The Care and Feeding of Chocolate Lovers
After a dubious beginning, chocolate has soared to the top of foodies’ most-wanted list.
By Bradley Tuck 11/01/2013
Next time you’re about to let a piece of chocolate melt slowly in your mouth, spare a thought for the Aztecs. Not to kill your chocolate buzz, but chocolate was an important part of their sacrificial ritual during the feast of the equinox. The poor victims awaiting sacrifice were plied with a chocolate beverage mixed with the blood of those who’d been sacrificed before them. They would then be marched to the top of a pyramid to have their hearts ripped out, and the blood flowing down the pyramid was gathered up to be served to the next victim — with more chocolate, of course. Puts quite a different perspective on the concept of chocolate as a guilty pleasure, doesn’t it? Or proves that chocolate doesn’t actually make everything better. Of course, it should be pointed out that the chocolate so beloved by Mayan and Aztec cultures was a very different substance from the sweet bars in which we indulge these days. INDEED, Chocolate has a fascinating history, spanning centuries, cultures and class.
Chocolate is a product derived from the seeds of Theobroma cacao, a tropical tree occurring naturally in Central and South America and now cultivated widely in tropical regions. The seeds are found in yellow-green pods, surrounded by a sweet, white fleshy pulp. The seeds themselves, however, are not sweet but bitter.
The use of the seeds as a foodstuff can be traced all the way back to the pre-Olmec civilization known as Mokaya, some 1,900 years BC, although little is known about this. However, cacao was widely recorded in Mayan art and the word is itself Mayan. There is a great deal of conjecture and controversy regarding the origins of the word “chocolate.” Some sources trace it to the Aztecs’ Nahuatl word “chocolatl,” while others attribute it to another Mesoamerican word, “xocolatl.” What is known is that cacao beans were an extremely valuable crop. They were even used as currency among the Aztecs and, until the 18th century, in some parts of Central America as well.
Aztec preparation of cocoa involved grinding the beans to a powder, mixing them with seeds, corn and chili peppers, then adding cold water and using a spoon to work the liquid into a frothy beverage. The Aztecs did not have sugar to sweeten the beverage, so it was bitter and spicy. It was believed to increase vigor and fertility for the drinker. Spanish Franciscan friars introduced cocoa beans to Europe in 1585. And it was soon after this that sugar was, very wisely, added to cocoa, making it more palatable and ensuring its place as a luxury exotic beverage. By the 1700s chocolate beverages were hugely popular in the coffee and chocolate houses of London, and with increased demand came more widespread cultivation, pushing down the price and allowing for broader consumption.
Developments during the 1800s, however, truly revolutionized chocolate. In 1828, a Dutchman, Conrad J. Van Houten, patented a method for extracting the fat from roasted cacao beans. Using a press, he reduced the beans’ cacao butter content by almost half. The resulting “cake” could then be pulverized into a powder. After treatment with alkaline salts, this blend was more easily mixed with water, creating a smoother, milder drink. Then in the 1840s, an Englishman, Joseph Fry, added sugar, remixed it with cacao butter and molded it into a bar to create the first marketable eating chocolate. Over the years various other chocolate makers refined processes and improved flavors. In 1875, a Swiss gentleman, Daniel Peter, put the first milk chocolate on the market. And that, in a nutshell, is it. Oh, and that little cube of pleasure you have in your mouth, by the way, is melting due to a process called “conching,” a refining process that makes the chocolate “fondant,” or meltable at certain temperatures. You can thank Rodolphe Lindt — yes, that Lindt — for that.
After all that history, you’re no doubt gasping for some of the real thing. To help you with that, we’ve designed a whole day of chocolate for you, from breakfast to bedtime — a day for you to indulge, savor and be thankful you don’t live in Mayan times.
Hot chocolate and pain au chocolat at The Market on Holly. What better way to start the day than by sitting down with the newspaper and arguably the best pastries in town, then washing them down with a creamy hot chocolate. Okay, fine, if you really need your morning Joe, we understand. The pain au chocolat is non-negotiable.
The Market on Holly
57 E. Holly St., Pasadena • themarketonholly.com
Walk across the street to Mignon Chocolate. This little chocolate boutique is going to be your provisions station for a day’s worth of chocolate snacks. First build your own box of 30 chocolates from a selection of flavors like Cuban Mojito and Ginger with Sea Salt. You might also want to grab a 70 percent–cacao dark chocolate-single origin bar too, just to be on the safe side. When it comes to chocolate, there are no half-measures.
6 E. Holly St., Pasadena • mignonchocolate.com
Armed with chocolates, proceed to your place of work, where you will dispense largesse enough to ensure your popularity for weeks to come and perhaps even that promotion you’ve been eyeing. If you work from home, count your blessings — and your chocolates — and pace yourself. You’ve got 30 of those babies to enjoy.
See last sentence above.
Come on! The place is called Cacao, for goodness’ sake! And goodness is what you get when you order their mole fries — a righteous pile of French fries coated in their housemade mole poblano, which, as you no doubt know, is made with chocolate. Theirs is sprinkled with sesame seeds, and there’s also the option of grated cheese. Fries. Chocolate. Cheese. You’re welcome.
1576 E. Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock • cacaodeli.com
Now you know why we made you buy a box of 30. Or…
After that pile of fries and mole, you might need a little pick-me-up, so head over to Amara, a lovely little cafe and chocolateria. It’s famous for its cacao latte, made with a choice of 61 percent dark, 44 percent milk or 35 percent white chocolate, espresso and milk. If you’re remotely peckish you might want to indulge in some tekeno. Tekenos are a popular snack in Venezuela, basically white cheese sticks wrapped in a crisp dough, served with dipping sauces. Here they come with sauces that include dark chocolate and spicy dark chocolate. Hmmm, cheese and chocolate. Again.
Amara Chocolate and Coffee
55 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena • amarachocolate.com
You’re going to sit on the porch at the side of this little restaurant and just order dessert. The chocolate pudding, to be precise. It comes in a mason jar, topped with whipped cream and some Maldon sea-salt flakes. While you’re there, you’re going to study the recipe above, kindly provided by Chef Sean Lowenthal. Then you’re going to watch the sun set over the hills above the 134 — relieved that you’re not on it.
1496 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock • littlebeastrestaurant.com