History of Chocolate

this is mostly just an outline of what i plan to have for this page in the future. eventually this will be augmented into a more interesting timeline-like creation, as soon as i can figure out how to get the sort of positioning i want. sometimes html sucks, and i don't want to make people have java-enabled browsers yet just to see this page in its full glory.


Since time beyond reckoning, the ancient Aztecs and Mayas of South America have been eating chocolate. The best evidence we have (from records of the Spanish conquistadors) is that they ground cocoa beans into a coarse meal, mixed them with water, cornmeal, chiles, cinnamon, anise seed, and most likely other spices. The cornmeal absorbs the cocoa butter and helps bind it to the water, acting as a simple emulsifier. The drink was served cold, and unsweetened. It would bear very little resemblance to modern hot cocoa.

The cocoa tree became known to the Europeans after Christopher Columbus' fourth voyage to the new world in 1502. Columbus himself is not reported to have enjoyed chocolate in this form, but brought some back to Spain anyway. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella didn't care much for it either, and dismissed it as a bizarre native drink.

In 1519, the notorious conquistador Hernan Cortez landed in South America with the intention to plunder as much gold and silver as he could from the new world. Cortez plundered his way to Tenochtitlan, the heart of Aztec empire. Expecting to be met with resistance, Cortez was surprised to be met with open arms by Montezuma, the Aztec ruler. By a terribly unfortunate coincidence (for the Aztecs, anyway) 1519 was predicted as the year that the god Quetzalcoatl would return to free the Aztecs from the terrible burden of having to perform human sacrifices in order that the sun would continue to rise. The Aztec ruler Montezuma mistook Cortez for Quetzalcoatl.

Montezuma threw a feast for Cortez and his soldiers. It was at this feast that Cortez was introduced to chocolate, also in spicy liquid form. All the cocoa beans consumed by the Aztecs were grown on the Yucatan peninsula by the Mayas, who were subjects of the Aztecs by 1200 A.D. Cortez learned that the Aztecs treated cocoa beans as a form of currency, and that the Aztecs demanded taxes levied upon their subjugated tribes to be paid in the form of cocoa beans. One of Cortez's men, Hernando de Ovieda Valdez, reported that a rabbit could be purchased for four cocoa beans, a prostitute's services for ten, and a slave for 100. Having learned that in the new world money really did grow on trees, Cortez started to cultivate cocoa plantations. He eventually started plantations in Mexico, Trinidad, Haiti, and generally all over the Carribbean.

Approximately 20 years after Columbus introduced chocolate unsuccessfully to the Spanish court, it appeared again with much better results. The difference was that sugar imported from the East Indies and Vanilla from Mexico were added. This time, the court was so taken with the drink that they kept it as their own culinary secret for as long as possible.

Early South American Production

The period from around 1600 to the early 1800's saw the institution and wide spread of large scale cocoa production. Many cocoa plantations sprang up in the South American regions around the equator. Venesuela's economy was dominated by cocoa production for nearly 300 years; by 1684, 167 cocoa plantations held almost half a million cocoa trees. By 1740, the Venesuelan cocoa industry had grown tenfold. In comparison, Haiti's cocoa production dwarfed that of Venesuela, being nearly ten times as large. A great deal of cocoa was also produced and exported from Peru, even though the Peruvian cocoa was not as good. In 1820 alone, over 22 million pounds of cocoa were exported from Peru.

In Brazil, the Portugese colonists had outlawed the taking of natives as slaves. This is laudable, but it caused problems with finding a labor force to tend cocoa plantations. As such, landowners had a serious motivation to break these laws, which ultimately lead to a conflict with the Catholic church. On two occasions, the Jesuits were thrown out of the main cities, and in 1720 complaints against them lead to their expulsion from Brazil entirely (contrast with the situation in Venesuela, where by 1740 the church controlled around 20% of the cocoa crop). Tax exemtions were offered to cocoa producers in an attempt to rejuvinate Brazilian cocoa production, with some success. Brazilian cocoa production had peaked by 1755.

South American cocoa production had reached its zenith by the year 1800. At that time, wars were making it difficult to ship cocoa back to Europe. Since cocoa beans can not be stored for long periods in humid climates, the inability to ship their product to its marketplace caused many plantation owners to switch to more stable crops, such as coffee and cotton.

Introduction to Europe

While chocolate was first introduced to the Spanish court after the voyage of Columbus to the new world, it was some time before chocolate became known throughout Europe. By the early 1600's, trade routes between Europe and the new world were well enough established that shipping large quantities of cocoa beans to Europe became feasable. In 1606, an italian explorer named Carletti introduced cocoa to Italy, still in the liquid form containing hot peppers and spices. From there, the drink quickly spread to the aristocratic societies of Germany and Austria. Chocolate, in any form, was still to much of an expensive South American luxury to be consumed by the working class. Around this time, chocolate was introduced to southern France by spanish clergy. It did not find its way directly to the commoners, however, instead being confined to the monastaries for some time.

Chocolate was introduced to the french court no later than 1660, with the marriage of Maria Theresa of Spain to Louis XIV. Maria took with her a maid specifically to make chocolate for her. The spread of chocolate from the french court to the rest of french high society took no more than a few years. By 1687 there were at least three chocolate makers in Paris, selling their hand-made wares in their own shops, and by 1692 french wine merchants were complaining that chocolate (along with tea and coffee) was cutting into their business.

In England, the first evidence of chocolate's presence comes from a printed advertisement in 1657, announcing that chocolate could be had at Bishopsgate in London. Chocolate seems to have spread quickly through England. Just five years later in 1662, the king's doctor Henry Stubbe wrote a book praising the beneficial qualities of chocolate, called The Indian Nectar. Stubbe writes in the book that chocolate had spread as far as Turkey and Persia (modern day Iran).

Chocolate Processing Methods

As has been mentioned before, the earliest methods of preparing cocoa beans for consumption involved making the beans into a sweet or spicy drink. The native tribes of South America collected and fermented cocoa beans, then beat them to a pulp with water, cornmeal, and spices to form a cold beverage. The cornmeal helps bind the cocoa butter to the water so it doesn't separate so readily, yielding a more uniform drink. The spices help take the bitter edge off of the chocolate. No doubt the drink would be an acquired taste, at best, to our modern palattes (although I admit that I am tempted to try making some of this someday, just to see).

The first european methods for processing chocolate were fairly straightforward refinements on the original recipe. The cornmeal was done away with in favor of other emulsifying agents, such as eggs. The europeans did, however, spend considerable effort in the science of preparing cocoa beans for use. The eventual process involved several steps: sweating the beans, fermenting them, dry roasting them, peeling them, and finally beating them to a pulp. The result of this process would have been a rough, sticky paste, since no one had yet invented a way to get the cocoa out of the cocoa butter (or vice versa). This paste was the basis of both chocolate drinks and candies.

By the mid 1600s, some chocolatiers were preparing a primordeal sort of chocolate bar, consisting of the chocolate paste, sugar, and spices. The product was a very coarse one at best, and because of the expense of cocoa beans, probably contained more spice than chocolate. The closest thing you'll find on the market today is probably Ibarra chocolate. Chocolate drinks at that time were generally made from one part chocolate paste, two parts sugar, 8 parts water, and spices.

[ here chocolate stays until the invention of the cocoa press and the conching machine, after which modern style chocolate bars became possible, and quite popular, thanks to mass production and quaker advocation of chocolate's beneficial qualities. ]

no real history yet. in short: the ancient mayas and aztecs beat cocoa beans into a pulp and made a bitter frothy chocolate drink out of them. the europeans came over, took some cocoa beans back, and went ga-ga when they tried this drink with some sugar in it. chocolate was enjoyed by european high society in this fairly unrefined liquid form for quite some time. over time, it became more common, cheaper, and more people started drinking it. eventually somebody figured out how to make solid chocolate candy out of it. the hershey family made gobs of money this way, and in the process got the commoners hooked on chocolate. the rest, as they say, is history.