The cocoa bean is the heart of chocolate. The history of chocolate, in that case, roots from the cocoa bean which grew from cocoa trees in Central and South America. The early chocolate drink was actually made by the Mayans by grinding the cocoa beans to form a paste, and then it was mixed with water, corn meal, chili peppers and others. The cold mixture is poured from one cup to another vessel until a foam was formed. Hence, instead of the sweet hot chocolate we are all used to, the original cocoa drink was a mixture of bitter, thick and spicy, and it was actually cold. The Aztecs would also adapt the same approach to making their hot chocolate, and other ingredients such as vanilla and achiote would become part of the concoction. The popularity of the chocolate drink was it helped to fight fatigue, and because it was dubbed food of the gods, particularly the goddess of fertility Xochiquetzal, chocolate drink was also part of the sacred offerings of that era.
Fast forward to a few centuries later, the Spaniards discovered this fruit when they fought to conquer the New World. They brought the cocoa home and the equipment needed to make it, but in its original form and formula, chocolate was bitter. However, this did not stop chocolate from getting popular in Europe; eventually, the cocoa bean was subject to experimentation until it was found how it can be enhanced to combine its rich taste and make it less spicy. European versions took the chilies from the hot chocolate mix and retained the vanilla, and then milk was added as well as cinnamon and other spices that would make it sweet. The drink would be served hot because of the cold weather.
Today, the world has come to love hot chocolate, but there remains the particular regional stamp as to how it is made and drank. In North America, hot chocolate is typically in its sweet thin form with sugar and milk, and topped with whipped cream or marshmallows. In Central and South America, particularly in Mexico, still prepares hot chocolate with a pinch of chilies, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla. Spanish influence is also evident with the hot chocolate being normally served with churros, a fried dough pastry. The chocolate tablets or cocoa pellets are used to make the hot chocolate, and it usually comes in raw, bitter form.
In Europe, hot chocolate tends to be thick because of the added cornstarch. Spain is still home to the hot chocolate and churros combo, whereas other countries paired their hot chocolates with their local pastries. In Belgium, preparing hot chocolate means dissolving a small bowl of bittersweet chocolate chips in a cup of warm milk.
Today, hot chocolate easily comes in powder form with enhanced flavoring and other additives. As hot chocolate has evolved through time, it has formed a tradition in different parts of the world how to prepare it. This shows that the lowly cocoa bean has evolved all these centuries as well, but in the end, people come to appreciate the original mix of hot chocolate once they discover how it was made and enjoyed.