‘Beware the chocolate of Chiapas’.

1648 There’s a famous story about a group of passionate chocoholics who turned nasty when someone tried to get between them and their drinking chocolate. The trouble began when a bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, became irritated with the ladies of his congregation, who insisted that they needed to drink hot chocolate during mass because of their weak stomachs. He banned chocolate from the cathedral and threatened to excommunicate anyone who ate or drank during services. Unwilling to do without their mid-mass fix, the ladies began to attend church in the convents instead of the cathedral. Despite being told about rumours of death threats against him, the bishop stood firm. The cathedral emptied altogether and shortly afterwards the bishop was found dead, having drunk a bowl of chocolate laced with poison. To this day, there’s a Mexican proverb that warns: ‘Beware the chocolate of Chiapas’.

The whole affair became a fearful scandal. Eventually, in 1662, Pope Alexander VII put a final solution to the affair when he declared " Liquidum non frangit jejunum." [Liquids (including chocolate) do not break the fast.] It is likely that this decision was based on the fact that chocolate, like so many other herbs, was considered to have medicinal qualities.

Because of its dark, rich flavours and pungent aroma, chocolate was an effective way to mask the bitter taste of poison. Chocolate is behind a litany of crimes of passion, revenge and mercy killings – even Pope Clement XIV was allegedly murdered with a cup of bitter tasting chocolate. The Duchess of Portsmouth was convinced that King Charles II had been poisoned with a ‘dish’ of chocolate at her house in 1685, although he probably died of kidney failure; a spurned mistress of Napoleon is also reported to have added something suspect to his chocolate beverage, hoping to exact vengeance with a deliciously deadly weapon.

"Tlaquetzalli"Perhaps the most fabulous chocolate drink in history was the one enjoyed by Aztec nobility. There appears to have been two main types. The more sacred version involved a massive head of foam, the precise nature of which has been debated for centuries. The secret is a special kind of cocoa bean called "pataxtle" which are buried in the ground for about half a year until it turns a chalky white. The beans then go through an elaborate process that results in foam, akin to beaten egg whites, which is then spooned cold atop a cup of a warm corn drink called "atole". The beans are impossible to obtain outside of Mexico but they can be replaced with an equal amount of white orchid flowers.
There was also a cold brew called "tlaquetzalli" (precious thing), which was heavily laced with chili peppers. The drink seems to have become extinct and there are no recipes, but some of the early European versions of chocolate appear to be closely related.

"Amor de Montezuma Xocolatl" - Emperor's Love Hot ChocolateThe Aztec emperor Montezuma voraciously consumed a chocolate beverage laced with fragrant flowers, chili peppers, and spices. The only ingredient missing was Tequila!
The heat of Chipotle chili powder works as a kind of stimulant to the palate; its heat gives tone but does not interfere with the taste of chocolate. Its heat excites the mouth, while the coffee-flavored tequila brings the chocolate to life, sure to bring Mexico to your heart side on a cold night!

Makes 4 servings
4 cups whole milk
5 whole star anise
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick (canela)
1 Mexican vanilla bean, split
6-8 oz. Dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped
1 pinch grated nutmeg
1 Beso de sal (a kiss of salt)
1/2 teaspoons Chipotle chili powder
2 Piloncillos (Mexican unrefined sugar, comes in firm brown cone shape) grated, or 1 Cup raw brown sugar
2-4 oz. coffee-flavored tequila

In saucepan, combine milk, star anise, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. Remove vanilla beans and spices, and then scrape seeds from vanilla bean and return to milk mixture. Add chocolate, piloncillo or sugar, a pinch of nutmeg, chipotle chili powder and salt. Whisk constantly until chocolate and sugar are melted. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in tequila. Divide hot chocolate among 4 cups and decorate with star anise.

Movie to watch: "Like Water like Chocolate" written by the Mexican author Laura Esquivel, the title playing on the saying "Como agua para chocolate" a metaphor for love's unstoppable chemistry!

Have you seen the movie, Chocolat? This is like the hot chocolate that was served in the movie.

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