Mexican hot chocolate and a molinillo

Mexican hot chocolate DSC 4164

Growing up, visits to San Antonio were always a cause for celebration. Sure, the River Walk was lovely and the Alamo was historic, but my favorite part of the trip was breakfast at Mi Tierra. Mi Tierra is one of those legendary Tex-Mex restaurants, up there with Joe T. Garcia and Ninfa’s as places Homesick Texans will wax nostalgic. This landmark housed in the old San Antonio market is festive, decked out year-round with Christmas lights, bright paintings and a big heart, not to mention the tasty food. And it’s always open, so at whatever hour you need your Tex-Mex fix, it will be waiting for you with open arms. My family used to go for breakfast, and one of its signatures for me was the Mexican hot chocolate. A silky, spicy concoction spiked with cinnamon and vanilla. After you’ve had it, you’ll never go back to Swiss Miss again.

You would expect Mexicans to make amazing hot chocolate since it was the Mayans and the Aztecs that created the beverage from the native American cacao beans. It wasn’t until Cortez brought chocolate back to Europe, however, that it evolved into the sweet, milky beverage we enjoy today. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs served their chocolate cold, mixed with chiles, vanilla and cinnamon. But when Cortez introduced the beverage to Spain, they did away with the spices, added sugar and served it hot. Modern Mexican hot chocolate is a hybrid of both the ancient and the new—a warm, sweet beverage that’s also spicy. But besides the flavor, the key characteristic of Mexican hot chocolate is that froth, the cup’s life force. And the tool used to achieve these foamy peaks is a molinillo.

The molinillo, which translates to blender, is a beautiful wooden tool; even the so-called simple ones are ornately carved. It’s a piece of pragmatic kitchen art that not only whips up a fantastic froth on your chocolate, but is also guaranteed to solicit queries from those unfamiliar with it.

I’ve read conflicting reports on its invention, some say it was the Spanish who invented it in the 1700s (basing it on a similar French tool called a moulinet ) while others say the Mayans created it. No matter, it’s here with us today and that’s what counts.

Mexican hot chocolate | Homesick Texan
To use it is very simple. After making your pot of chocolate, you take the molinillo, place it between both palms and vigorously roll it back and forth. The rings on the bottom of the molinillo twirl around whipping the beverage into a foam. And if you like to chant while you cook, here’s the molinillo rhyme popular with Mexican children and kindergarten teachers everywhere:

Bate, bate, chocolate,
tu nariz de cacahuate.
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHOCOLATE!

You can buy a molinillo at any Mexican specialty shop and some cookware stores. And a molinillo with a pack of Mexican chocolate makes a terrific gift.

While Mexican hot chocolate may seem exotic, making it is not difficult. Most stores sell Mexican hot chocolate discs, either under the brand Ibarra or Abuelita. Take one of the discs (a pressed mixture of sweetened cacao nibs and cinnamon), crush it in a pot with the molinillo, pour in four cups of milk, and slowly simmer stirring occasionally until the chocolate has melted. You can add some ancho powder and vanilla if you want to give it an extra kick. When completely melted, put the molinillo in the pot and spin it between your hands for a few minutes until it’s good and frothy. Pour it into cups and enjoy. And don’t forget to savor the soul of the drink—a spiritual experience all can enjoy.

  1. The Brookfield Library

    I’m a homesick Californian living in CT since ’92, and the thing I miss most (after my family of course) is good Mexican food. My husband and I are spending a few days in San Antonio and Austin over New Year’s–our first trip there–and we’ll stop in at Mi Tierra and toast a hot chocolate to you…and we’ll take any other suggestions you might have time to give us. Love your blog, anxiously awaiting any good finds you discover in NYC–our daughter lives on the Upper East Side so we go in from time to time.

  2. As usual, what a wonderful post! You hit every nail on the head here, and I’m wishing for a quick visit to mi tierra right now!

    Thank you so much for making me happy with your writing – especially since I didn’t make it back home for the holidays.

  3. Now I want to buy a molinillo, if for no other reason than to have it on display in my kitchen! I’ve seen them several times but never knew exactly how they were used. All that’s missing is a photo of the froth! I loved the children’s rhyme you included by the way!

  4. Lisa Fain

    Brookfield Library–Enjoy your hot chocolate! There are so many fantastic places to eat in Austin and San Antonio, it’s hard to go wrong with any choice, but I highly recommend Lockhart for BBQ and Las Manitas in Austin for breakfast. As for the Upper East Side–there are some decent tacos up in Spanish Harlem.

    Matt–Thank YOU! And I hear ya–I haven’t been to Austin or SA in a few years and it’s high time I return!

    Nicole–You should get one–you won’t be sorry!

  5. Your Mom Prints Zines

    Oh, man, I have so many memories at La Tierra, not the least of which that it’s apparently where I said my first swear word at the ripe old age of two.

  6. Have to mention the bar at Mi Tierra. I’ve been going to that restaurant once a year or so for most of my life, but didn’t go in the bar until last year: it’s amazing. You could imagine Zorro swinging on the chandeliers.

    Also, on the hot chocolate: my dad makes it using the microwave and a blender. Less romantic, but equally effective.

  7. Lisa Fain

    Your mom prints zines–I love it, what word did you say?

    Renz–I haven’t been back in years so I’ll have to check out the bar next time I’m in SA. And I reckon a blender is another way to get great froth if you don’t have a molinillo. Molinillo, after all, is Spanish for blender.

  8. I’d never heard of a molinillo before. I do keep a box of Abuelita in my pantry though, and use my immersion blender to froth it up. I was just at Mi Tierra yesterday, picking up tasty empanadas (crema and fresa, mmmm) and pralines. El Mercado is changing. They’re renovating the main walkway and putting in yet another market building supposedly; rumor is that it’s going to be more upscale. Frankly, I like the older ones filled with lots of tchotchkes and other Mexican knickknacks (came away with a little silver snake ring and a soft blanket to replace out my old ratty one).

  9. hey brookfield! i used to live in newtown. left in 97 and moved to sa. my personal fav with mexican chocolate is pan de huevo (the puffy bread with the colored patterns). the mexican wedding cookies are a close second.

    as far as the el mercado, we prefer “la margarita”. ya gotta order the campechana (shrimp/oyster cocktail) and the parillada for 2 to feed 4. then, you walk off dinner to “mi tierra” for bag of dessert goodies.

  10. Tamami from Coco&Me

    Hi ya. I’ve always, always wanted to own a molinillo, ever since my fascination with chocolate making… But it’s impossible to get one in UK! Darn. – Anyway, it’s my first time visiting yr site! And I’m in awe of how beautiful everything looks! Will be back for more. Thanks.

  11. Carol Conway-Fleisher

    Hi! I just found your website. It's great! I love the recipes. I am a Texan also and I am always looking for new recipes to try. Keep up the great work! 🙂

  12. I am A Texan and I live in Oregon, I visit as often as I can but I am Texan at heart forever

  13. Anonymous

    Hi! I'm from California and Texas. Living in North Carolina. Love the website. I really miss the food. It's great to have a new source. I will check back regularly.

    I miss my abuelita's tamales and my mother's champurado!! Can't find anything close to being good and can't make anything close to being as good as theirs.

  14. Farmer Jen

    Thank you for this post. I just tried making this Mexican hot chocolate for the first time and it turned out great!

  15. Anonymous

    I love love love Mi Tierra, and El Mercado, too! Whenever we go to El Mercado I stop into La Margarita for their Nachos. They're expensive but delicious – with big wedges of fresh avocado right on top. Wonderful! I'm sad to hear they're making El Mercado more upscale. I love it just the way it is!!

    – Karen Pestano

  16. Anonymous

    I also wanted to mention that if you can't get a molinillo in your area, perhaps you know someone who sells Pampered Chef? They sell a mini whip which looks a lot like the inside of a martini shaker, and works the same as a molinillo. You just push it up and down in your drink and the liquid becomes frothy as it is driven through the holes. Great for chocolate milk, too!

    – Karen Pestano

  17. Anonymous

    I bought a Molinillo in Arizona before I moved North from California to Michigan. I finally got it out but I made a mess trying to get the chocolate to froth. Those Abuelas must practice a lot to get it right. I would love a You Tube of them doing it.

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