Hot chocolate isn’t just for snot-nosed grommets and grown-up lonelyhearts watching a "It's a Wonderful Lifetime." Mayan rulers, arctic explorers, soldiers, and other adventurous hardmen drank hot cocoa (or "drinking chocolate," an important distinction) to keep their strength—and their mojo—up.
The first drinking chocolate appeared 2,000 years ago when the Mayans ground cocoa seeds into a paste mixed with water. The beverage was served warm to the rich elite and believed to be a powerful elixir. By 1400 A.D., Aztec leader Montezuma II was drinking 50 goblets of chocolate every day—served bitter and cold, like his wrath. After vanquishing his enemies, he demanded they hand over their cacao bean stash.
By the 17th century Spanish conquistadors took the chocolate idea back to Europe. It remained a drink of the rich and famous, served at Spanish bullfights and at gentlemen’s clubs associated with Parliamentary parties in England. The Cocoa-tree Chocolate House, for example, was a place where men of the Tory party—“the first men in the kingdom, in fortune and fashion, supping at little tables covered with a napkin”—gathered to sip tea and chocolate.
During the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration," Robert Falcon Scott and his crew of four other men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, after over a year of traveling through treacherous lands, living on a diet largely made up of hot cocoa and stew. In fact, he made his men drink cocoa at least five nights a week (16 grams of cocoa mixed with sugar per night). Along with a pot of cocoa, for supper they made "hoosh”—a thick stew of pemmican (dried beef and fat) and hard biscuits. Crew member Apsley Cherry-Garrard wrote: "The warmth of your hours of rest depends largely on getting into your bag immediately after you have eaten your hoosh and cocoa."
Scott and his men never made it back to England; they died of starvation and exhaustion on their return trip. Though they reached the South Pole, it was second to Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, who brought five times more cocoa.
Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, WWI, and WWII were administered hot chocolate to boost morale and speed up recovery time. During WWI, the YMCA sponsored canteens that offered free treats, like hot chocolate made from water, powdered chocolate, and milk.
More recently, during explorer Will Steger’s 1989 dog-sled journey across Antarctica, he and his team drank over 2,070 cups of Swiss Miss hot chocolate over the 4,000-mile trek. It took 36 sled dogs and 220 days to successfully cross a continent that is unable to support most living things. Steger writes on why he took the trip in his book, Crossing Antarctica: “I say, 'Because I like it.’ You never ask the basketball player why he plays. It is like asking someone, 'Why do you like chocolate?'"
Modern adventurers—mountaineers, climbers, and distance runners—still rely on the calories chocolate (in bar or liquid form) can provide after a physically grueling day. In January 2009, extreme distance runner, Ray Zahab broke the record for fastest unsupported trek across Antarctica—he ate three things most often: Bacon, butter, and chocolate. Last summer, Christoph Strasser rode 3,000 miles in fewer than 8 days winning the 2013 Race Across America. During the 2011 RAAM, he drank nothing but the chocolate Ensure shakes you buy at Wal-Mart.
The takeaway? Chocolate—particularly of the hot, liquid variety—has been a performance food of choice for centuries. Don't avoid, enjoy.
A nod to hot chocolate's Aztec beginnings, this drink is spiked with Mezcal. But remember: sip it; don't shoot it.
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole dried ancho chile pod, split
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 5 ounces mezcal
- Chile powder, cocoa nib, and/or dark chocolate shavings for garnish
Combine all of the ingredients except for the mezcal in a pot over medium heat until the mixture has been homogenized. Then drain and take out the chile and cinnamon sticks. Return the mixture to the pot, add mezcal and serve.
This one is spicy—true to hot chocolate's Mesoamerican roots. Plus, it's got maca and ginger in it—appealing for athletes. Cayenne pepper also reduces inflammation and boosts the immune system.
- 4 Tbsp. raw cacao powder
- 4 tsp. maca powder
- 2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
- Pinch sea salt
- Pinch cinnamon powder
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Pinch ginger powder
- Small piece vanilla bean, scraped (optional)
- 3 cups milk of your choice or water
Bring the wet ingredients to a boil and whisk in dry ingredients. Serve hot.
A zesty departure from your typical chocolatey concoctions.
- 4 oz. white chocolate, roughly chopped (or about 3/4 cup)
- 2 cups milk
- 3-4 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 two-inch strip of orange zest
- 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- pinch of cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Over medium-low heat, combine milk with crushed cardamom, and orange zest. Stir liquid until little bubbles appear (do not let it boil—the milk will burn). Place a strainer over a bowl of white chocolate (chopped or in chip form) and pour the hot liquid through. Remove cardamom and orange peels. Add vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth and serve.
This one is boozy and you put it in the oven. It adds a smoky taste to the blend and only takes a minute or two to brown the marshmallows.
- 3 cups milk
- 1/3 cup half and half
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
Combine ingredients, keep on medium heat. Transfer contents into oven-safe mugs. Add marshmallows as garnish and broil the mixture (mug and all) on low until marshmallows brown.
Some ingredient highlights include: Irish Whiskey and espresso (two things that you wish you had at the office most Mondays). Let it be known that if you're in the mood to get buzzed, you can add Rum, Grand Marier, Franjelico or Baileys to any cocoa.
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 cups milk
- 4 oz milk chocolate chips
- 4 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tsp espresso powder
- 3 oz amaretto
- 4 oz Irish whiskey
Stir cocoa, sugar, salt, milk, milk chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate over medium heat. When hot, add vanilla, espresso, Amaretto, and whiskey and stir to combine.