Editor's note: This story was originally published Dec. 27, 2017. We're bringing it back just in time for National Chocolates Day.
By KELLAN HOWELL and NATALIE FERTIG, Circa
WASHINGTON (CIRCA) - Hot chocolate is an absolute must-have for lots of people this time of year, but did you know President George Washington had some of the finest chocolate drinks made at his Mount Vernon estate?
Historical trade interpreters at George Washington's Mount Vernon showed Circa how chocolate was made -- 18th-century style.
It starts with cacao, a type of plant that grows in South America. During colonial times, most cacao came from what is now Venezuela, explained Katherine Breitt Brown, lead trades interpreter at George Washington's Mount Vernon.
Pods from the cacao trees contain cacao beans and a buttery pulp called baba. The beans and the baba are fermented in pits lined with banana leaves and then the beans are dried and shipped.
During colonial times, it was easier and cheaper to ship cacao beans to the American colonies, thus chocolate was much more widely available in America than it was in England, Brown said.
Once the beans arrived at the Mount Vernon estate, they were then roasted. Unlike coffee, Brown explained, there's only one way to roast cacao beans to make chocolate: medium roast.
Once the beans are roasted, you end up with cacao shells, which can be used to make tea.
"Martha Washington was quite fond of this tea," Brown said. "We have records of George Washington ordering up to 20 pounds of the shells just for her tea."
It's the beans that go on to become chocolate. After roasting, the beans are ground in a mortar and pestle into "nibs."
Then the nibs are sprinkled onto a hot stone called a "metate." Using heat and friction, the nibs are emulsified into a thick liquid, which then gets poured into a mold to solidify and, voila, you have a chocolate brick.
At this point it looks like the chocolate is ready to eat, but that would be a mistake; it's 100 percent cocoa.
"We've all snuck into mom's cabinet and had a little baker's chocolate," Brown said, explaining that at this stage, the chocolate is extremely bitter.
It might taste bad, but Brown said the chocolate at this stage actually has a lot of health benefits.
"It has a lot of nutrients. It has something similar to caffeine, so it’s a stimulant. It’s an appetite suppressant and it's got a lot of calories, energy. And for those reasons, it was very often given to soldiers when available as a part of their rations," she said.
At George Washington's house, chocolate was typically served in the form of a beverage. To get it from bitter baker's chocolate to delicious hot chocolate, the cocoa bar is ground into a fine powder. Then the powder is mixed with sugar and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, chili and vanilla.
Then the chocolate powder mix is added to a special pot with hot water and stirred into a frothy, rich, delicious hot chocolate beverage.
"If you're being offered chocolate in the evening, don't turn it down," Brown said, explaining that the hot chocolate was often mixed with red wine.
Although chocolate was widely available in the American colonies, it was considered an adult beverage. Sorry, kids, none of that hot chocolate until you're older.
Want to watch the whole process? Check out the Facebook video below!