You probably know someone (and maybe it’s yourself!) who can’t start his or her day without the help of a cup of coffee. Still others rely on a steaming cup of tea for a similar energizing wake-up. But would you ever consider kicking off your day with a cup of drinking chocolate?
Today, we may not think of chocolate as being an energizing drink, but it was actually the first stimulating beverage to reach Europeans. Hernán Cortés introduced drinking chocolate to Spain in the 1520s, but it would take nearly another century for tea and coffee to make their way to the European continent, as well. By the 1700s, though tea and coffee were edging out drinking chocolate in terms of popularity, all three were common choices for accompanying the breakfast meal. Today, we are all well aware of the caffeine-laden nature of coffee, and to a lesser extent tea, but drinking chocolate’s stimulating effects actually come from a slightly more complex origin.
Chocolate does tend to contain a small amount of caffeine, a reasonable estimate would be somewhere around 30 mg per espresso-sized serving of drinking chocolate, which is comparable to a cup of green tea. A cup of black tea will have up to 70 mg of caffeine, whereas a cup of coffee can get up to around 200 mg! Typically, only individuals with a higher degree of sensitivity to caffeine would notice much of an effect from the caffeine in drinking chocolate alone; however, chocolate also contains a close chemical relative of caffeine, called theobromine. (It’s also the chemical that is so bad for man’s best friend.) Theobromine’s stimulating effects may only be about one quarter as strong as caffeine, but a single serving of drinking chocolate would contain roughly 220 mg of theobromine! Theobromine also affects the body a bit differently from caffeine. It functions more as a mood-lifter whose effects are slower acting and longer lasting than caffeine’s.
There are also other ingredients, specific to drinking chocolate, that enhance its stimulating effects. Studies have shown that cinnamon increases brain function and cognitive processing, making you more alert. And don’t forget about that red chili pepper! Spicy foods stimulate circulation and raise body temperature. Altogether, the chemical make-up of chocolate and the effects of the added spices combine to create an invigorating beverage, well suited as a morning staple to shake off any lingering drowsiness.