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t’oh haa they say…

When he said that drinking chocolate should make one feel light, I remember listening to this person in a French chocolate shop in New York, thinking how non-intuitive it sounds. Chocolate has been drunk, as opposed to being eaten, through a vast majority of its history1. And, warm water, as opposed to milk, was used to extract its flavors to form a beverage1.


Does using warm water with small pieces of dark chocolate, the kind that does not indicate much taste of sugar, but a lot of rich dark flavor, or, using warm water with ground cacao nibs much like ground coffee beans, to prepare an extract, followed by using the extract with more warm water, cream and/or sugar as needed, make for a lighter, newer, and pleasant beverage experience?


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In small tea and coffee shops, and for that matter, in many households in India it is common to mix a beverage by pouring it from one container to another, the higher the pour, the more foam it generates, and more dramatic the effect of pouring itself when it is performed in front of an audience just before it is served. The number and length of pours helps cool the beverage to a drinkable temperature, and also generates a foam head that appeals to some people.

foam 3

The concept of using food foams, of course, has now become very fashionable in the food industry. For instance, it is easy to encounter a tomato foam, a spice foam, or a coffee foam on a restaurant plate. The science of food foams has also attracted academic interest as evidenced by lectures in a science and cooking course offered by Harvard College. So, it seems like going around a full circle to learn that the Mayans as early as c. AD 750 not only mixed their chocolate drink by pouring it high from one container to another to generate foam, but, in some instances they added a foaming agent to the cacao and beat the mixture with a wooden beater several times to generate as much foam as possible, each time carefully transferring the foam to savor on top of a maize gruel-like food dish1.

In their book1, anthropologists, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe write that according to dictionaries of the Mayan language, haa, refers to chocolate and water, and t'oh, to pouring from one vessel to another from a height.

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1The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.



7 thoughts on “t’oh haa they say…

  1. Ravi Sankar

    Very nice history of foaming food. I had not thougth of coffee as foam. I was thinking though of how we use egg whites to create a foam vehicle to carry flavors of sugar in meringues and cheese or chocolate in souffles. We have been drinking chocloate mixed in water from our experiences in Guatemala. We brought back a chololate wheel (usually flavored with hints of Cinnamon or chile or caramel) that they recommend we mix with water (which as you say was traditional for teh MAyans) or mix with chocloate to align wiht today's tastes.

    1. Bala

      Thank you. Yes, whipped egg white foam, and its resulting effect in an oven is another example of foam in food, which in turn reminds me of the Peruvian cocktail, Pisco sour, with its head of raw egg white foam. I thought to mention the foam in coffee especially to bring out the similarity with the ancient pouring method of mixing chocolate.

      How does the Guatemalan chocolate-with-water experience compare with drinking any other everyday beverage ?

  2. Reva Pershad

    Bala , it was amusing to note how the Mayans were as adept as their Indian counterparts in whipping up foam from their chocolate drink & I can imagine them serving it with a flourish & skill much like our expert Degree coffee ( or metre coffee) & Lassi makers The generation of foam & its unique first taste , be it from coffee , tomato or chocolate is a visual & tongue tickling treat
    In North India , in the winters, fresh milk is left out in the open for dew to collect . Then ,like the Mayans coaxing foam out of the chocolate beverage , the milk is churned , foam skimmed out &sugar , dry fruits & khoya ( paal kova) added to dish up a delectable delicacy called Daulat ki Chaat or Malai Makhan Sinfully delicious, served in earthen mugs !

    1. Bala


      "...fresh milk is left out in the open for dew to collect", sounds very nice to just read not to mention picturize, as is the foam-based, "Daulat-ki-chaat" that I am hearing for the first time. And yes, lassi (for the benefit of some readers: lassi is butter-milk churned to generate a foam head), is another example of a beverage with foam.

      I had the meter in meter-coffee explained to me which led me to this video link.

  3. nirmala

    Brings back memory of years gone by when we used to have 'drinking chocolate' manufactured by cadburys. It used to be served warm. couple of tbls of the cocoa powder mixed in cold mild and it used to take a tiny whipper to mix it and then it would be topped with hot milk and like the meter coffee with a flourish and expertise poured from one vessel to another bringing it to drinkable temperature and topped with foam. What a way to start the day.Grilled pineapple served with very lightly sweetened coconut foam is simply delicious!

    1. Bala

      What are your thoughts regarding chocolate in water in comparison to cocoa powder in milk?

      The grilled pineapple with lightly sweetened coconut foam does sound delicious.

  4. Bala

    Douglas T. Hess sends an email comment, including a link that refers to the Mayan belief of the foam being "the spirit of the drink":

    For years when I was a kid we would make Mexican hot chocolate, which came as a pre-scored disk from which one would break off a "pie slice" and dissolve in hot water with a hand-twirled frother called a molinillo. They were handsome, hand-made gizmos- I kept mine for long after I stopped making hot chocolate.


I look forward to reading your thoughts...

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