What is Mexican Hot Chocolate?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Mexican hot chocolate is the generic name for a spicy chocolate drink made with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, chilies, anise, and other spices, depending on the region of Mexico it is made in. In other parts of the world, it is often made with Mexican chocolate, a bitter and granular solid chocolate mix which is designed to be melted and mixed with milk or water to make Mexican hot chocolate. When early European explorers were introduced to chocolate, it came in the form of Aztec hot chocolate, which would be unrecognizable to most modern hot chocolate consumers. Explorers brought back samples of cocoa beans, the raw product used to make hot chocolate, and in Europe other spices were added, along with cream and sugar.

Dried vanilla beans. Mexican hot chocolate often includes vanilla.
Dried vanilla beans. Mexican hot chocolate often includes vanilla.

The scientific name for the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao. Cacao is derived from a Nahuatl word, xocolatl, and theobroma means "food of the gods," a reference to the sacred place that chocolate had in Central American culture, and presumably the delicious flavor, which captivated Europeans when it was discovered.

Cinnamon is often used in Mexican hot chocolate.
Cinnamon is often used in Mexican hot chocolate.

Traditional Mexican hot chocolate as it would have been drunk by the Aztecs is made by grinding cocoa beans with cinnamon, anise, chilies, and vanilla pods. Some other regions of Mexico add spices like cardamom to the mixture, which is frothed in hot water with a molinillo, or chocolate whisk. The result is a bitter, granular drink which is also quite thick and intense. Another version, champurrado, is sweetened with piloncillo, an unrefined brown sugar used in Mexico, and thickened with ground corn masa.

Cardamom is used to season hot chocolate in some parts of Mexico.
Cardamom is used to season hot chocolate in some parts of Mexico.

In Oaxaca, chocolate appears in a cold drink, Tejate, which uses dark chocolate, cocoa flowers, and thick corn masa. The drink is allowed to sit and marinate before being frothed and served cold over ice, although some restaurants offer Oaxacan hot chocolate, using the same ingredients. Some modern cafes have reinterpreted Tejate, making fermented iced chocolate drinks with exotic ingredients like green tea for an interesting and refreshing flavor.

In most of the world outside of Mexico, Mexican hot chocolate is made with milk instead of water, and sweetened with sugar. Many packaged Mexican chocolate products actually include grains of piloncillo to cater to a sweet tooth when they are sold outside of Mexico. At home, the Mexican chocolate can be melted and mixed with a liquid to make a version of Mexican hot chocolate which some consumers like to enhance by adding chilies, cinnamon, and other spices.

For people unfamiliar with the mixture of chilies and chocolate, the idea of traditional Mexican hot chocolate might seem somewhat distasteful. However, the fiery chilies, bitter chocolate, and sweet sugar interact in the mouth to create an interesting textural and flavor experience. The concept of chilies and chocolate also appears in mole and other Mexican dishes. This would suggest that the combination is very familiar and popular in Mexican cuisine.

Ground cocoa beans are used in traditional Mexican hot chocolate.
Ground cocoa beans are used in traditional Mexican hot chocolate.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


In Central America, it is called just hot chocolate and the difference between it and Mexican hot chocolate is that the Central American version doesn't have "chiles picantes". In the countryside, a lot of people make their own "tablillas" (flat chocolate tablets about 3 to 4" in diameter).

Most people don't add sugar to it, but in general the recipes are passed down within families. Depending on the family's preference, hot chocolate is made with milk or water and the procedure to make it is the same as for Mexican hot chocolate. They use a "molinillo" to mix the melted chocolate with the liquid of choice.

A big difference between the "chocolate tablets" sold at American grocery stores is that most "tablillas" sold in Central America are not extremely sweet, like those sold in the U.S.


@Post no. 1: Do you use American cocoa or chocolate tablets? Believe me, it's not hot chocolate if you use cocoa powder. While cocoa is the base for both, the American stuff has way too much sugar and too little chocolate in it to compare to the tablets used in Mexico and Central America. I travel there very often and would never dare to compare their delicious hot chocolate with our American cocoa (which is good if you like your sweet stuff). I drink both anyway but prefer their hot chocolate.


@Post 7: You are confused. There are three countries in North America: Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Central America has seven countries and Mexico is not one of them.

Unfortunately, some American teachers still teach us that Mexico is not in North America, but the rest of the world acknowledges Mexico as a North American country.

Anyway, good post about hot chocolate, which, by the way, is not the same as our American cocoa powder. (Learned that when visiting Central America) and don't call their drink cocoa anymore.


Please don't get confused. Mexico is in North America. Modern day Central America is comprised of seven countries. It was originally only five, but Mexico was not one of them. Because of its geographical location, Mexico is in North America. However, Mexico and Central America have a lot of common history and chocolate is drunk there.

Any person who has lived or is from Mexico or Central America will tell you please don't call it cocoa, because American cocoa is the powdery stuff, while hot chocolate is a wonderfully delicious hot drink, and is not sugary like American's cocoa.


This was very informative for my paper. I'm a culinary student and this helped in so many ways.


I always thought Mexico was in North America. I appreciate all of the references to Central America in the article to set me straight.


Wow! This is just what I need for my science fair project.


I actually got into drinking Mexican hot chocolate a few years ago when my school was doing a unit on Mexico.

My research project was on different Mexican food recipes, and one of the ones that I found was Mexican hot chocolate, as you would imagine, since its so popular.

Well, for my final project I got some easy cook Mexican hot chocolate mix from the Hispanic store in town, and made it for the whole class. Although some people didn't like the taste or texture, a lot of people said they were really surprised at how much they did like it.

I personally thought it was great -- and now I keep a stock of hot chocolate mix in my house for cold days!


I was lucky enough to be able to live in Mexico for a year for my study abroad in college, and let me tell you, there is nothing like a good, truly authentic Mexican hot chocolate.

It's really very fascinating how much of a cultural thing it is too. I'm not sure how it is in other parts of Mexico, but where I was staying, people drinking hot chocolate together was like how we think of people going out for a beer or even a coffee. It was a social thing that you offered to your guests, not just some other drink.

I remember the family that I was staying with always had their homemade chocolate ready-ground to make chocolate for whenever the neighbors came over, and we spend many lovely evenings drinking chocolate together and learning about each others cultures.

So if you do ever get the chance to try authentic Mexican hot chocolate, you should definitely do so -- it is certainly a lifetime experience.


Hmmm... I don't know how I would feel about that. I kind of like the sweetness of my regular hot cocoa mix.

I mean, I'm up for trying all kinds of flavored hot chocolates, but the whole chili pepper thing just seems a bit much for me.

Besides, it sounds like it would be really lumpy, what with all that corn and flour and stuff mixed in. I could sort of see that for a frozen hot chocolate, but not for something that I'd want to sip by my fire over Christmas.

Maybe I'll just stick with good old flan as far as my Mexican dessert experiences go...


This is the recipe that I use to make Mexican hot chocolate. It is really delicious. You need ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon, ¼ cup granulated sugar, a dash of salt, 4 cups milk (divided), ¼ cup half and half, ½ tsp. red chile powder, and ¾ tsp. vanilla extract.

In a bowl, combine the cocoa, chile powder, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Heat 1 cup of milk in a saucepan until it is bubbling. Stir in the cocoa mixture and whisk it until it is smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the remaining 3 cups of milk and return to boiling. Before stirring, whisk it until it is frothy. Stir in the half and half, and then the vanilla.

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