Before solid chocolate become popular, difficulties in the processing of cocoa bean forced initial users of chocolate to enjoy it in its liquid state for centuries. Drinking of cocoa beverage was tradition of early natives in South America, and also during the entire life of Mayan and Aztec civilizations, where chocolate drinks had religious connotations. According to Aztecs, cocoa was a bean that was brought to the earth by the Sun god. After cocoa arrived to Europe on the ships of Spanish and Portugal explorers of the New World, hot chocolate became a fashionable item of the Western European courts, especially during the first few centuries when cocoa was extremely expensive and hard to process.
History of hot chocolate started well before 2 thousand years ago in the territory held by Mayans. There chocolate was used not only as a religious drink, but a commonplace treat that everyone had access to. The oldest surviving trace of hot chocolate being used during that time was found in the early Classic period Mayan tomb that was built sometimes between 460 and 480 AD. There, archeologists found vessels that had not only Mayan glyph that signified cacao, but also trace residues of chocolate drink inside of them. This early recipe for chocolate drink consisted of grinded cocoa seeds that were mixed with water, chili peppers, vanilla, cornmeal and other ingredients (Mayans did not have access to sugar, so all their chocolate drinks were bitter).
Spanish explorers first encountered chocolate drink in the form of the cold vanilla-flavored “chocolatl”. They noticed that cocoa beans were held in very high regard by Aztec people, nobles and royals, which forced Hernan Cortes to create its own plantations of cocoa after he destroyed Aztec Empire. He introduced traditional Aztec recipes and chocolate drinks to the Spanish Royal court, which embraced it even though simple addition of sugar did not alleviate its bitter taste. Interestingly, chocolate drink did not immediately become popular in the central or western Europe. Only Spanish and Portugal high class enjoyed it until 17th century, when new recipes enabled creation of truly sweet chocolate. Accepted as important luxury item by the European high class, hot chocolate went through several periods of high and low popularity, sometimes being pushed aside by hot coffee. By late 17th century, introduction of milk into the recipe of hot chocolate caused another surge in the popularity of this drink. By late 19th century, advances in the industry and chemistry enabled creations of other forms of chocolate that were easier to produce (most notably introduction of the cocoa powder machine by Coenraad Johannes van Houten in 1828). This enabled wide explosion of the hot chocolate popularity, which is strong even today.