While many of us know it in the form of bars, candies or baked goods, for most of its 5,000-year history, chocolate has been a drink.
“It’s the original form of consuming chocolate, and it carries the importance of culture with it,” says Arcelia Gallardo, the founder of Mission Chocolate.
Regional variations on drinkable chocolate abound, particularly in Latin America, where “there are as many recipes as there are towns or families making it,” says Karla McNeil-Rueda, cofounder of Cru Chocolate.
Since chocolate is beloved around the world, you’ll find local hot chocolate drinks almost everywhere, especially in destinations where cocoa beans grow.
The exception is Western Africa. While 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, neither country has a longstanding chocolate-drinking culture, according to Priscilla Addison, the cofounder of ’57 Chocolate, a Ghanaian bean-to-bar brand.
The same could be said for the United States where, for many, hot chocolate means hot cocoa, made with Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
Thankfully, there’s a wide world of chocolate drinks available. Here are seven you should try immediately, if not sooner.
Location: Honduras and Nicaragua
Ingredients: Ground-up roasted cocoa beans, ground corn, spices, milk or water. McNeil-Rueda, who grew up in Honduras, says she uses purple corn in her pinole “because it is rich in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.”
Flavors: Bitter, roasted and floral
How It’s Enjoyed: Every family has its own recipe, and McNeil-Rueda says her family drinks pinole daily, “especially hot during winter.” Pinole is also popular at “town fairs that are dedicated to a specific saint or deity,” she says.
Other Things to Know: For many, pinole is more than a drink. It’s also a “communal meal,” says McNeil-Rueda. “It represents the history and culture of people in each territory.”
Ingredients: Dark chocolate, corn masa, brown sugar, cinnamon, milk or water
Flavors: Toasty warming spices with a hint of bitterness
How It’s Enjoyed: Champurrado is served warm and often paired with sweet bread or tamales.
Other Things to Know: Everyone has their own version. Sometimes champurrado is made with corn flour instead of masa, sometimes fresh corn, and sometimes nixtamalized corn.
In the Philippines, there’s also a breakfast dish called champorado, which is a porridge made with melted tablea, or discs or “tablets” of roasted and ground cocoa beans, plus cocoa powder and sticky rice. It’s sometimes paired with evaporated milk or salted dried fish.
Ingredients: Melted dark chocolate, whole milk, heavy cream, light brown sugar
Flavors: Buttery, cooked milk decadence
How It’s Enjoyed: Often served in the morning with breakfast, this version is so rich that you’ll mostly find it in demitasse cups or teacups.
Other Things to Know: If you’re making it at home, an immersion blender is handy to make it super smooth.
Ingredients: Dark chocolate, hot paprika, cloves, black pepper, sugar, milk or water
Flavors: Spicy, fruity and bitter
How It’s Enjoyed: In Hungary, it’s common to find this spicy hot chocolate during the December holidays.
Other Things to Know: Hungarian bean-to-bar brand Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé makes a high-end version of the traditional mix that’s available in the U.S.
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Ingredients: Ground cocoa beans, ground toasted corn, a dried flower called rosita de cacao, mamey seed, sugar (optional)
Flavors: Floral, roasty and spiced
How It’s Enjoyed: At the markets in Oaxaca, tejate makers knead the ingredients into a “dough” for hours, which creates a cocoa-butter foam (like whipped cream) on top. Then, in a big clay pot, they add cold water until it’s a smooth consistency. It’s served in a calabash gourd over ice, typically as a mid-morning snack.
Other Things to Know: The drink originated among Mixtec and Zapotec people, many of whom still drink it regularly. In Oaxaca, each market stall tends to have its own recipe. Mission Chocolate’s Gallardo shares her recipe on her site.
Tsokolate de Batirol or Sikwate
Ingredients: Tablea, water, rice, milk or pili nuts
Flavors: Bitter, nutty and buttery
How It’s Enjoyed: There are two main versions of this drink, known as Tsokolate de Batirol in Luzon and Sikwate in Visayas and Mindanao. The first is tsokolate-eh, which has a “thick, velvety texture,” says Louise Par of Auro Chocolate, whereas tsokolate-ah is more of a “watered-down chocolate drink.” Auro crafts its Tablea with directly sourced single-origin cocoa beans.
Other Things to Know: Cacao isn’t native to the Philippines. Spanish colonists brought it to the area about 300 years ago. It’s now planted across the archipelago, including in many people’s backyards.
Chocolate Con Queso
Ingredients: Dark chocolate, queso fresco or mozzarella, panela (unrefined sugar), cinnamon, cloves, water or milk
Flavors: Creamy, salty-sweet warming spices
How It’s Enjoyed: In the Andes, this drink is a staple for breakfast or teatime. It’s usually served with cheesy breads or arepas for dunking.
Other Things to Know: The drink is also called chocolate completo or chocolate santafenero. Expect the cheese to get quite melty and stringy in the bottom of the cup.