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Real Men Drink Hot Chocolate

For eons rulers, kings, and tough guys of all varieties turned to a warm, chocolaty comfort-beverage as their drink of choice. And you should, too.

A 19th-century advertisement for Cadbury's Cocoa, which claims to give "strength and staying power—to athletes."     Photo: PD-US/Wikimedia

Hot chocolate isn’t just for snot-nosed grommets and grown-up lonelyhearts watching a "It's a Wonderful Lifetime." Mayan rulers, arctic explorers, soldiers, and other adventurous hardmen drank hot cocoa (or "drinking chocolate," an important distinction) to keep their strength—and their mojo—up.

The first drinking chocolate appeared 2,000 years ago when the Mayans ground cocoa seeds into a paste mixed with water. The beverage was served warm to the rich elite and believed to be a powerful elixir. By 1400 A.D., Aztec leader Montezuma II was drinking 50 goblets of chocolate every day—served bitter and cold, like his wrath. After vanquishing his enemies, he demanded they hand over their cacao bean stash.

By the 17th century Spanish conquistadors took the chocolate idea back to Europe. It remained a drink of the rich and famous, served at Spanish bullfights and at gentlemen’s clubs associated with Parliamentary parties in England. The Cocoa-tree Chocolate House, for example, was a place where men of the Tory party—“the first men in the kingdom, in fortune and fashion, supping at little tables covered with a napkin”—gathered to sip tea and chocolate.

During the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration," Robert Falcon Scott and his crew of four other men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, after over a year of traveling through treacherous lands, living on a diet largely made up of hot cocoa and stew. In fact, he made his men drink cocoa at least five nights a week (16 grams of cocoa mixed with sugar per night). Along with a pot of cocoa, for supper they made "hoosh”—a thick stew of pemmican (dried beef and fat) and hard biscuits. Crew member Apsley Cherry-Garrard wrote: "The warmth of your hours of rest depends largely on getting into your bag immediately after you have eaten your hoosh and cocoa."

Scott and his men never made it back to England; they died of starvation and exhaustion on their return trip. Though they reached the South Pole, it was second to Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team, who brought five times more cocoa.

Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, WWI, and WWII were administered hot chocolate to boost morale and speed up recovery time. During WWI, the YMCA sponsored canteens that offered free treats, like hot chocolate made from water, powdered chocolate, and milk.

More recently, during explorer Will Steger’s 1989 dog-sled journey across Antarctica, he and his team drank over 2,070 cups of Swiss Miss hot chocolate over the 4,000-mile trek. It took 36 sled dogs and 220 days to successfully cross a continent that is unable to support most living things. Steger writes on why he took the trip in his book, Crossing Antarctica: “I say, 'Because I like it.’ You never ask the basketball player why he plays. It is like asking someone, 'Why do you like chocolate?'"

Modern adventurers—mountaineers, climbers, and distance runners—still rely on the calories chocolate (in bar or liquid form) can provide after a physically grueling day. In January 2009, extreme distance runner, Ray Zahab broke the record for fastest unsupported trek across Antarctica—he ate three things most often: Bacon, butter, and chocolate. Last summer, Christoph Strasser rode 3,000 miles in fewer than 8 days winning the 2013 Race Across America. During the 2011 RAAM, he drank nothing but the chocolate Ensure shakes you buy at Wal-Mart.

The takeaway? Chocolate—particularly of the hot, liquid variety—has been a perfomance food of choice for centuries. Don't avoid, enjoy.


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