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!

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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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71 Discussions

G Raymond

Tip 9 days ago

You will find it much more palatable and frothy if you use milk in staid of water (also that's how the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs did it).


2 months ago

Great! I read about your Maya cocoa making experiment and got a lot of fun. It's very nice that you've tried it. I just wanted to add a comment to you here that when you were trying to foam this mixture, you misunderstood, in fact, the Mayan fermented this drink. That's what it is about foaming. Recently, I visited Mexico, Jukatam and also learned about the local brewing of cocoa making and found out, that they left all of this pounded mixture to ferment and then consumed it. I think they add spices to keep them from getting sick while drinking it. :)
And I am sure that just as there is no single recipe these days, they had many cocoa enjoyment recipes because they knew the plant for a long time and used it in different ways. For example, such a drink was also given to women giving birth.


Tip 1 year ago on Step 6

They did not cook it. They drank it cool. If they added it to atole (a thin cornmeal drink) they added it after the atole was made. The atole is not made from our regular cornmeal but from corn hominy flour. It is called masa in Mexican stores. It is pretty different from what you used. Atole is made by toasting masa on a comal (griddle), then adding water that was boiled with spices. Now cinnamon is used but then it would have been allspice and ear flower and vanilla. You made it much too thick here. That is why it would not foam. It was also very often made without atole.
To foam it they use the pouring over and over method. But you could also use a wooden whip that it today called a "molinillo". You can get them in Mexican stores or online. Today in mexico people also just us an electric mixer or hand whip. The froth was an important part of the drink. It is supposed to be bitter, not super sweet. Like how some people like black coffee with just a little sugar. It is not hot cocoa. It is good.


Tip 1 year ago on Step 4

You need a different sort of mortar and pestle. Then it will be very easy. They used rough used stone ones. Not marble. It was much rougher texture than you have. That is why it was difficult. You can buy stone ones. They are still used on Mexico. Online about $20-40. Also Japanese ones can be easily found too. They are rough grooved ceramic.They are called suibachi. They come very big if you want them. In Asian stores near me and online. $10-30 dollars. It is much easier not to add water at this point!


Tip 1 year ago on Step 1

They did not have cinnamon. It is an Old World plant. What they did use was:chili peppers, maguey sap (aguamiel) or honey, vanilla beans. allspice. achiote, "sacred earflower"(Cymbopetalum penduliflorum), ground sapote, corn, “string flower,” “popcorn flower”. and “heart flower”. The allspice, achoite (annatto), vanilla, chili and honey or aguamiel or agave syrup are easy to get. The "ear flower" which was cultivated is said to have a "cinnamon and black pepper flavor". .


2 years ago

Warriors drank it instead of alcohol because a warrior drinking alcohol was considered dishonourable.


3 years ago

How did you decide on the quantities utilized above? Thanks!


4 years ago

poor baby, you need to scrape cinnamon lengthwise. Use a potato peeler or nutmeg grater, found on some cheese graters. Sorry grinding it wasn't successful, the stuff is darn hard.


I'm no food historian, but this was on Wikipedia: The first chocolate beverage is believed to have been created by the Maya around 2,000 years ago, and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 AD.[2]

Pedram PeteB

4 years ago on Introduction

Hahahaha.... This cracked me up so much to read! It's nice to know I'm not the only nut case out there obsessed with this kind of thing. I got a couple handfulls of roasted but not peeled beans from this artisan "single source" chocolate maker guy at a fancy farmers market I go to (for free I might add). Then came home to look up instructions, advice, &/or recipes for making old school Aztec &/or Mayan chocolate drink! (Like you I realized it might suck AND also planned on grinding the beans in my glass mortar and pestle). If I ever come up to Alberta Canada I'll have to track you down and take us out for a bad ass cup of REAL hot chocolate. (I'll try to remember to report back and tell you what I ended up doing, and how it came out).

Btw... I'd have gone with the ground cinnamon from the get go, but if you are going to "grind it" on your own forget the pestle and go with a simple metal grinder like the kind used to take the rind off citrus.



4 years ago

I eat raw cacao beans every morning. No drink or added stuff. I peel and chew. It was bitter at first. I've grow to love the taste. It's pure chocolate after all. My nine year old daughter eats one with me most mornings as well. So ignore the author. (-: this is a fine food to eat plain b


5 years ago on Introduction

Coming from a brewing perspective - I feel a secondary fermentation process would drastically change the dynamic of the drink. First, if you were to brew this, you would need to add enzymes, and a sugar or starch (such as the corn) to make it ferment. The end result would probably knock your socks off because it would not only contain all of the above flavors, and have some alcohol content, but you will end up with a zesty frothiness created naturally gases (co2) which are a byproduct of the fermentation process; and you could ferment it to taste (leaving an optimal amount of sugars). Fermented to dryness, you could also let it sit for a few weeks to a few months in the jungle heat without worring of bacterial spoilage, and the taste would become smoothier, like a malt taste, as the acids and/or tannins mellowed out.


6 years ago

Ok bare with me. The recipie sounds good, except the cornmeal. You need a very liquidius drink to be able to froth it. But it has to have something basic (soapy) to make bubbles. So the corn meal balances the pH. And after you have that all heated up and mixed, turn the heat off, and put it in a sterile environment (so no mold) for however many hours it takes (with air acess breeze if possible) to become dry or pasty, like a thick dirt. When it's ready you should be able to break it up like dry cooked rice. Take this, and let it dry further after being spread out on pans. In full sunlight, let dry until moisture is almost gone (just feel it) finally, grind it up further, and use as coffee grounds in an espresso machine. This keeps the taste and gives the froth. But I believe there was blood in it from a sacrificial animal. I'm site that effects the taste, but I'm not going that far. Let me know!


7 years ago on Introduction

Masa is different from cornmeal in a couple ways, obviously it's much finer, but it's also made from Hominy (nixtamalized corn) which has quite a different flavour (ie the flavour of tamales or corn tortillas). Not sure what is more historically accurate, but Mexican Atole uses masa.

Grinding the beans: I know an old Samoan lady who makes a drink called Koko Samoa, which is pan roasted cocoa beans that are ground, re-formed, and dried, then later grated into boiling water with sugar; it is delicious! But my point is that to grind the beans, she uses a glass bottle full of water and a tupperware container - says it works way better than a mortar and pestle. Maybe it's worth a try?


8 years ago on Step 8

A+ for the effort and willingness to go through the whole experiment.
Some ideas:
1.- Roast cocoa beans at a lower temperature for a longer time. Burnt beans will taste bad. that alone could ruin the whole thing.
2.- Use just a little chile, and bea in mind that there are many different types of chiles. Some are smoky, some add color, some are very hot.
3.- Use just a little corn flour or masa so it won't thicken too much
4.- to make it froth in Mexico we use a molinillo or Mexican Whisk (see pic). It is moved between the palms of your hands and will surely make it froth. A modern approach woudl be to use a Moulinex type submersible blender.
While most historians say that chocolate was consumed in a wasy similar to what you made, others say that honey or agave nectar was used to sweeten it.
Good Luck!


8 years ago on Step 8

very interesting. i may like it actually cus i like flavors such as this. i remember back in job corps, they had packets of hot chocolate and id put a couple dashes of tobasco in it to give it some "kick". i loved the humor you put in this and good show on your procedures.

You're definitely right about the beans being fermented, that's how they get the fleshy outsides off them after they're harvested, so they had already gone through that fermentation process by the time I got them. That's probably why they had that weird slightly wine-y smell before they were roasted :)