As we’ve learnt, cocoa is a pretty versatile ingredient. As it’s naturally bitter in flavour it can be adapted for use in all kinds of food and drinks and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It can also be turned into an alcoholic drink. Liqueurs often tend to be sweet and many brands tailor to the sweet tooth. They are drunk as a short drink so a sweet, syrupy consistency actually works well, particularly at the end of a meal.
There aren’t many chocolate liqueurs on the market and these are the traditional thick, syrupy drinks. You’ll more commonly see a drink called crème de cacao. This is pretty self explanatory, as it’s made using cocoa flavouring. Despite its chocolately connotations this punchy beverage tends to be almost clear in colour, so if you’re expecting a glass of liquid, alcoholic chocolate, you might be setting yourself up for initial disappointment. However, take a sip and you’ll get a real cocoa hit. There’s also a dark version called, unsurprisingly, dark crème de cacao and this has more of a traditional chocolate brown colour. Seriously, try one of these next time you go out for dinner. If you’re a chocoholic, it really hits the spot. It’s flavoured with vanilla as well (just like chocolate bars) so there’s an extra sweet, perfumed taste.
As well as drinking these as a liqueur, they’re great added to cocktails and work well in drinks like the chocolate Martini or the Grasshopper.
Hot chocolate, drinking chocolate, a nice cup of cocoa – call it what you will but people have been enjoying the benefits of liquid chocolate for thousands of years. It was the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations that first discovered this drink, although, of course, it was rather a bitter concoction back in those days. No sugar to sweeten things up then. In fact, it was far more of a fiery brew than the sedate bedtime drink of today, as they added chillies and peppers to their drinking chocolate. It was probably the modern day equivalent of knocking back a couple of triple espressos.
Hot chocolate is typically made with a cocoa powder base, which is topped up with hot milk or water. However, there are plenty of variations. One of my favourites is the Italian drink that is basically melted chocolate. It’s so thick you practically need a spoon to consume it but it’s absolutely delicious and gives you a real chocolate hit. I remember sitting outside a café in Venice thinking all my Christmases had come at once as I was presented with one of these. I’ve also come across a novel version of hot chocolate that’s basically a mug of piping hot milk with a small chocolate bar placed in the centre. This slowly melts into the milk creating an increasingly chocolately drink. Other versions include flavourings such as vanilla or cinnamon that add a spicy note. So it’s not just a case of spooning some cocoa into a cup and waiting for the kettle to boil – there are all kinds of ways to enjoy chocolate as a drink.