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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Drinking chocolate another way

Chocolate chip cookie
When we say chocolate, the common thought is that it is a sweet of some sort, like those ubiquitous chocolate chips or bars. Those are fairly recent, though - initially, chocolate was a drink. Well, a better drink than what most places in America think of as hot chocolate. That milky, overly sweet concoction that is provided as a patronizing nod to children while the "adults" have (bad) coffee is a tragic waste of the potential of chocolate.
Drinking Chocolate, Bean Traders, North Carolina
That delicious chocolate bar is a complex emulsion of fat and crystals - some of that unctuousness can be conveyed by making sipping chocolates (rather than hot cocoa). The key is to use whole milk, or even half and half, and not to heat it too much as to cause the emulsion to break. And great restraint on the sugar - the complexity of flavors in chocolate can be overpowered easily. Sip slowly in the company of friends. 

The source of chocolate is the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao. The name literally translates to "food of the gods", and in its mesoamerican origins, chocolate was very much a drink for the gods. In Oaxaca, Mexico, hot drinking chocolate is prized even above coffee. Traditionally, it's made with water, not milk, and without the cloying milk fat, this style reveals more of the nuance on chocolate flavor. A foam atop the hot chocolate is great prized, as it has to manually beaten into a drink with relatively few foaming components. 

Chocolate de agua, Oaxaca, Mexicp
But there's a lesser known sibling to chocolate, a different product of the cacao bean: tejate.
Perhaps the ancestral energy drink, it is purchased as a pick me up the middle of the day, drunk out of  colorful gourd cups. The white layer atop the giant bowl is pretty much cocoa butter, released by the slow massaging of the ground cacao with masa and various ingredients. A tejatera (tejate is almost exclusively made by women) will scoop out the liquid and separately top it with the fluffy white mass.
Lime treated cacao beans for tejate
Sweetening the drink is optional. The flavor is floral, chocolatey, light. Tejate is refreshing respite on a hot day, but preparing it is a laborious and manual process (with a surprisingly large number of ingredients.
Key ingredient to tejate - the seed of the mamey fruit

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