Three to four thousand years ago, the Olmecs are the first known people to use cacao which grew wild in Central America - followed by other peoples like the Maya and then the Aztecs from the 10th century AD to the 1520s. At this time, and for many years afterwards, chocolate was purely a drink.
They all knew that a cup of 'XOCO - ATL' (meaning 'bitter water') was great for fatigue and it was supposed to stimulate brain power. Chocolate was always drunk, and not eaten until relatively recently in the middle of the last century. Beans were also used as money - making it even more valuable. 100 beans could buy a slave; 4 beans a rabbit etc. Who says that 'money doesn’t grow on trees'?!
In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanaja off coast of Honduras, on his 4th and final voyage to 'discover India'. However, 1519 was probably the most crucial moment in the history of chocolate when Hernan Cortes - Spanish explorer and one of Columbus' ambassadors - met flamboyant emperor Montezuma in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Montezuma's name has become immortalised for the vast quantities of foaming 'xoco latl' he used to drink before visiting his harem of wives - this started the legend of chocolate and sex! Chocolate was Montezuma's Viagra!
Montezuma was convinced that the fair skinned bearded man, Cortes, was their god and savour Quetzalcoatl returning from the wilderness, so Cortes was showered with gifts - including cocoa. This misjudgement was Montezuma's downfall. His own people turned against him and he was killed. Cortes and the Spanish went on to destroy most of the Aztec nation. Mexico City was born.
Cortes took cocoa 'home' to the Spanish court in 1527. The Spanish kept it secret for over a century - taxing it so highly that, like the ancient Mexicans, only the rich can afford it.
In 1615, chocolate crossed to the French court through the marriage of Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip II of Spain, to Louis X111. Based on its perceived medicinal properties the use of chocolate - still as a drink - is spread by missionaries across Central and South America and across Europe.
Around 1650, chocolate came to England and the Chocolate Houses of London were born and provided a focus for broadcasting the news of the drink. It was still taxed so highly that, like Mexico and the rest of Europe, it was exclusive to the rich.
For the next 200 years, chocolate was mostly drunk for its physical and mood enhancing qualities. Consequently it became one of the most important medicines in the apothecaries’ medicine chest and was the foundation for the great interest taken by the Quakers.
It was during the 18th and 19th century that chocolate began its long, slow journey from a gritty, fatty drink into the refined product we know today, with chocolate starting to appear as eating chocolate in the form of pastilles and bars.
In the early 1700s, Walter Churchman and company - later to become the great JS Fry - invented a water powered engine to mill chocolate. During the early 19th century in Holland, Van Houten created the world’s first chocolate, which separated the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder. Shortly afterward Van Houten developed the Alkalisation of cocoa with the addition of potash - still known today as 'Dutching'. In 1847, the grandson of Joseph Fry invented a way of mixing cocoa butter with cocoa paste to produce the world first chocolate bar.
The Swiss were also influential in the development of chocolate... Rodolphe Lindt discovered conching by accident when an assistant left the machine on all night! Another Swiss, Daniel Peter discovered a way of mixing milk with chocolate to create the first milk chocolate in 1875 using condensed milk manufactured by his friend Henri Nestlé.
In the UK, the three great Quakers of the time - George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree and Joseph Storrs Fry - created an immensely wealthy industry producing cocoa and chocolate (to drink) as an alternative to the demon alcohol (gin in particular). They made an enormous contribution to the quality of chocolate and cocoa - cutting out adulteration which was rife in Victorian times, at the same time revolutionising working conditions - not only of their own factories but also within the community. Bournville was created by Cadbury's as a utopia for its chocolate factory workers. Likewise, Rowntree and Fry also felt it essential to reward their workers with the best possible living and working conditions. That way, not only did they fulfil their true philanthropic ethos, but this was also good for business! They were indeed, significant social benefactors.
By 1909, after six years of intensive negotiations with the Portuguese Government, British Chocolate companies, led by Cadbury, persuaded the chocolate makers of Europe to boycott cocoa from enslaved plantations in Portuguese West Africa.
Looking to modern times, the last few years have seen chocolate come of age, with a breathtaking revival of fine quality chocolate from chocolate houses like Barry Callebaut, Valrhona, l'Opera, El Rey, Amedei and Lindt. Even in the States, not renowned for its fine chocolate - there are a few entrepreneurs endeavouring the raise the profile of good chocolate – in particular Scharffenberger.
We now eat on average just under 7 oz per person per week. The confectionery industry is worth over £5 billion in UK alone of which chocolate is £3.5 billion.
2000BC - 1500AD
Cocoa is drunk by the ancient civilizations of Central America, including the Maya and Aztec people
Spanish explorer Cortes meets Aztec emperor Montezuma and discovers cocoa
Cortes takes cocoa 'home' to Spain
Chocolate crosses to the French court and word spreads across Europe
Chocolate comes to England and is revered for its medical properties
John Cadbury opens his first chocolate shop in Birmingham
First milk chocolate created in Switzerland
Cadbury Dairy Milk is launched
European chocolate makers boycott cocoa from enslaved plantations