Much Ado About Foam

Photo: Mujer vertiendo chocolate - Codex Tudela. (United States Domain Tag: )

“After straining, the cacao is lifted up high so it will pour in a good stream, and this is what raises the froth. And whoever makes it well, makes and sells the cacao such as only the lords drink: smooth, frothy, vermillion red, and pure, without much corn masa. Cacao that is no good has a lot of masa and a lot of water, and so it doesn’t make a good froth, only a bubbly scum.”[1]

Those were the words of Bernardino de Sahagún, a 16th century Spanish missionary who wrote about the Aztec culture during the contentious period of the conquest of Mexico. He documented daily rituals, spiritual practices, and culture of the indigenous people including their consumption and production of cacao. Today, we might label this as ‘anthropology,’ or even a modern form of storytelling. And as such, we can only make guesses as to how well his descriptions accurately portrayed the actual customs of the indigenous peoples he interviewed.

A while back, Lauren Heineck interviewed me for the WellTempered podcast. Like any good interviewer, she started with a simple warm-up question. Except, the question “What did you have for breakfast this morning?,” turned out to be not so simple. I had been experimenting with different cacao beverages she joked that recipe might be called “Bulletproof Chocolate.” We soon discovered that this name has already been claimed as a registered trademark. Nor is the idea of a foamy chocolate drink all that original. Clearly, as Sahagún documented, people have been consuming frothy hot chocolate and coming up with their own concoctions for centuries. What's the big deal with foam? One of the reasons I learned during interviews with cacao farmers in fieldwork in Tabasco, Mexico is that the air bubbles captured the celestial or ‘divine’ properties of chocolate as food of the Gods.[2]

Whether as daily ritual or occasional drink of indulgence, foamy hot chocolate is not something I—nor Sahagún—invented.

You can still enjoy it.

Foamy Chocolate Mate

What do I do to start each day the right way? Mm, I get high with a little chocolate mate Uh-hum, gonna be happy first thing in the day.   Lend me your tongue and I’ll give you a taste.

Filtered water, 8 oz. Yerba Mate tea, loose leave, 1 tbsp. Milk, ¼ cup (anything that suits your fancy including coconut, almond, hazelnut, hemp, or cow’s milk). Cocoa powder, 1 tbsp. Coconut oil, 1 tsp. Cinnamon, a dash Chili pepper, a smaller dash Optional superfood add-ons: Reishi mushroom powder (1/4 tsp), maca root powder (1/2 tsp).

Percolator, French press, tea ball, tea press, tea pot, strainer, or espresso machine
Swan-neck kettle

1: Heat up the water to 170 F. Measure and add the mate tea leaves to a strainer. Moisten the leaves with cool water before brewing.
2: Pour heated water over the mate leaves (ideally, pour-over style in a steady stream over the leaves, starting in the outer rim and moving in concentric circles inward).
3: Cover and steep the mate leaves for 4-6 minutes.
4: Heat up the milk over the stove until it reaches 160-180 F.
5: Add the brewed mate to the pot of milk. Add the cocoa powder, coconut oil, spices and optional add-ons.
6: Either whisk the ingredients quickly in a pot or transfer to a blender to foam up and cool down the beverage.

Follow the recipe, or not. It is an invitation to make your own version of the century-old tradition.


[1] “Hot chocolate to the rescue.” BBC World Series: The Forum. 22 May 2017.
[2] Weeks, M.R. (2011). La comida de los dioses: El cacao en México y la transformación de la sociedad mexicana./Food of the Gods: Cacao in Mexico and the transformation of Mexican society. (Unpublished B.A. thesis). Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.  

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