The Aztecs and Mayans considered the cocoa bean to be sacred. It played a role in many religious rites, and was even used as currency. For a thousand years or more, it was consumed exclusively as a beverage only allowed to the nobility: Xocolatl.

Cortes, before his brilliant idea to literally farm money by raising cocoa on land he had claimed, reported that a slave cost 100 beans; a night with a prostitute cost 10; and a rabbit cost you 4. Now, of course, you can make some xocolatl for yourself in about fifteen minutes, and it costs less than a milkshake, though most people nowadays definitely prefer the milkshake.

Xocolatl has a very interesting flavor - spicy, bitter, and due to the pain-in-the-ass brewing process, very, very complex. If you enjoy tasting new things, you will very likely be surprised at the flavors you never knew could come from cocoa.

There are probably a score of recipes for xocolatl in easy reach of the casual searcher, and most claim to be the correct one. It's very likely that several of them are - just the way there are variations in recipes today, so there were then, too.

This recipe is about as close as it comes to replicating the secret, sacred rituals of a long-exterminated civilization with stuff you can get at your local grocery store, and doesn't require hand-grinding cacao nibs with a mortar and pestle, or ripping out your neighbor's heart from atop a ziggurat as a tribute before drinking.

You will need:

  • 2 green chile peppers
  • 1 stick of vanilla OR a dash of vanilla extract
  • 5 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened!)
  • 6 cups of water
  • Optional: tbsp. shelled sunflower seeds, tbsp. dried corn, mortal and pestle
  • 1 appropriately sized pot, of course; a wire colander (also known as a "water through, pasta don't") helps, but isn't necessary; and a whisk is almost certainly required.

Bring half of the water to a boil, and slice the chile into wheels right into the pot. If you are using stick vanilla, add it in now as well. Boil for 3-4 minutes.

Next, remove from heat, remove the chile pieces, and spend 15 minutes picking out all the seeds, until you realize you could have used a wire colander instead.

Add the remainder of the water, and bring to a rolling boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of cocoa, and whisk the crap out of it. Reduce heat until the boil stops, and repeat until you have successfully whisked 5 heaping tablespoons in. If you're using vanilla extract, you can add it any time during this process - just a cap full will do.

If you're going all out, with the crushed seeds etcetera, you'll smash them all up into very fine powder, and perform one final boil-whisk cycle with all of that.

Once all of the cocoa is mixed in, you should find yourself standing over a very dark, very chocolate smelling, spicy-vapored concoction that froths just a little. Continue to whisk until it stops thickening (it won't be very long, since it doesn't get particularly thick) and ladle into mugs. Drink as soon as it's cool enough, and beware the muck at the bottom. It's a lot like Turkish coffee in that regard.

This is the part where you discover why everyone else in the world omitted the peppers and added sugar. If you want to cheat a little and still feel "authentic", you can sweeten it with a little honey, since it's certain that even the pre-Olmec people had access to it.

If you actually give this a shot, let me know what you think - I've yet to meet a single other person who likes it.

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