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I’ve written about Colombian hot chocolate here before, the kind you put cheese in, but I’ve never just written about the plain old Colombian-style hot chocolate that makes me ever so happy on a nearly daily basis.
In the states, hot chocolate is reserved either for breakfast or for cold winter nights. Though exceptions can be made at breakfast, I don’t think anyone really thinks of it as something to go alongside a meal. Hot chocolate is considered rather decadent, a special treat, almost like a dessert, right?
In contrast, in Colombia everybody loves hot chocolate, but it’s considered an every day thing, appropriate for a cacao-producing country—so much so that poor families traditionally made hot chocolate with agua panela instead of milk because milk was too expensive. It’s very common to see hot chocolate served alongside this kind of combo, either for breakfast or for dinner, or alongside calentado as Diana has written about (although really, it’s “calentao”, nobody in Colombia ever pronounces the ‘d’ in “calentado”, or in most other words for that matter). Even more ubiquitous is hot chocolate served as accompaniment to the evening arepa, particularly in the colder regions of the country like Bogotá and Medellin.
As for how to make Colombian hot chocolate, here are my tips:
- Colombian-style chocolate is made with what is known as simply “chocolate” (or “chocolate de taza” in the rest of South America), similar to Mexican chocolate tablets, as opposed to “chocolatina”, which refers to a chocolate candy bar. There are lots of different varieties; we normally go with the Luker unsweetened bars, specifically the ones with “clavo y canela”—cloves and cinnamon (as you can see in the picture above, the chocolate has bloomed, but that’s because we live in the steam room that is Rio de Janeiro). Luker is a national brand, but sometimes you can find chocolate from very local producers that sell the chocolate in small round balls. The instructions on the Luker package say one square per cup, but you can use two if you like your hot chocolate a bit more cargado.
- I like to sweeten the hot chocolate with muscovado sugar or the more traditional panela, though white sugar is a perfectly fine option as well. Use around a tablespoon per cup if you’re using muscovado or panela, less if you’re using white. (Or, you know, sweeten to taste.)
- Use whole milk, but add in a tablespoon or two of water per cup. Don’t ask me why but this seems to improve the taste and perhaps protect the milk from burning. Colombian hot chocolate is not super thick—as I said, it’s not meant to be dessert, but a beverage to accompany food.
- Colombian hot chocolate is all about the head foam. Most people use a chocolatera and molinillo for their hot chocolate-making; I find chocolateras very useful, but as I’ve griped here in the past, I think molinillos are fairly useless, both for emulsion purposes and for generating the coveted foam. I’m sure there are abuelas out there who have perfected their emulsifying and foaming technique with molinillos over the years, but I don’t have that kind of patience. I recommend the following: heat milk, water, chocolate and sugar/panela up in a small pot/chocolatera. When the chocolate has melted and the milk begins to foam up, turn off the heat, give the pot a quick stir to make sure there’s no chocolate stuck to the bottom, and pour the contents into your blender (alternately, use a stick blender in the pot). Blend for 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is fully homogenized and there is lots of foam at the top. Serve immediately, making sure to distribute the foam evenly between the cups.
Molinillo fail. As George Bluth Sr. would say, this is why we always make hot chocolate in the blender.