My first year in Colombia was full of new food, new music, new language, and new friends. Trips to the market and grocery stores were adventures that required advance preparation, such as looking up ingredients in a Spanish dictionary or calling friends to inquire about local terminology. I had studied German in high school, which was no help in a Spanish-speaking country, so it took me a little while. At first I shied away from things I couldn't identify, but my shopping list expanded as I grew more comfortable with the local foods and the language. I did learn rather quickly about Colombian hot chocolate and how it was pretty much part of daily life, and I loved to watch it being prepared.
The locals used an aluminum pitcher called a chocolatera to warm milk or water on the stove, then they added chocolate as well as sugar if needed. After the chocolate was melted they would use a wooden molinillo to froth the chocolate. They put the round business end of the wooden stick in the bottom of the pitcher and roll the handle quickly between their hands as if they were trying to start a fire. The chocolate would froth up the sides of the pitcher, but the tall round shape that tapered near the top kept the chocolate from splattering over. Once it was well-frothed, they poured the steaming chocolate into cups and sometimes gave you a piece of bread and a small chunk of cheese to go with it. Locals dropped the cheese into the chocolate, but I preferred to nibble mine on the side.
Colombia was where I learned how good hot chocolate could be, and I bought a large chocolatera and molinillo and still have them in my kitchen. Fortunately I’m able to indulge my Colombian chocolate cravings thanks to the international grocery stores in our area. We can find Sol and Luker chocolate from Colombia, both sweetened (con azucar) and unsweetened (sin azucar). Each package has enough chocolate for 16 cups of cocoa, we just break it into individual bars and add one for each cup.
The frothing step is rather important for the right texture, and if you can’t find a molinillo you can use a milk frother such as the kind used for making coffee drinks or even a whisk.
Colombian Hot Chocolate
- chocolate pitcher (chocolatera) or small saucepan
- wooden molinillo, milk frother, or whisk
- 8 ounces milk or water
- 1 bar Colombian chocolate (sweetened or unsweetened)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (if using unsweetened chocolate)
- pinch cinnamon
- pinch cloves
- pinch cayenne
- Warm the milk or water in the chocolatera or small saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the bar of chocolate and sugar if needed and spices if desired. Cook stirring until the chocolate completely melts. Froth briskly until the chocolate foams, then pour into a mug and serve.