Cold comes in, a threat like an invader, at dawn and dusk in Cuzco. People bundle up and look to warm themselves up from the inside in order to defeat the best efforts of the cold. A favorite defense is a tall glass of hot chocolate with milk.
In Cuzco this is not what you would expect from the United States when you hear the words hot chocolate. It is not covered with whipped cream, nor made from a powder filled with all kinds of things other than chocolate.
Instead it is rich and dark, made from bars of local chocolate that contain cocoa butter, sugar, and lots of very flavorful cacao. People add pieces from the bars to boiling water and then add hot milk to taste.
This is a very different drink that the quasi-dessert of the north. It is substantial and flavorful, filled with the power of chocolate which people here see as something that warms. You lift the glass and let it warm your fingers that feel thick from the cold while fragrant steam warms your face and nose. The fruity yet pungent perfume of cacao enters and thrills.
Then you sip and the elegance of chocolate, with its tapestry of flavors, makes you palate and taste buds hum in pleasure and warmth. It is not just the heat of the drink, but the breadth of flavor and scent in cacao that warms you and provides a strong defense against cold’s assault.
People in Cuzco love this drink. It is theirs and has the flavors of local cacao, the chuncho that has no peer and whose roots lie deep in a past which brought it to be Cusqueño for morning and night, as well as for special events like Christmas Eve.
When in Cusco, you should try this drink. Just do not expect something like what Americans drink. It is as different as the night and day separated by dusk and dawn, moments of transition. It will fit with the sting of altitude and chill in this Andean city where the Inca’s built their Empire and will bring you warmth and joy.