I am always intrigued in the history of how things come to be. Like who was the first to discover could be turned into a hot beverage. However, as the title suggest this is not a blog about coffee but about my other guilty pleasure, Chocolate.
The history of chocolate is a bit more mysterious then that of coffee.
From Latin America to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to the shops and eventually to you. From where did chocolate originate to how it became the indulgence we cherish and enjoy today.
The history of chocolate began in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1500 BC. The Mexica believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength.
After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. In the 20th century, chocolate was considered essential in the rations of United States soldiers during war.
Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.
It is not entirely clear exactly when cacao came on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C. were discovered with traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.
It’s thought the Olmecs used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. However, since they kept no written history, opinions differ on if they used cacao beans in their concoctions or just the pulp of the cacao pod.
Cacao is the Spanish word for chcahuatl, which is what Aztecs called the beans chocolate is made from. It’s thought that English traders misspelled cacao when they brought the beans home, and so cocoa stuck.
The Mayans and the Aztecs believed (and perhaps some people still do. I know I do) that chocolate was a gift from the gods. The Aztecs in particular revered the drink – they gave it to victorious warriors after battle, would use it during religious rituals, and even used cacao beans as currency. To them, cacao beans were more valuable than gold. So maybe money does grow on trees.
The Aztec word for the bitter drink is ‘xocolatl’ which some think the modern word chocolate comes from. It bears a resemblance… sort of. Others think chocolate comes from the Aztec word ‘choqui’, which means warmth.
“Well Dirk” I hear you all say “That is all very interesting, but how did it become a global phenomenon?”
During the 16th century a man called Hernán Cortés travelled to Mesoamerica to establish Spanish colonies, and when he arrived he was greeted with gallons of the spicy drink. He took some home with him to Spain and it became a hit.
Initially, it was often used as a medicine, but its bitter taste led people to try sweetening it. So, some added sugar, vanilla or honey. This made it absolutely delicious, and it soon became very fashionable at the Spanish court.
Chocolate was ‘the’ drink of the European aristocracies – no upper-class home was complete without Chocolate making and drinking paraphanalia.
Up until this point, chocolate had only ever been consumed as a drink. But things started to change in 1828. Coenraad van Houten from Amsterdam was the man who changed the game: he invented the ‘cocoa press’, which could separate the fat from a cacao bean, leaving behind a fine powder.
This powder was much more tasty to enjoy as a drink, and people started adding milk to it instead of water, making it more like the hot chocolate we’d drink today. This method also meant chocolate could be mass-produced, which made it cheaper and so the wider public could buy and enjoy it. Some called this the democratisation of chocolate.
In 1847 British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons had the novel idea of recombining the fat and liquor, and adding sugar. He set this in moulds, and voila! The chocolate bar was born.
The chocolate made through this method resembled a mild dark chocolate. The next big episode in the chocolate saga came when Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter put powdered milk in the mix, creating the world’s first milk chocolate bar.
Chocolate’s popularity soared from then on, and it’s never really declined.
Most modern Chocolate is highly-refined and mass-produced, although some chocolatiers still make their chocolate creations by hand and keep the ingredients as pure as possible. Chocolate is available to drink, but is more often enjoyed as an edible confection or in desserts and baked goods.
I love to walk into little Chocolate shops, like Leonidas just to smell the aroma and sample the chocolate pralines.
When I am home in Geleen. I enjoy walking into the specialty Chocolate shop “de Zeute inval” on Bloemenmarkt 34,6163 CG ,Lindenheuvel Geleen. I am greeted with that sweet smell of Chocolate, quite heavenly, I must add.
I am off now to have a bit of Chocolate dipped into coffee