Grocery Ninja: Tsokolate—Smokey, Nutty, Pinoy Hot Chocolate

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here.


Sweet glutinous rice in Pinoy hot chocolate. Photograph from chotda on Flickr

The boyfriend mentioned something interesting recently: Coffee breaks are the nonsmoker's smoke break.

He wasn't referring to the communal pot of watered down joe most offices brew up in the morning and keep on a burner all day, though. He was referring to the process of pulling a perfect shot of espresso, frothing milk till it's just right, then bringing it all together in an earnest little cappuccino.

I had never thought of it that way, but making coffee can be a meditative experience. It's five minutes away from the computer, time to yourself, and the satisfaction of knowing you can tweak your coffee to your heart's desire (without having to learn Starbonics).

But what about noncoffee drinkers? If coffee breaks are a nonsmoker's smoke break, what's a noncoffee-drinker's coffee break?

Enter the tsokolate—otherwise known as Pinoy hot chocolate.


Tableas made from ground cocoa nibs and sugar.

Tsokolate is a world removed from the instant sachets of Nesquik I tend to reach for. Before you can make tsokolate, you have to prepare tableas from scratch. These are fist-sized balls or tablets of cocoa nibs that have been ground together with sugar and roasted peanuts. You bring a cup of water to a boil, plop in a tablea, then briskly rub a batidor (a wooden whisk of sorts) between your palms to dissolve the tablea, churn up froth, and thicken the tsokolate to a lush creaminess.

Once you're satisfied with the consistency of your tsokolate (or you get bored of "whisking"), you get to decide if you'd like to enrich it with milk or to drink it neat. Serious eater lorelai76 says it tastes like "smokey espresso, with peanutty undertones" when drunk sans milk, and, judging from my makeshift version, I'd agree.

20090330ibarra.jpgLorelai76 was lucky enough to pick up her stash of hand-ground tableas from a neighbor in the Philippines. Not having a tablea-making neighbor (why does everyone else get the cool neighbors?), I've had to look elsewhere for ingredients for my noninstant sachet hot chocolate-making experience.

This is where a little food sleuthing came in handy: It was Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés Pizarro who first learned of chocolate in 1519 when he visited the court of Emperor Montezuma in Mexico. The Spanish colonialists later introduced chocolate to the Philippines around the mid 17th century. Aha! Visiting my local Mexican grocery yielded a likely substitution in the form of Ibarra chocolate tablets—also made with cocoa nibs ground together with sugar.

The Ibarra tablets have a somewhat startling grittiness when bitten into, and you can see a sparkling band of sugar grains in the cross section. Sadly, they do not contain nuts, but this is readily remedied by stirring in a spoonful of chunky peanut butter. I don't know if peanut butter in tsokolate is legit, but it's certainly delicious.

As a lifetime nut-chocolate lover, I am dismayed that I never thought to put nuts and liquid chocolate together. I've laced my hot chocolate with crushed chile peppers, traversed the freshly ground black pepper route, and have even added ginger juice. All three something-somethings add a great kick to this food of gods—especially on a cold, rainy day. But none of the versions are as warmly inviting as the peanut butter-enriched one.

Lorelai76 adds condensed milk to her tsokolate—she reckons it smooths out the bitterness of the tsokolate and gives a wonderful creaminess in the mouth. She also skips the batidor in favor of an electric blender for "crazy froth."


How to achieve "crazy froth" without using a blender. Photograph from resakse on Flickr

I happened to have coconut milk in my pantry and a vegan friend over one day, so I can attest to the utter decadence of using coconut milk in your tsokolate (maybe even whisking in the barest smattering of curry powder—a pin head's worth). To achieve "crazy froth" without having to break out the blender, you can try doing it the Indian chai-wallah way: pour the tsokolate back and forth between two cups, keeping the cups as far apart as possible (for maximum aeration) till you achieve a nice, creamy head of foam.

To mix things up, the Pinoys also stir glutinous rice flakes into their tsokolate. These flakes "sink to the bottom, swell up with chocolaty goodness, and create a warm, filling, and tasty chocolate rice porridge." I don't know about you, but I suspect I know what I'll be trading my breakfast oatmeal in for.

With thanks to lorelai76.