Did you know that hot chocolate is a Florentine tradition? From its first appearance at the Medici court in the 16th century, the city’s nobles went crazy for the bitter drink, which was served instead of wine or water at meals in Palazzo Pitti.
It experienced a second moment of importance in the 19th century, when some of the city’s now-historic bars served it to travelers, aristocrats and intelligentsia. I recently learned about Hot Chocolate in Florence on a thematic tour of the city with Francesca from the cultural association Tre Passi Per Firenze, organized by Yelp Firenze, and I’ve asked her to tell us more about it. The article below is composed thanks to her research, with my words.
History of chocolate in Florence: where and whom
Christopher Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue in 1492 but it took him until his fourth expedition, in 1502, to discover chocolate. The nice people of the island of Guanaja in Honduras sent some home with him, having also served it to him as a drink, which he found disgusting. Cortés did a better job of diffusing the love for chocolate, having found it in Mexico in 1519 and imported it to Spain in 1528. It took half a century until it became regularly available in Europe – Italy was the second country to adopt it.
The “gift from the gods” was prepared as a drink – the possibility to make chocolate harden into a bar came only later – following the methods brought back via Cortés. The seeds of the cacao were ground into a powder and combined with boiled water to make a bitter drink. Early reports say it was healthy and provided much energy. Its success in European cities, including Florence, was that it provided an alternative to wine and beer when the water couldn’t be drunk unless boiled. It wasn’t entirely to the taste of Italians until combined with cane sugar: Girolamo Benzoni, an important merchant, said in the middle of the 16th century that it wasn’t fit for men but for pigs. He changed his mind when he tasted the sugared version.