Cultivation of the cacao tree first took place in Mexico, and it's there that the tradition of roasting and grinding cacao and turning it into a drink began. In fact, the drink is centuries old. Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, had the opportunity to sample xocoatl -- the Aztec word for the bitter drink -- when he visited Montezuma II's court in 1519 [source: Encyclopedia Britannica]. The Spanish kept chocolate all to themselves for nearly 100 years before the secret got out and Europe fell in love with hot chocolate. In doing so, though, the Europeans changed it, adding sugar and vanilla, among other flavors. It's a lot closer to what Americans know as hot chocolate. But the beverage would hardly have been recognizable to the Aztec.
Authentic Mexican hot chocolate is complex and redolent with cinnamon and other spices. It's often sweetened, but it's a far, far cry from sugary prepared hot cocoa mixes. If hot chocolate is on offer at a traditional Mexican eatery -- or in a local's home -- accept it with pleasure and be prepared for a unique and soul-warming experience.