The story of chocolate reads like a novel, an ancient bitter elixir and all its evocative history: wealth, conquest, invasion, the Industrial Revolution, the hunt for the elusive vanilla orchid, lust, greed, elitism, seduction and, alas, pure pleasure.
Long before chocolate was a confection, it was a bitter drink consumed by the ancient Mesoamericans for its power, stamina and prestige.
The ancient Mayans discovered the cacao bean, domesticated, harvested and roasted it. They would grind it into a paste and mix it with water, chilis and cornmeal to make a bitter, spicy drink (the earliest known chocolate cocktail). After being roasted and ground, the resulting products became known as chocolate or cocoa. But early renditions didn’t resemble any drink we might think of in modern terms. There was no sugar available at the time. Then the Spanish came. And chocolate met sugar.
The cacao seeds were so valuable at the time that the Aztecs used the cacao for money. Thankfully, the Europeans saw the value of cacao, traded for it and brought the cacao beans home, where they added rare vanilla cinnamon and sugar, and started drinking it. traded for it and brought the cacao beans home, where they added rare vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, and started drinking it. But only the wealthy and elite could afford it because of the expense of import. It was a status symbol, and a handmade luxury, an artisan good for nobility and their courts and courted. Then chocolate met the Industrial Revolution.
Thankfully for the modern world, the Industrial Revolution gave us the ability to fashion chocolate to our every whim and harness its aphrodisiac secrets, its chemistry, its pure pleasure. And we can return to its origin as an exotic drink with all we have learned along the way.
Part of the love affair with chocolate is due to the fact that its melting point is right below human body temperature, so it melts in the mouth. It’s both playfully erotic and psychoac- tive, mind- and imagination-invoking. Chocolate is a game between smell, touch and taste. So here we explore some of the supreme elixirs that will raise the stakes of the game.
1. Know about all the cards in the deck. Here are the liqueurs and spirits that make up the world of chocolate elixirs: Godiva or Godet liqueurs; Van Gough, Three Olives, and Goldenbarr (hard to find) vodkas; Crème de Cacao White and Dark.
2. Investigate the companion liqueurs, ports and wines that pair with chocolate, often also known as bellybutton wines and spirits:
wines: Dark luscious red Zinfandel, spicy Shiraz, Italian Amarone (to die for.)
ports: Try tawny ports with milk chocolate, ruby ports with semi-sweet and late bottle vintages (LBVs) with dark chocolate.
dessert wines: Baumes de Venice- a less expensive alternative to Sauteurne. Try it with semisweet or dark chocolate. With Muscats or Muscatos, try citrus-based or infused semisweet or dark chocolate. Beerenauslese, a rare and beautiful German or Austrian wine is a great splurge with dark, spicy chocolate.
3. Play with exotic ingredients made to enhance chocolate: cloves, cinnamon, candied blood oranges or grapefruit, berries, coffee, peppermint bark, vanilla beans, star of anise, spiced sea salt, chills, ginger, caramel and my favorite: cardamom.
4. Experiment with chocolate cocktails.
Tropical Chocolate Holiday:
2 ounces of vanilla vodka
1 ounce of clear Crème de Cacao
2 ounces of white chocolate liqueur
1 teaspoon of coconut flakes
shake vodka over ice, then add liqueur and Crème de Cacao, swirl vigorously and strain garnish with coconut shavings and orange peel
1 ounce Cognac
half an ounce Ruby Port
half an ounce dark Crème de Cacao half an ounce simple syrup
1 ounce heavy cream
whole nutmeg for grating
shake all ingredients in tin and strain grate nutmeg for garnish
(adapted from Dale Degroff recipe)
5. Let it all melt in your mouth!