Mexican hot chocolate has been a traditional part of my family's Christmas morning breakfast for more than a decade. Every year after tearing open gifts we would sit down to a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, homemade Christmas bread, juice from the orange trees in the backyard, and a steaming mug of this hot chocolate. This drink is so much more special than regular hot chocolate both because of the Christmas tradition and because of its unique earthy chocolate flavor with a hint of cinnamon.

In Mexico the chocolate is traditionally made by grinding fresh cocoa beans into a powder, heating the powder to partially melt the chocolate, and then shaping the chocolate into discs. Pieces of the discs are then broken off and dissolved in hot water to make hot chocolate. Nothing was generally added to the drink; it was simply chocolate and water, which allowed one to enjoy the pure flavor of the cocoa bean. Today, sugar and cinnamon are generally incorporated into the chocolate discs that are sold around the world. Special hot chocolate stands in outdoor Mexican markets have become rather trendy. Customers would step up to one and watch the cocoa beans and additions ground together and turned into a drink right before their eyes.

Mexican chocolate is typically sold in thick discs about one inch tall and three inches wide. The top is generally lightly scored to further divide the discs into eight wedges. The chocolate is packed very tightly and requires a heavy knife to break the chocolate into wedges. There are several brands of Mexican chocolate available in the United States and elsewhere. My family always buys Ibarra, which comes in a stubby, yellow cylinder package. We prefer this brand because it is sweet and has a pleasant cinnamon flavor. Other brands vary in sweetness and include Abuelita, which is similar to Ibarra, and El Popular, which is less sweet and has no cinnamon flavor.

It may be difficult to locate Mexican chocolate depending on your location. It is much easier to find the chocolate if you live in areas near Mexico. I have never had a problem finding the chocolate in Arizona, for example. Other regions may sell the chocolate at Hispanic grocers or in the ethnic section of larger supermarkets. If all of those resources fail, you can also buy the chocolate from online retailers.

The hot chocolate can be made with either milk or water. I prefer milk, because it gives a rich and creamy note to the chocolate, but water will bring out the pure flavor of the chocolate. The amount of chocolate added per cup also varies greatly. The directions call for two wedges per cup, but you can use more or less depending on how strong of a chocolate flavor you want.

To make the hot chocolate, heat up milk or water until hot, either on the stove or in the microwave. Add about two wedges of chocolate per cup. We have always dumped the hot milk and chocolate into a blender to thoroughly mix the chocolate, but I have heard of some cooks using an immersion blender, which sounds easier. I have also pulverized the chocolate before adding it to the milk or water by placing the wedges in a Ziploc bag and smashing it with a rolling pin. Whatever method you choose, make sure the chocolate is mixed well and serve immediately.

Mexican hot chocolate is ideal for breakfast, but is also nice as an afternoon or late night treat. The traditional Mexican accompaniment to the hot chocolate is the churro, a deep fried tube of sweet dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Other sweet breads or cookies also go well with the drink. Yum.

Additional information gleaned from Rick Bayless's "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" cookbook.
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