An article for Fiery Foods magzine

Bernal Diaz, The Conquistador, rode with Cortez from the very start of his conquests. He knew the Generalissimo and his beautiful Mayan interpreter, advisor and mistress:Dona Marina. He knew the near erotic thrill and the soul shaking horror of Cortez’s great enterprise. He knew and admired the man he referred to as “the great Montezuma.” And I think he drank tequila with his cocoa.

Diaz was a close observer. He noted well both the grand events and the daily minutia as they fought their way to Montezuma’s capital of Meschico. He wrote these down and later in his life, consolidated these memories into his account of the discovery and conquest of Mexico.

He comments several times on the magnanimity fo spirit and the generosity of the Aztec Emperor. When he complained to the great man of his loneliness so far from home, the great Montezuma responded by giving him “a beautiful Indian girl for my very own”. Diaz also notes that the Emperor was “completely free of the practice of sodomy, and the clothing he put on one day, he didn’t use again until three or four days later.” Diaz was later moved to anguish over the death of Montezuma, killed by a mob of angry Aztecs.

Among Diaz’s records are many processes, techniques and recipes. Thus Diaz on treating wounds when the usual dressings were unavailable: “ After the battle, we sealed our wounds with grease rendered from the fat of an Indian we had killed.” And Diaz, the watchful saucier, upon witnessing Aztec human sacrifice and cannibalism: After cutting out the hearts, “They kicked the bodies down the steps. There were butchers waiting below to cut off the arms and legs. These they kept for their fiestas, when they got drunk and ate the meat with chimole,” a salsa made of tomatoes, chile and cilantro.

The domestic and the culinary were of great interest to Diaz. He often was present when Montezuma dined, and he recorded what he saw. He was vastly impressed that Montezuma’s cooks prepared as many as “thirty kinds of dishes for every meal, done the way he liked them, and they placed small pottery braziers under them so they wouldn’t get cold.” Diaz reports that the great Montezuma was fond of dishes of birds and he was exceedingly fond of hot chocolate. He drank as many as forty cups a day, and that because of this he was able to service as many of his concubines as he liked on any given day.

Ever the close observer, Diaz noted the recipe, and passed it down to us. The great Montezuma liked his cup of hot cocoa flavored with vanilla, sweetened honey and spiked with red chile. The Conquistadores picked up the chocolate habit, brought it to Europe, and the rest is culinary and confectionery history.

Birth of Tequila

Diaz and some others stayed in Mexico, carving our huge haciendas and quaffing cocoa in the manner of their admired late foe. They kept the original recipe but expanded on it a bit by adding a splash of “vino de Tequila,”a product only of fermentation at that time. Distillation would come later. When cattle were introduced to Mexico from Europe they added a little milk or cream. But basically they drank what the emperor had drunk. Only when it had gone through many European hands did the mixture become the milder, more innocuous confection we know today.

I like to drink what Diaz and the great Montezuma drank. You might think that chocolate and chile are a weird and awful combination, but Montezuma was no fool. In my own travels I’ve found that sweetness makes even the hottest chile somehow friendly without losing its zing. And the bitterness of chocolate counteracts the cloyingness of the sweet. A dram of alcohol don’t hurt either.

I’ve made this drink for years now, adjusting and improving until I’ve arrived at what I think both the emperor and the conquistador would approve of. I’ve taken advantage of modern conveniences and products. I think of the words of the great 18th century gastronome Brillat-Savarain who said,”the discover of a new recipe does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.” Who needs another star when, on a cold night, you can sit down and warm the cockles of your heart, and commune, through the medium of his cup, with the great Montezuma.


12 ounces prepared hot chocolate
2 teaspoons honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 jiggers tequila
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Combine chocolate, honey, vanilla, red pepper and tequila. Pour into two stemmed glasses or Irish coffee glasses. Float the cream on the tops of the two drinks. Dust with a pinch of Cayenne pepper and garnish with cinnamon sticks, or dust with grated chocolate and garnish with dried red chiles. Salud!