until next time...