WHAT HAVE THEY done to thee, drinking chocolate? Once a dark and bitter elixir used as an allegory for the lifeblood of the gods, you have been transformed by our meme-addled, processed-cheese culture into a heady, sweet syrup topped ignominiously with a pillowy marshmallow hat. Like the mighty wolf, once fierce and feral, later reduced to a befrocked Pomeranian Shih Tzu mix, we sometimes find you a shadow of your former self, a saccharine-sweet treat with only tiny teeth where fangs once grew.
The Aztecs cultivated thee, chocolate, for your shape was the shape of the human heart with its chambers, and they ground your seeds into a drink as thick and harsh as mud that ran like the redder stuff that coursed down their steep pyramids from the bodies of their slain enemies. In this form, you were sometimes mixed with the local vanilla and chiles, and tasted like a punishment rather than a pleasure. Later, the cruel conquistadors took you across the sea, where you became the belle of the ball, crushed and scraped and pounded into the porcelain teacups of the lace-crusted 1% keen to travel from their armchairs, often mixed with spices from everywhere else, like rose essence and lavender and saffron. And of course, you were made palatable to the gentler (ha!) hearts of the aristocracy with the greatest drug the world has ever known: sugar.
Then the Dutch had their way with thee, with their “Dutch Process” of alkaline salts that removed your bitter edge, and the Swiss diluted you with cow’s milk from a dark sneer to a light brown smile. And finally the Americans took thee in their grasping, calloused hands and turned thee into an instant powder, and added freeze-dried marshmallows, and thus the transformation from an ancient god into a pale, gritty echo.
There is a time and place for thy form as powdered hot chocolate out of a packet — perhaps while backpacking, or in a bomb shelter. And I can totally get behind when thou takest the form of a warm cup of cocoa on a winter’s night, perhaps in a hot tub with a special someone (chocolate is an aphrodisiac, so they say).
But beneath all that sugar and — shudder— peppermint syrup, there still beats the fierce pulse of the mighty cacao, and the more adventurous sippers might consider trying something better, something made with bars of the real stuff melted down in a fiery forge (or on the stovetop) and mixed with spices that liven the blood, like cinnamon or cardamom.
Such chocolate can be found in your finer coffee bars, or in places where chocolate is poured into bars and balls and wrapped up with bows, like Fran’s Chocolates and Indi Chocolate, with their single-origin sipping chocolate, mostly unadulterated. But if one must add something, instead of pumpkin spice, maybe try a pinch of achiote, like the pre-Colombian Nicaraguans, to turn it red so that it looks more like human blood.