As an American, the only hot chocolate I ever drank growing up came from mixing a sugary powder with hot milk (or an instant packet, which also contained dry milk powder, with hot water). All I could imagine that might make it better would be the addition of marshmallows!
When I was a college student in France, a friend told me I simply must visit Cafe Angelina, on the Rue de Rivoli, and have the “hot chocolate.” What arrived at my table was wholly unrecognizable: a 6-ounce pitcher filled with this dark, viscous, smooth stuff that, to my embarrassment, I couldn’t even manage to finish, it was so decadently rich.
Rivoli-style drinking chocolate was far from anything I had thus far experienced. Composed solely of melted chocolate, milk, and cream, drinking chocolate made in the French tradition also differs from what you’ll find in southern Europe. In Portugal, Spain, and Italy, thickeners such as corn or potato starch are added until the chocolate almost has the texture of hot pudding. (In Spain, they say your drinking chocolate should be thick enough for you to stand up your churro in it. Because fried dough plus melted chocolate = the breakfast of champions!)
While consuming your chocolate by drinking it might seem like a foreign concept, chocolate as a beverage was actually the first way it was ever consumed. Back before western explorers “discovered” South America, and “discovered” all the people already living there 🙄, the natives were roasting and grinding the beans, adding hot water, spices, and sometimes ground corn, and drinking it—usually in religious ceremonies. While the origins of the words “cacao” and “chocolate” aren’t definitively known, we do know that the Aztec word for chocolate—Xocolatl—translates loosely to bitter water, or bitter drink.
It was the Europeans who first started adding sugar, and later, dairy to the cacao. Solid chocolate bars are a relatively recent phenomenon—a fact that may come as a surprise to most Americans!