“The devine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food”
Montezuma (1480 – 1520)
Chocolate is made from cocoa, which comes from the cocoa bean. This is fruit-like pod that grows on the cocoa tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao which, literally translated, means “Food Of The Gods”. These tropical trees have been cultivated in South America for over 3,000 years.The story of cocoa begins with the ancient kingdoms of Mexico and Central America. The Aztec, Mayan and Toltec tribes believed that the cocoa bean had magical powers and they used cocoa during the many traditional ceremonies that played significant roles in their lives. They ground the cocoa beans and mixed them with various spices such as chillies, cinnamon and ginger, to make a spicy, frothy drink call Xocolatl.
It is believed that Christopher Columbus was the first to bring cocoa beans to Europe when, in 1502, he returned to Spain from Nicaragua with many treasures, including cocoa beans, to present to King Ferdinand. The Spanish king and queen, however, were distinctly unimpressed and did not realised how important cocoa beans were to become. Indeed, it was to take almost twenty years before the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez succeeded in penetrating the Aztecs, by then under the rule of the Emperor Montezuma, and realise the commercial possibilities of the cocoa bean.
Aztec astrologers had predicted that the mythical plumed snake god, Quetzalcoatol, would return to the Aztec kingdom in the year 1519. So when Cortez landed in Mexico in the same year, the Aztecs mistook him for their returning god and welcomed him to their capital.
During his conquest, Cortez saw that cocoa beans were used in the preparation of the royal drink xocolatl, which means ‘warm liquid’. It was said that Montezuma drank fifty pitchers of xocolatl every day and so, as a mark of respect, he served it to the Spaniards in golden goblets.
By the time Montezuma realised that Cortez was not the snake god, the Spaniard had conquered the Aztec kingdom and made the capital, Tenochtitlan, the capital of The New World.
Cortez had also noticed that cocoa beans were used as a form of currency by the Aztecs and decided to establish a cocoa bean plantation to ‘cultivate’ money. This proved to be a very profitable business. Cortez expanded and established plantations from Mexico to Trinidad and Haiti, and carried on to establish a plantation off the west coast of Africa. Indeed, to this day, Latin America and West Africa continue to be the principal centres of cocoa cultivation.
After its introduction into Europe, cocoa remained within the Spanish courts for almost one hundred years. It was extremely expensive so was only affordable to the aristocracy. The Spanish were so successful in keeping the cocoa bean secret from the rest of Europe, that when Sir Francis Drake, and other sea captains, captured Spanish galleons, they would throw the bags of cocoa beans overboard, considering them to be worthless.
It was in 1615, when Anne, daughter of Philip III of Spain, married Louis XIII of France and took him Spanish chocolate as a gift, that chocolate drinking was introduced to France and became fashionable in the French courts. After this, the trend for chocolate drinking began to spread and after 1650, chocolate began to be sold in all the major cities across Europe.
Chocolate ‘houses’ began to appear and by the mid 1700’s, were an integral part of society. Lewes, Baron de Pollnitz wrote, in 1745, that “the average Englishman starts his day with a walk in the park, afterwards he saunters to some coffee or chocolate house frequented by the persons he would see, for it is a sort of rule with the English to go once a day at least to houses of this sort …”
In 1756 the first chocolate factory was opened in Germany and the subsequent development, in Holland, of the first cocoa press, enabled the cocoa beans to be freshly ground, thereby extracting the liquid cocoa butter. Later on, a means of alkalising the remaining cocoa powder was discovered, making it easier to mix and digest. The result was that chocolate drinks became smoother, and less fatty.
The turning point in the production of chocolate came in the 1800’s when a process for condensing milk was developed. This carried on to pave the way to obtaining chocolate and milk in a solid mix. This process, ultimately, revolutionised the production of chocolate across the world. In the 1900’s, chocolate finally became available to everyone and today, of course, chocolate is the heavenly delicacy that people, all over the world, enjoy.