We tend to think of hot cocoa or hot chocolate as one of the softer beverages to only be consumed at Christmas. It’s seen as juvenile and for some unfathomable reason some people like to load that shit with marshmallows. Today it’s the ignored drink when somebody asks you “tea or coffee?”, but what if I told you hot chocolate had one of the most badass histories of all?
1. The Aztecs associated drinking chocolate with blood, and used cacao seeds in religious ceremonies to represent the human heart. Brutal.
2. From World War II hot chocolate began to appear in standard army field rations for Allied soldiers. Meanwhile, the Nazis were feeding their troops meth-infused chocolate bars. As the history shows, hot chocolate is far superior.
3. A different kind of “hot” chocolate: in 1943 the Nazis planned to assassinate Churchill with exploding chocolate. They would have smothered bars of explosives in dark chocolate and branded them “Peters Chocolate”, and then given them to secret agents to place in with luxury items destined for the War Cabinet dining room. Inglourious Basterds, eat your heart out.
4. Aztecs and Mayans valued cocoa so much that they used it as currency. The Aztecs reserved the Xocolatl/Chocolatl drink for warriors and the mega-rich. Aztec ruler Montezuma II was rumoured to drink as many as 50 cups a day, an act made so ostentatious because he was literally drinking money. But then again, money did grow on trees.
5. Hot chocolate became an essential part of a medic’s equipment during the American Revolutionary War. The drink was given to the wounded and the tired to speed up recovery. Thomas Jefferson was so impressed that he thought “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the preference over tea and coffee in America…”
6. The name “Cocoa” comes from a mis-spelling of “cacao” made by an English importer in the 18th century.
7. Hot cocoa took London by storm in the 17th century; while a milky watered down version was served in coffee houses, for the real deal you had to visit the dedicated chocolate houses where it was served with cinnamon or ambergris. Like with the Aztecs, it was a drink of the aristocracy.
8. White’s was the oldest and most (in)famous chocolate house of them all, where aristocrats and politicians made morbid wagers on things such as which celebrity would outlive the other, the outcomes of battles, and in one instance whether an injured man who had been brought in for help was going to die or not.
9. Hot cocoa was the drink of choice for Jacobite rebels in the 1700s. In 1715 the royal guard burst into Ozinda’s and dragged away the owner and some of his customers for plotting to overthrow the king and replace him with a Catholic monarch. Most of London’s chocolate houses were mere yards away from the royal palace entrance!
10. The Mayans didn’t add sugar or milk to their hot chocolate; they poured it back and forth between two cups until it became frothy. It was the Spaniards who first thought to sweeten the beverage.
11. Hot cocoa has fuelled several expeditions to the Poles. When Robert Falcon Scott tried to become the first man to reach the South Pole in 1912 he fed his team on a diet of hot chocolate and stew every night. Unfortunately, it turns out you need more than that to survive in the Antarctic and they all died on the return journey from a combination of exhaustion and starvation. Also they were beaten to the Pole by the Norwegians.
12. The largest cup of hot chocolate contained 880 gallons of the stuff! It was made in Tampa Bay by The Museum of Science and Industry at the Festival of Chocolate. It was then flavoured by children firing specially built Marshmallow cannons.
13. Xocolatl’s not all the Spaniards adopted from the Americas. Cocoa became so popular among the upper classes that members of Spain’s Royal Family gave it as a dowry (bride price) to other European aristocrats. Just like the Aztecs, they were using cocoa as valuable currency!
14. Hot chocolate has long been rumoured as an aphrodisiac, but the only record of those benefits are higher levels of testosterone after you drink it Mayan style: crushed up cocoa beans with no milk and no sugar. Don’t ask how I know this.
15. During World War I it was the YMCA that served hot cocoa to soldiers near the frontline. Way before the army had its own morale services or field rations, over 25,000 volunteers called “Red Triangle Men” set up comfort tents across the globe with smokes, food, and hot cocoa.
16. Hot chocolate beats the shit out of green tea and wine when it comes to flavonoid content – antioxidants which can lower your chances of getting cancer. You’ll have to drink it without dairy though – that treacherous beverage cancels out the positive effects of humanity’s cocoa flavoured saviour.
17. Drinking chocolate was so popular among Catholics that there were heated debates about whether it was a drink or a food – and thus whether they could still indulge in this treat. In other words, they do the same kind of mental gymnastics today’s chocolate lovers do whenever Lent comes around.
18. Hot Chocolate were the first British band to play in the USSR. I think it’s safe to say that this performance and Rocky IV sowed the seeds of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
19. The first chocolate in space was eaten by Yuri Gagarin on his historic first flight into orbit. That was cold paste in a tube though; the first hot chocolate in space went up on the Apollo missions of the 60s and 70s. That’s right, the likes of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin probably drank hot chocolate on their way to the Moon.
20. When Francis Drake first captured Spanish ships full of cocoa shipments, he threw the bags into the sea thinking the beans were useless. Perhaps he should have read this list first.