Chicago’s Best: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave. Chicago, IL 60647

Cafe Jumping Bean
1439 W. 18th Street Chicago, IL 60608

449 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60654

Maiz Anojitos Y Bebidas
1041 N. California Ave. Chicago, IL 60622

I had a secret grandmother as a young girl. She greeted me every time I stumbled in from my backyard, limbs frozen from galumphing in the snow. She liked to stop by when the Christmas tamales made their annual appearance. When we found her unexpectedly, we were overjoyed to see her. She smiled at me impishly as if her being my secret grandmother entirely delighted her. Let’s see if your REAL grandma serves you drinks in breakable dishware like I do or is quite as adorable as I. Really, now. I think not. Ha!

Her name was Abuelita, of the Mexican hot chocolate brand. She was a well worshiped demi-goddess and she knew it. Many of us had an adopted grandmother in that funny little granny lifting her china teacup from the yellow box. Since 1939, Abuelita hot chocolate has provided those of us outside of Mexico with a chance at experiencing how the beverage is made unique in that culture. It is dependably delicious and easy to whip up by breaking a chunk of the thick tablet and melting it into milk. But as part of the Nestle company, it is made to please the layman’s palate by seducing with the safe flavors of vanilla and cinnamon. It is perfectly lovely, but Mexican hot chocolate has a much more intensely flavored history.

Mexicans can call chocolate one of their most amazing native treasures. Celebrated as everything from a brain stimulant and spiritual aide to an aphrodisiac and as currency, chocolate has been inspiring tongues for thousands of years. In its earliest form, drinkable chocolate came in a far more daring variety than sweet, dear, old Abuelita’s drink – unsweetened, bitter cacao bean paste was mixed with cold water and paired with ample amounts of flavorings and herbs like chile pepper, vanilla bean and achiote, resulting in a pretty potent brew, to say the least.

Once the Spaniards clomped their way on over to the New World, they managed to find time to become keen on the drink in between their pillaging and bring it back home to Europe, where their brethren got to work whipping in the sugar and cream that would help evolve it into the product we are more familiar with today.

There are several different routes modern Mexican hot chocolate has gone since its more ancient fashion, but nowadays, “Mexican” hot chocolate will mostly be called so due to spices like cinnamon, clove, vanilla or cardamon being added to sweetened dark chocolate solids. Gone is the element of chile pepper in most respects, and sugar is always a major component. Even types that have diluted out the intense roots this drink has are still more complex than your average Swiss Miss, so exploring the world of Mexican hot chocolate is a worthwhile endeavor for your senses, especially in this hibernation-inducing Chicago deep freeze.

Some local places to get your nom on:

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park
Oooh, the delight! SUPER intense dark drinking chocolate and copious amounts of cinnamon are combined with milk into a thick, silky cup of love. The chocolate used takes on an almost fruity element. My boyfriend says it’s so good it’s like drinking a chocolate cherry. I agree, but this incarnation is not at all too sweet. A light square of homemade marshmallow is served on your saucer along side your spoon, and when floated on top, melts into a thick creamy cap. At the end you get the faintest hint of chile, which made me decide firmly, that this is, well.. sexual chocolate.

Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen
This cool little cafe boasts a Mexican hot chocolate that really seems to ride the divide between the intense and the Americanized versions at ease. It came to me in a tall glass mug with a fantastic cap of thick foam. Notes of chocolate liquor met the nose before giving way to flavor that included all the complex spice I hope for in a Mexican hot chocolate in a way that still managed to remain conventionally approachable. It was not overly sweet, and I remarked on how noticeably smooth it was. There was a slight wash of bittersweet chocolate silt at the bottom of the cup. Lick.

XOCO on Near North Side
You might imagine it would be imperative to Rick Bayless to infuse as much tradition as possible in his version of Mexican hot chocolate. He doesn’t disappoint by offering four different variations to please all palates. His cacao beans are ground on the premises, where they are combined with water for the Authentic, and chile and allspice are added for the Aztec. The Classic applies a more modern approach by bring in milk to the mix, as does the Barcelona. Mr. Bayless provides us with a fantastic chance to experience drinking chocolate in the style of its earlier eras.

Maiz Anojitos Y Bebidas in Humboldt Park
This corn-centric mecca touts several traditional Mexican hot beverages, including cafe de olla, atole, and of course hot chocolate.

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