Chocolate is not only an indispensable pleasure and a passion for many people, it is also a product with an exciting story that includes kings, wars and a quest for a taste experience and goes far back in time.
Of course we have to start by thanking the cocoa tree. A tree that originates from the Amazon delta and its bean-like seeds are the source of all our chocolate products. The tree was brought to the Yucatán in Mexico by the Mayans about 600 BC, and was very appreciated by both the Mayans and the Aztecs who used cocoa beans as a means of payment. Cocoa beans were a coveted booty. One of the first Europeans who experienced cacao was Christopher Columbus that reached America in 1942.
Columbus returned in triumph from his journey. He brought with him a variety of exotic treasures and gifts, which he presented to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of the Spanish court. One of the gifts was cocoa beans. The beans were probably no greater impression on the king and queen and they could probably could not conceive of the enormous popularity they would come to have in the modern era.
It was the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez who saw the commercial possibilities. During his travels to Mexico Cortez saw how the Aztecs used cocoa beans when cooked the royal drink “chocolatl” which means “hot drink”. Aztec emperor Montezuma, who is said to have consumed 50 servings a day, served the drink to his Spanish guests. The drink was very bitter, and the Spaniards were not impressed. To make the taste more attractive for Europeans Cortez and his countrymen got the idea to make the drink sweeter and they experimented with adding cane sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. The modified version of the drink became popular with the Spanish upper class but it was still relatively unknown to the poorer residents. Spain began growing cacao plants in their colonies, and it was a good deal for the pioneers. The drink spread through royalty around Europe and was for a while the most fashionable drink at the French court.
The chocolate spread to England and 1657 and the production went from handmade to machine-produced, a process which was accelerated by the steam engine. In 1730, the price of chocolate dropped to a level that meant that more people could afford it. The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 reduced the price further and also helped to increase the quality of the drink. The drink became softer in taste and texture and more like the beverage we drink today. In the 1800s there were two major breakthroughs that would revolutionize the chocolate’s development. In 1847, an English company launched edible chocolate. The second major breakthrough came in 1876 when the Swiss Daniel Peter managed to add milk to the chocolate and thus had created milk chocolate. Developments in America went faster than anywhere else. It was in the state of New England during the mid 1700’s that the first chocolate factory started. The chocolate was so popular that the there would have been major consequences if the supply was disrupted. During World War II the U.S. government recognized the chocolate’s role and despite an ongoing war they used ships to transport the cocoa to the U.S. Many soldiers were thankful for the chocolate bars that gave them the strength to continue until the next food delivery came. Chocolate has also accompanied man in to space.