Today, I visited Mt Vernon, the estate of George Washington. They had a craft fair as well, and it is here I learned how to make hot chocolate the traditional way. While one lady ground roasted cacao bean nibs on a heated grinding stone her friend explained the cacao bean story.
After the cocoa pod ripens, changing from green to a yellow/orange color, it is handpicked, then the beans removed from the pod, fermented and dried. The dried cacao beans are roasted, shelled, then crushed into nibs – small pieces – with mortar and pestle. The nibs are ground on a heated grinding stone to powder the cocao solids and melt the butter, making a smooth paste. This is collected in a tin mold and allowed to cool to make chocolate bars. (If you look at the photo carefully you can see the half-hidden lady waving a chocolate bar about.)
A solid chocolate bar is easy to store and transport. It can also easily be grated whenever you want to make hot chocolate. Add hot water and you are done. That’s the way they first used to have it in the old days – straight up neat – like the Mayans did! Then, as Emeril Lagasse, the well known TV chef says, “Let’s kick things up a notch. Bam!” as we throw in additional ingredients for hot chocolate with a twist. Sugar to sweeten the bitter drink, dried hot pepper powder to add heat, cinnamon and more. Nowadays we let our imaginations run wild, adding all sorts of exotic ingredients to make the hot cacao of our heart’s desire.