Although cacao trees flourish in the tropical climes of the Philippines, chocolate is not indigenous to the islands. In fact, like a few other Filipino foods, chocolate was introduced to the Philippines by Spain via Mexico (the cacao tree IS indigenous to parts of Central and South America).
In fact, according to many historical accounts, the ancient Mayans are credited with the invention of hot chocolate. Originally, the Mayans simply ground native cacao beans and spices into a paste, and then frothed the mixture into water and served this concoction hot. Soon, the Aztecs were introduced to cacao beans and made a similar chocolate brew of their own--though it was a cold drink that was served during religious ceremonies and human sacrifices (oh, those crazy Aztecs).
Then one day, some Spanish dude named Cortez arrived in Mexico and was peacefully received by Aztec emperor Montezuma. As the story goes, Montezuma presented Cortez with a frothy cup of chocolate out of simple good will. In return, Cortez wiped out the entire Aztec civilization (oh, those crazy Spaniards).
Finally, to make a long story a little bit less long, about a hundred (give or take) years later the Spanish took the cacao trees (as well as the Mexican custom of drinking chocolate) from their Mexican colony and introduced it to their Philippine colony. Thus, Filipinos started growing their own cacao trees, and then making and drinking their own form of hot chocolate known as Tsokolate.
Tsokolate is made from chocolate discs, or tablets, known as Tablea. Tablea are made from pure cacao nibs that are roasted, ground, and then mixed with a bit of sugar. And depending on the region of the Philippines, some ground peanuts may also be added to the tablea.
Tablea for two.
Here in the States, Tablea can be easily found at Filipino markets. But if you still can't find a source for Filipino chocolate, Mexican chocolate tablets found at Latin markets will also do in a pinch.
To make Filipino Tsokolate, a tablea or two is dissolved in some hot water and then mixed and frothed with a wooden whisk called a Batidor (Mexicans call the same tool a Molinillo). For an in-depth look at Batidors, see this post on Market Manila.
If you don't have a Batidor, a regular whisk works just fine for making Tsokolate--though I myself prefer the horsepower of my handy-dandy stick blender.
Stick Blender = Modern Day Batidor
After frothing the tablea and water, the resultant mix is a thick and rich drink of nutty and gritty hot chocolate.
Although Tsokolate is delicious and perfect on its own, it can be jazzed up a bit. For starters, you can use milk instead of water for an even creamier brew. You can also add a pinch of cayenne or chili powder for a more Mexican spin, and if you're so inclined, a dribble of vanilla extract is also a welcome addition. If you really want to put your fancy pants on, a cinnamon stick makes for a snazzy stirring rod.
To pick up your morning pick-up, dissolving a tablea or two in a hot cup of coffee makes for a wonderful Pinoy mocha, especially if made with Filipino Barako coffee beans.
Filipino chocolate mocha.
And aside from coffee, I've found that Tsokolate can be adjusted even more to the adult palate by adding a little booze. Lately, I've become accustomed to icing down my Tsokolate, and then adding some vodka and Kahlua for my take on a White Russian cocktail: The Filipino Russian.
Hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've managed to yet again turn an innocent drink into a cocktail--though it be a wonderfully chocolaty and creamy cocktail at that.
In spite of my own tweaks and adaptations to Filipino Tsokolate, it's still amazing to look back at how a hot chocolate drink in South America ended up as a wholly different hot chocolate drink in the Philippines. Tsokolate is a thick and rich drink of wonderfully gritty and bittersweet chocolate--a nutty concoction that was sorely missing from my nutty childhood.
As a youngster, when I wasn't zapping gummy bears in the microwave (a mesmerizing exercise for a young boy), I was often nuking mugfuls of milk with which to make hot chocolate. I then fortified this microwaved mug o'milk with a few spoonfuls of instant cocoa powder. Most often, this magical mix of "chocolate" came in the form of Nestle Quik, but sometimes it was Hershey's, and a few other times Ovaltine even made a cocoa cameo at our household.
Ah, A Christmas Story. It's a classic.
Anyways, despite the seemingly rich array of cocoa goodness available to me as a wee lad, I now know that none of those powdered potables can hold a candle to Filipino Tsokolate.
I suspect that had I been raised on the more flavorful and pungent brew of Filipino hot chocolate, I might have grown up to be a cage fighter, or a zombie hunter, or perhaps a ninja assassin. At the very least, I'd have more hair on my chest--Tsokolate is just that gritty and bitter, but deliciously so.Tsokolate: Filipino Hot Chocolate
Makes 1 serving
1-2 Filipino chocolate tableas (Found at Filipino markets)
1 cup hot water or milk
In a small bowl, combine the tablea and water (the more tableas you use, the thicker and richer the drink). Using a whisk or stick blender, mix until the chocolate has dissolved and the liquid becomes thick and frothy. Pour the Tsokolate into a mug and enjoy.
To make a Filipino mocha, simply mix tablea with a cup of hot coffee.Filipino Russian
Makes 1 serving
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce Kahlua
2 ounces cold Tsokolate (preferably made with milk)
Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled shaker, shake well to combine, then strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Cheers.