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Native to the Amazon regions of South America, the Cacao tree produces a fruit (or bean) that is used to create cocoa powder. The ancient Aztecs learned to roast and crush the beans of the Cacao tree to create a beverage they called "xocolatl". Cacao (cocoa) drink was believed to possess an aphrodisiac quality and reserved for royalty, while the cacao beans were so highly prized, they were used in trade much like money.

Spanish explorers in the early 1500's first brought cocoa beans to Europe and are most likely the first to blend the ground cocoa with sugar to create the first drinking chocolate.

Dutch-Chocolate is cocoa powder processed with the addition of an alkaline agent that darkens the natural whitish brown tones to a rich mahogany color and helps to prevent the cocoa powder from clumping and somewhat more soluble.

Today, you'll readily find premixed or instant hot chocolate sold in modern grocery stores. These commercial products usually contain cocoa powder sweetened with sugar and bended with powdered milk, but you'll have a more delightful experience by starting with a high quality unsweetened cocoa powder, sweeten to taste and mixing it with fresh milk.

If you like, substitute skim or low-fat milk for whole milk. For a richer hot chocolate, you can substitute half-and-half for the milk.

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