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How to Drink Your Chocolate Like Aztec Emperor Montezuma II

Written by Bonnie Bennett

Imagine breathing in the intense aroma of bitter dark chocolate, spices, nuts, and chilis. It’s a heady mix, intoxicating in its richness and complexity. But it’s not a chocolate bar or truffle that’s before you, but a drinking elixir served in a small blue-and-white cup that’s been hand-painted in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Authentic and historic drinking chocolate elixirs are at the heart of Kakawa Chocolate House, an artisanal chocolate company my husband, Tony, and I have owned since 2011. Our original shop sits in a small adobe house near Santa Fe’s famed Canyon Road.

4,000 Years of Cacao History

Our goal is to introduce guests to the long, rich history of chocolate. Cacao is probably one of the oldest recorded food products still being enjoyed in the same form from 4,000 years ago. That’s before the Aztecs, and the Mayans, all the way to the Olmecs, one of the earliest recorded civilizations in the Western Hemisphere. Chocolate elixirs were drinks of the rulers, like famed Aztec emperor Montezuma II, who was rumored to have drunk dozens of pitchers of the frothy drink a day. They were also used in religious and wedding ceremonies, and other festive occasions.

A Mexican Ritual

While these different pre-Columbian cultures spanned several millennia, there’s evidence that they all enjoyed chocolate in the same way: by fermenting cacao beans and grinding them to create a frothy drink, either plain or mixed with different kinds of herbs, spices, and eventually, chili peppers. Amazingly, this ritual is still being carried on today in homes across Mexico. Beans are freshly ground, and enjoyed as a frothy drink first thing in the morning.

At Kakawa Chocolate House
"We offer time travel for the palate, with different drinks that represent different ancient cultures, from the intense Aztec Warrior Elixir spiced with Pasilla de Oaxaca Chili to the Mayan Full Spice Elixir, flavored with various flowers, nuts and herbs."
Bonnie Bennett, Co-Owner

From Marie Antoinette to Thomas Jefferson

With our historically based elixirs, we also jump across the Atlantic, and back again to the U.S. One elixir is inspired by Marie Antoinette’s love of orange blossoms, while the Jeffersonian is taken verbatim from Thomas Jefferon’s list of preferred chocolate recipes.

We also feature specialty chocolate creations that incorporate contemporary flavors, and go beyond chocolate drinking elixirs to truffles, caramels, bars, and even house-made ice creams. In everything we do, we support sustainability, fair trade, and local farming, when possible. You will also spot local and regional ingredients in our concoctions, from different types of red and green chilis, to piñon nuts and prickly pear.

Up-close view of a cacao bean outside on a tree
Up-close view of a mortar and pestle with flowers and cacao beans surrounding it through the chocolate immersion experience
Group of individuals around a table making chocolate and participating in the chocolate immersion experience
Hands holding a cup of melted chocolate, while participating in Bishops Lodge Chocolate Immersion experience

For our special Chocolate Immersion experience for Bishop’s Lodge guests, you will learn about both the long history of cacao and the chocolate making process while experiencing a true multi-sensory tasting that incorporates our chocolate elixir recipes from pre-Columbian cultures through to contemporary crafted concoctions. There’s also a special New Mexico-treat in store, but that will be a secret for when you come.