In Praise Of… Chocolate
Before the Conquistadors returned with their spoils, cacao was brewed in a foaming, spiced, bitter liquid called the “drink of the gods” by the native Americans.
And, while its modern-day form is very different to that of Mesoamerican times, it has evolved to become the enchanting and melt-in-your mouth indulgence we relish today.
The Spaniards opened a gateway for chocolate, providing the first commercial shipment of cacao beans from the New World. They sweetened the drink to cut through the cacao’s bitterness, whipped the chocolate to a smooth consistency and added their own spices (such as cinnamon and aniseed) to bring a chocolate revolution into the 17th century.
When I went to visit Spain last year, I had my eyes opened to the surreal taste of the pure and velvety smooth confection in its sensual liquid form.
For adventurous chocolate connoisseurs, Madrid could very well be the city for you where you’ll find Madrileños and tourists alike gathered in cafeterias for a taste of its staple delight, chocolate a la taza (drinking chocolate).
The rich hot cuppa is accompanied with curled, crisp churros that have been lightly coated in cinnamon sugar. My churros con chocolate were only €2.50 and as I dipped it in the cup of melted heaven and bit into its sweet indulgence, it made me feel a little less guilty for having it as my breakfast.
Thick and creamy, chocolate a la taza is the sweet spot of Spain
But what a way to start the day! Its seductive flavour was a medicinal blend from my late night escapades that left me in a state of momentary euphoria. I ended up drinking the hot beverage in its entirety and was left stealing some of my sister’s chocolate to go with the rest of my churros.
Time seemed to momentarily slow as I felt the sugar rush in my veins. Then I started to feel a pleasant buzz.
But chocolate, whether in its luxurious liquid form or as a fragrant block of confectionery, is not just for the sweet-toothed. There is the fun and beauty of cooking with it, the slice of joy when sharing a box with friends and family, and the bliss of indulging in a special treat after a long and hectic day.
When things go wrong the first thing that comes to my mind is to offer some chocolate to ease the pressure – like a warm duvet on a chilly winter’s night, it reminds you what it feels like to be comforted.
You gift it to your loved ones to show how much you appreciate them or offer the sweet as a way to say you’re sorry. You can even bathe yourself in a cacao-rich bath or be cloaked in a chocolate fondue wrap as the ultimate spa experience!
It has been moulded, melted and marketed in captivating dessert masterpieces and flavoured in any number of ways that your heart can desire. So whether you like it sweet or bitter, dark or white, couverture or in a cake – or anything in between – it is a testament to the simple pleasures that often transcend taste.
Food of the gods indeed.
What is your favourite type of chocolate?
Feature image: Miramax Films © Chocolat, 2000.