Sitting on an elaborately sculpted stone bench, over luxurious cushions crafted with jaguar pelts, and attended by a retinue of finely dressed ladies, a noble Lord of the Maya lands entertains his guests inside his palace. The visitors are principals from neighboring towns. They have arrived carrying fine cotton fabrics, quetzal feathers, and bouquets of aromatic flowers, among other presents. After bowing solemnly to the Lord on the throne, arms folded across their chest in a gesture of respect, the guests greet each other effusively, as if they have not seen each other for a long time, and then sit down on a broad palm mat extended on the ground, facing the majestic Lord.
At a sign from the Lord, two attendant girls come forward, each carrying a clay jug; A third girl places a large cylindrical vessel on the floor. While the guests chat animatedly, one of the girls pours from the round jug held at waist level a thick and dark liquid into the cylindrical vessel on the ground. The gentle sound of the liquid rushing into the vessel distracts the guests for a moment, as they gaze with delight the foam that is already overflowing from the vessel's rim.
The Lord gently invites his guests to hand in the flowers to the attendants, who then spread the fragrant petals onto the swirling drink. Some of the guests will have their drink in a bowl, seasoned with hot chile and achiote. Others, smiling mischievously, ask for their drink to be mixed with the fermented agave juice in the second jug, to form a brew that, if not careful, will make them very drunk.
Similar scenes are common in vases for chocolate from the classic Maya period (250 - 900 AD), showing that the cacaw drink was a favorite of the nobility. As Europeans witnessed centuries later, the cacaw beans, from which the drink was made, was itself used as currency, to acquire all types of merchandise. Thus, a man of 'much cacaw' would be someone very well-off.
The frothy and sometimes blood-like appearance (due to the red achiote) of the Maya cacaw drink, as well as its bitter taste, was definitely not to the liking of early Europeans explorers. Later on, influenced by their native female servants, European women gradually adopted the drink, adjusting it to their taste by adding sugar, cinnamon and other spices. In Mesoamerica, nevertheless, some of the ancient recipes persist to this day.