Authentic Mexican chocolate caliente is comforting, as hot chocolate should be, but it is also unexpectedly refreshing: the main ingredient itself is less intense than the darker chocolate often used in other versions of this beverage, and the cinnamon is nothing short of stimulating.
In Mexico, hot chocolate is most often prepared with tablets of rustic chocolate de mesa, “table chocolate”, which can be easily found stateside at Mexican grocery stores and even large supermarkets. The two most common brands are Ibarra (made by a company in Jalisco, Mexico) and Abuelita (a Nestle product). These tablets contain cacao paste, of course, but also sugar and cinnamon.
The following instructions describe how to use chocolate de mesa to make basic Mexican hot chocolate. Don´t miss the wealth of additional information and tips for delicious variations below the recipe.
- 2 tablets of Mexican table chocolate (about 3 ounces / 90 grams each)
- 4 cups (1 liter) of milk
The tablets of chocolate de mesa are usually divided into 6-8 wedges. Place each tablet on a cutting board and cut with a sharp knife to divide the piece into these wedges. Don´t worry if they don’t cut perfectly—we are going to be dissolving the chocolate anyway!
Place the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the first tiny bubbles begin to appear in the milk, add the wedges of chocolate and continue heating, stirring slowly but constantly, until the chocolate has melted. Do not let the milk boil; if it looks as if it is going to start boiling, take the pan off the heat for a few minutes, continue to stir, then turn the burner down somewhat and return the pan to the heat.
- Drink your hot chocolate as-is, or place in a blender, half at a time, and carefully blend the mixture until the desired degree of frothiness has been reached.
- Pour your hot chocolate into rustic clay mugs and enjoy!
Please note that regardless of how well your milk and chocolate are blended, some solids will settle inside the cup as the beverage is enjoyed; this has to do with the nature of the ingredients, and it is normal. For this reason, it’s a good idea to provide either a stick of cinnamon or a teaspoon with each portion so that each drinker can stir the beverage as they go along.
Notes on Mexican Hot Chocolate
In Mexico, a good mug of hot chocolate has some delicious espuma, or froth, on the top. Traditionally, this is created with a molinillo, a utensil whose sole purpose is this one. These are often very beautifully made and are as decorative as they are useful. The molinillo is inserted into the hot chocolate, either while the liquid is still in the pan or after it has already been poured into a cup; the cook then takes the handle of the utensil between her palms and makes the molinillo spin quickly back and forth in the liquid until the desired amount of froth is produced. It can take several minutes to create a lot of froth; patience and persistence is key.
If you don’t have an official molinillo, try the same technique with a wire whisk, or go all modern and use a portable electric mixture or an immersion blender. If you prefer an authentic method even older than the molinillo, try pouring the drink back and forth between two bowls or pitchers until the espuma forms.
Though Abuelita and Ibarra are the ubiquitous commercial brands of chocolate de mesa, they are far from the only ones in existence. If you have access to other brands and/or artisanal chocolate products, by all means take advantage of them. Try different kinds of chocolate for different occasions, or settle on just one favorite. Feeling adventurous? You might even want to make your own blend.
For the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, hot chocolate was a drink consumed only by those at the top of the social pyramid, as cacao beans were also used as a type of currency. The concoction those elites consumed was only marginally similar to the one we sip today, however, as neither sugar nor milk products had yet made it to the American Continent, and so were not used in the hot chocolate drink.
Nowadays, people in Mexico often partake of this comforting drink for breakfast or a late supper any day of the week, as well as at Christmastime (such as the Posadas celebrations) and for special occasions such as Day of the Dead. It is often served with delicious sweet bread or basic white bread (such as bolillos), which is dunked into the hot liquid.
You can definitely serve your hot chocolate in fancy teacups or modern mugs, but this beverage feels most at home in jarros—rustic, old fashioned clay mugs. Mexican hot chocolate is a relatively unsophisticated, homey drink, not a fancy beverage that you would find in a dainty tea shop or high end chocolatier’s. Chocolate de mesa tends to be a bit grainy, even after it is dissolved in hot milk or water, and this is part of the experience. If you are anticipating thick, creamy, dark chocolate decadence, you are sure to be disappointed, as that is not what Mexican hot chocolate is all about. A cup of authentic chocolate caliente is as ordinary and comforting—and as lovingly made—as a hand-knitted afghan.
Variations on Mexican Hot Chocolate
Sure, you can always add marshmallows, but why not do something new? Consider changing up your cup of comfort in one or more of the following ways:
Try making your hot chocolate with water, instead of milk. That’s how the pre-Hispanic Mexicans did it, as they did not have cows and so had no access to dairy products. Chocolate caliente made with water will definitely have a more pronounced cacao flavor.
Not brave enough to make hot chocolate with water? Use half water and half milk, or skim milk. It’s all good!
If you prefer an even sweeter beverage, experiment with different sweetening agents. White sugar is fine, but a bit of brown sugar, piloncillo or even honey will add more layers of interest.
It turns out that vanilla is just as Mexican as cacao is, so you will still be authentic if you add a small amount of good quality Mexican vanilla extract to your batch of chocolate. Start with just two drops, then taste until the desired degree of vanilla flavor has been achieved.
Spice it up. Use a pinch of cloves, nutmeg or allspice in your hot chocolate—either in addition to the cinnamon or in place of it.
Make your chocolate a little “hotter” by including some powdered chile pepper in the mix—not chili powder (which has cumin and other flavors in it and is used to make chili soup), but a good quality ground ancho, chipotle or other dried pepper. Use just a little, as you are not trying to make a mouth-searing concoction but rather add a fascinating additional element to an already complex flavor profile. Revel in the knowledge that the ancient Mexicans laced their chocolate with chile, too.
Go way beyond Mexico and include cheese in your liquid chocolate like they do in Colombia and Ecuador. After the beverage has been poured into the mugs, add a small handful of cubed, thinly sliced, or grated queso fresco or fresh mozzarella to each cup. Serve with a spoon so each drinker can sip, stir and nibble.