Chocolate is a delicacy from the New World that was brought back to Spain in the XVI century. Some historians believe that the word “chocolate” comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word chocolatl or xocolatl. Others believe it is from the Mayan chocol haa, which means “hot water.” We may never know exactly where the word “chocolate” comes from, but we do know that chocolate seems to have a special effect on people from every culture. The Mayans used chocolate mixed with chilies to make a spicy drink for religious ceremonies and traded with the Aztecs, who weren’t able to grow cacao themselves. The upper class and priests in the Aztec culture were the only ones who could drink the frothy, spicy drink, due to its high price.
Although Christopher Columbus appears to have “discovered” cacao beans in 1502, he did not realize what they were or how valuable they were! We know Hernan Cortez tried the drink and he is credited with sending cacao beans back to Spain in 1544. The Spanish explorers liked the drink made from cacao but added something that the Mayans and Aztecs could not—cane sugar. The Spaniards brought cacao back to Spain, but incredibly kept the discovery a secret from the rest of Europe for almost a century! Once the rest of Europe tasted this new drink, it became a fad that swept across the continent. The nobility and elite of Europe were the only ones who could afford to drink chocolate since it was made form two expensive imports—sugar and cacao.
It is interesting to note that although the chocolate was all the rage in Europe, it remained only a drink until the 1800’s when the technology of the industrial revolution helped transform chocolate from a liquid form into solid bars and mass production made the delicacy affordable to the masses.
Since the time of its discovery, the Spanish have been obsesionados (obsessed) with chocolate. Chocolate drinking establishments are called chocolaterias in Spain and serve the sweet, rich beverage, as well as cakes and pastries to accompany it. So enamored were the Madrilenos with the drink that the Pope was asked to change the rules regarding fasting to exclude chocolate! To this day, chocolate is a standard breakfast drink, especially in Madrid. Chocolate con Churros (Hot Chocolate with Fritters) is a popular breakfast around Spain.
Chocolate and Churros
Chocolate and churros are a very popular breakfast. However, Spanish night owls, who leave the clubs at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning are known to stop at the chocolateria or churreria to have some chocolate con churros before crawling into bed!