I grew up with pretty much the same band of misfits, miscreants, and scoundrels from elementary school through high school. Once, in our constant barrage of pranks against each other, we stumbled upon an ancient culinary delight: spicy hot cocoa. In middle school we took a week long field trip to Yosemite National Park, to learn about nature, to hike, and to be without parental supervision for hours on end. The forests and mountain cliff faces were incredible, but what held our adolescent attention the most was the all-you-can-eat buffet that was held at every meal.
In particular, they had a hot cocoa machine that ran day or night. We were very much southern California Beach Bums, and when we got up into the mountains we became very aware that it was winter. I wore my mom’s old ski jacket, just like all my friends, and we drank gallons of hot chocolate between activities: we sipped it from tea cups, gulped it from mugs, and poured it on our breakfast cereal. So when, one morning, me and my three cabin mates sat down for breakfast, we each had a glass of the good stuff to ward off the morning chill. We had quite a bit of time for breakfast, so we made many trips to the buffet table and hot chocolate machine. It happened that there came a moment where one friend had left the table, leaving his unguarded mug with the three of us.
It didn’t take much consensus for our course of action, there was only one condiment on the table: Tabasco Sauce. We found out quickly that Tabasco mixes invisibly with hot chocolate. A few hearty shakes and then we waited. Our friend returned with a plateful of bacon, and then--to our mischievous joy--went straight for the hot chocolate, sniffed it, and gulped down a mouthful. We expected shock, we expected fury, and we had even shifted out of the line of fire if he managed a spit take. What we didn’t expect was for him to raise his eyebrows, put the mug down, and smile. “That’s really good,” he said, knowingly, and took another sip. At first we suspected a trick, an attempt to lull us into trying it ourselves. Curiosity got the better of us, though, and it wasn't long before I had a mug of Tabas-cocoa in front of me. I remember it quite distinctly. It was incredibly smooth cocoa, and the Tabasco didn’t enter into the initial rush of chocolate. The spice escalated slowly, hitting the back of the throat and building from there. Spice and sugar flavors seemed to combine like ginger or cinnamon in cookies, but it continued to build into a full blown pepper taste. It was a great match for winter, though we all agreed it was not as good over cereal. Tabasco is by no means the best ingredient for spicy hot cocoa. Despite our adolescent enthusiasm, Tabasco adds an unpleasant sour taste and has a tendency to separate from the hot chocolate over time. Fortunately, there are some excellent chocolatiers who have better captured the South American Experience of drinking spicy hot chocolate.
Mariebelle is one of the most famous to do so. Some standard flavors of their “drinking chocolate” come in Spicy, Dark, and Aztec. Mariebelle uses whole cacao beans in the manufacture of their hot chocolate to produce an incredibly strong chocolate flavor. The bitterness of the dark chocolate is accented by the spices present in the mixture; the result in an incredibly clean cacao flavor that fills your entire mouth. The spice is secondary to the chocolate flavor, but matches it from the moment it touches your tongue through to the sweet lingering aftertaste.
Chocolat Moderne is another brand with a spicy drinking chocolate. Their Mayan Eyes Hot Cocoa is bursting with flavor from ancho chilies and chipotle. This chocolate positively smolders on the tongue, with a rich bredth of flavors that combine seamlessly. A single sip of this the Mayan Eyes goes a long way, keeping a smile on your face and a fire in your heart.