Tablets of Drinking Chocolate in the Spanish Style

Tablets of Drinking Chocolate in the Spanish Style

 To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.

  – Antonio Colmenero, trans. Don Diego de Vades-forte. “A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate.” Published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.

Redacted Ingredients:

Cacao ingredients.

Cacao ingredients.

  • 100 cocoa beans
  • 2 cods red chili pepper (approximately 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 handful aniseed (quarter-sized mound in palm, powdered)
  • 2 mecaxóchitl flowers (a dash of pepper was substituted)
  • 2 drams cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
  • 12 drams almonds (~8 tsp)
  • 12 drams hazelnuts (~8 tsp)
  • 1 cup sugar

This recipe is a fascinating glimpse into Mesoamerican foodways (the hot pepper, the use of flowers as spices) and how those foodways were interpreted by the Spanish palate (thickening the drink with nuts, adding sugar).  Marcy Norton’s helpful article “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics[1]” explains that orejuelas is a Spanish translation of the Nahuatl words gueynacaztle (“great ear”) and xochinacaztli (“flowery ear”), two flowers that were used as spices. What Colmenero calls Mechasuehil is probably mecaxóchitl, which Norton describes as a relative of pepper with an anise-like taste. Since I had neither of these things “which [came] from the Indies,” I substituted some anise for approximate flavor. Colmenero says that Campeche tastes like fennel. I elected to leave fennel out, as I’m not fond of the licorice taste and there was already too much of it with the anise. Achiote (Bixa orellana, also known as annatto) gave the chocolate a reddish color and had a slightly “musky” flavor. Marcy Norton compares the taste to paprika or saffron.You can usually find achiote/annatto in the Hispanic section of your local larger grocery store. Cacao beans can be found online or in larger health food stores – it’s often sold in “nib” form (roughly crumbled) which will work fine for this recipe and means you can skip the shelling step.

Using JSTOR, there are references to “rose of Alexandria” or “rose of Castile” as possibly another term for hollyhock, but nothing (from what I found) placing this particular association solidly within the range of period. Nicholas Monardes mentions “Roses of Alexandria” as the Spanish Damascus Rose, which modern botanist Graham Stuart Thomas alleges has survived to the present as the Autumn Damask Rose (Rose Book 304). For this batch, I used the dried petals of my grandmother’s small-blossomed tea rose.

If you can’t find a given ingredient, it’s perfectly period to leave it out, as Colmenero points out: “And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”


The Cacao, and the other Ingredients must be beaten in a Morter of Stone, or ground upon a broad stone, which the Indians call Metate, and is onely made for that use: But the first thing that is to be done, is to dry the Ingredients, all except the Achiote; with care that they may be beaten to powder, keeping them still in stirring, that they be not burnt, or become blacke; and if they be over-dried, they will be bitter, and lose their vertue. The Cinamon, and the long red Pepper are to be first beaten, with the Annis-seed; and then beate the Cacao, which you must beate by a little and little, till it be all powdred; and sometimes turn it round in the beating, that it may mixe the better: And every one of these Ingredients, must be beaten by it selfe; and then put all the Ingredients into the Vessell, where the Cacao is; which you must stirre together with a spoone, and then take out that Paste, and put it into the Morter, under which you must lay a little fire, after the Confection is made. But you must be very carefull, not to put more fire, than will warme it, that the unctuous part does not dry away. And you must also take care, to put in the Achiote in the beating; that it may the better take the colour. You must Searse all the Ingredients, but onely the Cacao; and if you take the shell from the Cacao, it is the better; and when you shall find it to be well beaten, and incorporated (which you shall know by the shortnesse of it) then with a spoone take up some of the Paste, which will be almost liquid; and so either make it into Tablets; or put it into Boxes, and when it is cold it will be hard. To make the Tablets, you must put a spoonefull of the paste upon a piece of paper, the Indians put it upon the leaf of a Planten-tree; where, being put into the shade, it growes hard; and then bowing the paper, the Tablet falls off, by reason of the fatnesse of the paste. But if you put it into any thing of earth, or wood, it sticks fast, and will nor come off, but with scraping, or breaking.

The first thing I do is put all my cocoa beans on a sheet pan in a warm oven. Heating them up loosens the papery shell (like a peanut skin) to the point where they can be peeled fairly easily by pinching between thumb and forefinger. I’ve done this recipe by hand in a mortar and pestle and by machinery with a food processor. Unless you’re feeling super frisky, use a food processor. This takes hours of pounding and your arm will fall off. Grind the cinnamon, anise, and chili peppers together. Grind cocoa beans to a fine powder, and add the first ingredients. Grind the nuts with a few spoonfuls of the cocoa beans, and add to the rest of the mix.

Finished cacao tablet. Not too great looking on its own, but the scent is AMAZING.

Finished cacao tablet. Not too great looking on its own, but the scent is AMAZING.

If I am doing this by hand, I will take a metate or heavy stone mortar and pestle at this point and pre-heat it in the oven. I get it about as hot as I can comfortably hold it with a dishtowel. Put your powdered ingredients into the hot mortar and pound/grind it until the oils express and the substance starts to liquify. Keep going for a while after that – the more oxygen gets into the mix, the better it will be. Pour the paste out onto wax paper. When cool, break into tablets and store in a box.

If you want to save time and arm muscles, use a food processor. Put the cacao bean and spice powder in a dish in the oven to get it warm all through, then add a few spoonfuls at a time into the processor. I use the grind or pulse setting. It will be disheartening at first because it looks like nothing is happening for the first few minutes. Stop the food processor and take a spoon to the bottom of the mixing container – by now you might have the first beginnings of a brown paste hiding under the blades. Mix that paste into the powder and turn the machine on again. Repeat this, adding more powder, until the mixture takes on an oily sheen and reaches the consistency of peanut butter. As it mixes, the cacao will oxidize and begin to smell like real chocolate.


Drinking Chocolate

There is another way to drinke Chocolate, which is cold; and it takes its name from the principall Ingredient, and is called Cacao; which they use at feasts, to refresh themselves; and it is made after this manner. The Chocolate being dissolved in water with the Molinet, take off the scumme, or crassy part, which riseth in greater quantity, when the Cacao is older, and more putrified. The scumme is laid aside by it selfe in a little dish; and then put sugar into that part, from whence you took the scumme; and powre it from on high into the scumme; and so drinke it cold.

– Antonio Colmenero, tran. Don Diego de Vades-forte. “A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate.” Published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.


Take a cup of water. Break off a piece of chocolate tablet (about 1 inch square, give or take). After heating the water, use a molinet if you have one (it’s a fancy wooden beating stick, still used in gourmet circles) or an egg whisk to beat the tablet into the water. Skim anything that floats to the surface and set aside. If necessary, add more sugar to the water; otherwise, pour the chocolate-water back into the foam. Serve cold.

Cocoa as we know it today has been treated with alkali to make it able to dissolve in water. This stuff, being untreated, will separate and float to the surface if you let it sit. It’s pretty gross looking – the oil is orange from the annatto and forms little bubbles in the brown liquid.

I’ve never had enough leftover to know how long it will store – it’s too tasty to sit around for long!

[1] The American Historical Review, Vol. 111, Issue 3.

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