The history of hot chocolate, the ultimate comfort drink

Mmmm. Hot chocolate. It’s synonymous with comfort, conjuring up images of warmth and cosiness. We’re not the first people to think so, though. In fact, chocolate as a drink massively predates coffee, which only became popular around the 15th century. Chocolate, on the other hand, was being drunk as far back as 500BC by the Mayans in Mexico. They used ground up cocoa seeds, thickened with cornflour and flavoured with chilli. They preferred to drink it cold rather than hot though (probably more suitable for the Mexican climate!)

When the explorer Cortez conquered the Aztecs and claimed Mexico on behalf of Spain in the 16th century, he also brought cocoa beans and chocolate-making equipment back to Europe. The Spanish began to sweeten the chocolate, leaving out the chilli and drinking it hot. It didn’t become popular England until the 18th century but then it began to flourish, and specialist chocolate drinking houses began to spring up. We Brits also put our own special twist on it by adding milk to make it more palatable.

Liquid hot chocolate was around long before the edible stuff was invented. It may surprise you to know that the invention of cocoa powder actually pre-dates solid chocolate! Far more practical to transport and prepare, cocoa powder made the drink even more popular. The Dutch had pretty much a monopoly on the cocoa trade, and were involved with many of the major advances in the industry. Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten was responsible for several advances in the early 19th century, adding alkaline salts to reduce the natural bitterness of the cocoa beans. In 1847, Joseph Fry learned to mould chocolate by adding melted cocoa butter, creating the solid bar. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875, using a new type of powdered milk developed by Henri Nestle. Towards the end of the 19th century, Rodolphe Lindt invented a mixing machine which gave chocolate the familiar melting texture we know today.

All these names are still famously associated with the chocolate industry today, and here at the Wholesale Coffee Company one of the premium brands of hot chocolate we sell is Van Houten.