Introduction: Mayan Chocolate Drink

About: I make stuff. It's what I do.

Chocolate was first cultivated by the Ancient Mayans, however the way they consumed it was not much like the sweet treats we know today. Their preferred method of consumption was a thick, bitter, frothy drink served cold. This instructable chronicles my attempt to make such a beverage.

I feel the need to point out that this is more of a historical experiment than a recipe. The results will most likely not be to the taste of modern people. However, if you're interested in experiencing the past through your taste buds (however painful the process ~.^) read on!

Step 1: Ingredients

First of all, we need to gather our ingredients. We need:
- 1/2 cup raw cocoa beans
- 2 medium sized dried chilis
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- ~6-8 cups water
- honey to taste (optional, and not entirely accurate)

This will make about 4 mugs worth of the concoction. I made it a mug at a time trying to refine the recipe. More on that later.

Yes, the picture shows cinnamon sticks, and my original attempt involved grinding the sticks in my mortar & pestle with everything else, however, unless you are an authenticity masochist (which I occasionally am) I recommend using ground cinnamon. Grinding sticks in a mortar and pestle is hard as heck, and trust me, you'll be doing enough grinding. (Also, I'm not sure cinnamon is entirely accurate, but I'm not going to sweat that now)

The only ingredient that I anticipated having trouble finding was the raw cocoa beans, however I found them quite easily at my local health food store. The package billed them as a "raw superfood" so I tried one raw. I don't recommend it... Moving on...

Step 2: Roasting the Cocoa Beans

Because these cocoa beans are raw, we need to roast them before we use them. I had originally intended to roast them over an open fire somehow, but given the (completely understandable) fire ban in Alberta at the moment, I'm doing it on the stove. I put the beans in a frying pan over medium high heat for about 5-10 minutes, tossing occasionally. You can tell when they're done because they get just a bit darker and start to give off a subtle toasty-cocoa smell (the raw beans smell... odd. Kind of like chocolate and wine).

They will probably make some little crackling noises throughout the cooking process, but if they start to "pop" and jump out of the pan, you should turn down the heat.

I should point out that I'm not an expert at roasting cocoa beans, but after several attempts and burning quite a few beans in the oven, I found this to be the most successful method.

Step 3: "Peeling" the Beans

Now that the beans have been toasted, we need to remove the outer layer of papery material. It's not really like the shell of a nut, more like a thicker version of the "paper" on a peanut. You should be able to remove the paper easily with your hands. Sometimes it helps to press a bit on the sides of the bean to crack the paper a bit. Some of the beans paper probably already split during toasting.

The beans in the main picture here have been "peeled". These are the ones that stayed whole. Many of them, however, will probably fall apart as you are shelling them. The picture with the bowl shows all the broken pieces that resulted from the same process... Now, no matter what, some of your beans will probably fall apart. If they're *all* falling apart though, chances are you over roasted your beans, and you may end up with a burnt-tasting result.

Now on to grinding...

Step 4: Grinding

This is where my recipe gets a little strange, all because of the fact that I'm working with a rather tiny mortar and pestle. In order to get all of my ingredients ground up, I proceeded thusly:
First, I ground up all the cocoa in batches of a few beans at a time in my mortar, transferring the results to a separate bowl so that I would have space to grind more. I didn't grind it super finely at this point, just got them mashed up enough to mix with the other ingredients. The result looks a bit like pale coffee grounds, and oddly, it kind of smells like it too.
I then ground up the peppers, and added them to the ground cocoa beans. Grinding the seeds is a pain. This takes some elbow grease.
I then added the cinnamon. If you're doing things the hard way, I guess you'd grind the cinnamon at this step too.
I gave the crushed up cocoa beans and spices a good mix.

Step 5: Grinding Some More...

From this point, because of my tiny mortar and pestle and for the purposes of experimenting with the recipe to try and get it "right" (and also, the fact that nobody could stomach more than a couple of sips of this stuff :P), I made the recipe in quarters. That will explain why the pictures show such a small amount.

I took 2 tbsp of the ground mixture and put it back into my mortar and pestle along with 4 tbsp of water. (if you're doing the whole batch at once, just do this in batches, or all at once if you have a huuuge mortar & pestle. In all, you should end up using the whole ~1/2 cup cocoa mixture and 1 cup of the water if you're doing the whole batch). I used boiling water, but by the time I was done grinding it was lukewarm anyhow, so I'm not sure it matters.

Then, I started grinding. And grinding. And grinding some more. And wondering why on earth I'd decided to attempt such a recipe when I was pretty sure it was going to taste awful anyhow. Eventually, I got something reasonably smooth.

Step 6: Cooking the Concoction

Once everything was ground into a smooth, thin paste and I never wanted to grind anything ever again, I put the mixture into a saucepan along with the remaining water and the cornmeal.

I brought it to a boil, then simmered it on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring it almost constantly. At this point, it smelled really nice, and I thought maybe, just maybe, with enough honey, it would be palatable.

Step 7: The Froth... or Not...

So, in the sources I used to research this beverage, it said that the drink was made frothy by pouring back and forth between the pot and the drinking vessel, which served to both add the froth and cool the drink.

Well. I could not get this stuff frothy for the life of me. I tried pouring it back and forth between pot and mug, and that mainly resulted in a huge mess in the kitchen. I tried varying the amount of cornmeal to change the thickness a few times. No froth. I tried to cheat by whisking the mixture. Nope. Nothing I did could make this stuff frothy.

It is possible (actually it's quite likely) that my recipe is entirely wrong in its proportions. It is also possible (and also quite likely) that my technique is lacking. In any case, I am out of time and cocoa beans, so I will leave you with my conclusions about the flavor...

Step 8: Conclusion

It. Tastes. Terrible.

Really, it does.

It's bitter as heck, burn-your-throat spicy and it has the texture of runny grits. I made about 3 complete batches of this stuff and varied the proportions in each mug slightly (so that's 12 total attempts) and none of them were really palatable. Adding the not-so-accurate-but-possible honey for sweetness helps only slightly.

All in all though, it was an interesting experiment, and I got to try something that the ancients may have drank. Perhaps they enjoyed it. Perhaps they choked it down for medicinal or ceremonial reasons. In any case, though I had fun, I don't think I'll be making this "recipe" again ;)

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