I Found It at the JCB




Make it yourself! See Recipe Below

The chocolate before chopping.

The assembled spices
The Finished Product: Delicious!

Actual hot chocolate. Made December 14, 2010.
Original at Fiering House, John Carter Brown Library.


An Obscenely Delicious Seventeenth-Century Hot Chocolate Recipe

by Jesse Cromwell

Theobroma Cacao.  The genus and species name for the plant that produces chocolate literally means “food of the gods.”  For centuries, people from around the globe have prized cacao for its taste, culinary versatility, and even medicinal properties.  Records dating back to the Conquest of Mexico speak of noble Mexica courts where chocolate, as a luxury beverage, flowed freely.  However, inhabitants of Mexico and Spanish America were its primary consumers in the first century and a half of contact and colonization.  The introduction of drinking chocolate to the coffeehouses and cafés of major European cities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries expanded the consumption of and interest in what had been formerly a mere curiosity to most of the Old World. 

The John Carter Brown Library has a number of early printed works testifying to the European fascination with this New World plant. As part of a larger project on smuggling in eighteenth century Venezuela, I had the pleasure this fall of combing through JCB books on chocolate and cacao.  Venezuela produced and still produces some of the finest cacao in the world.  During the colonial period, foreigners traded European goods illegally on the coasts of the Spanish province in return for cacao beans.  In researching the material culture of smuggled goods, particularly cacao, I came across a slim 1662 volume by Henry Stubbe(1) entitled The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse concerning Chocalata.

In The Indian Nectar Stubbe trumpeted the plant’s pleasant taste, medicinal uses, and ability to regulate bodily humors.  He commented on the arguments of earlier Spanish authors as to whether or not liquid chocolate broke the ecclesiastical fast.  The physician recommended the beverage as a cure for upset stomachs, a laxative, a cough suppressant, a fever reducer, and an aid to male virility.  Thumbing his nose at the puritan conventions of his day, Stubbe particularly relished the opportunity to describe chocolate as a sexual performance enhancer:

since the most amourous Nations in the World drink it, it is very possible, it may conduce thereunto much.  If it be the design of Physick to preserve Nature, and free her from superfluous collections of Humours and nothing doth that better then Chocolata, as far as Venery is but the Collection and ejection of superfluity gathered in, and about the Testicles: without doubt Physicians cannot decline to recommend it.  It chears the Spirits, begets good Blood, and opens all the Emunctories of the body, and passages, by which Nature designs the ejectment of some particular Humour. (2)

In addition to these humorous and telling insights in the early modern mind, Stubbe’s work offers the reader an additional treasure: several drinking chocolate recipes.  Stubbe compiled the recipes of previous authors including Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the Spanish surgeon and physician.  For purposes of strict and objective historical inquiry, as well as to make friends and influence people, Ken Ward and I gathered together nearly all of Colmenero de Ledesma’s ingredients and attempted to make this hot chocolate at the 2010 JCB holiday party.  The results were a stunning success.  After much preparation and slow steeping for maybe forty five minutes, a rich chocolate base floated atop an ethereal carpet of spices.  Gustatory pleasure was had by all!  Stubbe’s description of Colmenero de Ledesma’s chocolate recipe is as follows:

To every hundred nuts of Cacao  he put two cods of Chile called long red Pepper, one handful of Anise-seeds, and Orichelas, or Orejaelas, and two of the flowers called Mecasuchill, one Vaynilla, or instead thereof (if the party were costive) six Alexandrian Roses beaten to powder, two drams of Cinnamom, twelve Almonds, and as many Hasel-nuts, half a pound of Sugar, and as much Achiote as would colour it.

For more exact portions and careful directions, I recommend the following adaptation from Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (3):

“Age of Discovery” Vanilla-Scented Hot Chocolate

8 cups milk or water
1/4 cup achiote (annato) seeds
12 blanched almonds
12 toasted and skinned hazelnuts
2 to 3  vanilla beans (preferably Mexican from Papantla), split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
1/4 ounce dried rosebuds (sold as rosa de Castilla in Hispanic Markets)
2 (3-inch) sticks true cinnamon (soft Ceylon cinnamon, sold as canela in Hispanic markets)
1 tablespoon aniseeds
2 whole dried árbol or serrano chiles
8 ounces dark chocolate, preferably El Rey Gran Sáman (70% cacao) or Chocovic Ocumare (71% cacao), finely chopped
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon orange-blossom water (optional)

Heat the milk or water with the achiote seeds to a low boil over medium heat stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Grind the almonds and toasted hazelnuts in a food processor to a fine consistency.
Strain out the achiote seeds and return the milk to the saucepan.  Add the ground nuts, vanilla beans, scraped seeds, rosebuds, cinnamon, aniseeds and chiles and return to a low boil.  Reduce to low heat and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and salt.  Add orange-blossom water and sugar to taste.
Strain the mixture into a tall pot and beat with a Mexican molinillo (wooden chocolate mill), immersion blender, or whisk until frothy.  Serve immediately.
Makes 12 small expresso cup servings.


(1) Stubbe was an Oxford educated scholar of Latin and Greek and a physician, who lived in both England and Jamaica. 

(2) Henry Stubbe, The Indian Nectar, or a Discourse concerning Chocalata: wherein The Nature of the Cacao-nut, and the other Ingredi-ents of that Composition, is examined, and stated according to the Judgment and Experience of the Indians, and Spanish Writers, who lived in the Indies, and others; with sundry additional Observations made in England: The ways of compounding and preparing Chocolata are enquired into; its Effects, as to its alimental and Veneral quality, as well as Medicinal (especially in Hypochondriacal Melancholy) are fully debated.  Together with a Spagyrical Analysis of the Cacao-nut, performed by that excellent Chymist, Monsieur le Febure, Chymist to His Majesty.  (London: Printed by J. C. for Andrew Crook at the Sign of the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s Church-yard.  1662).

(3) Presilla, Maricel E, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2001), 187.

Jesse Cromwell, University of Texas at Austin, was the Alexander O. Vietor Memorial Fellow, at the John Carter Brown Library, September to December 2010.


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