The Olmec people (1500-400 BC), the oldest in Mesoamerica, were probably
the first to cultivate cacao and therefore consume cacau (the predecessor of the word « cocoa »).
They passed the secrets of this foodstuff and its extraordinary virtues from generation to generation.
From the third century BC, the Mayans, living in the region of Guatemala and the Yucatan integrated cocoa farming into their ancient rites.
They built numerous cities dominated by pyramidal temples dedicated to their gods, including El Chuah, the god of merchants and cacao.
Mastering Mathematics and Astronomy, they developed a calendar system (Sacred cycle of 260 days), as well as hieroglyphic writing.
Initially, the men ate the flesh of the pod and the tangy beans, enjoying their refreshing properties. The pods also provided them with butter and a fermented liquid used as vinegar.
It was the Mayans who discovered that the dried and ground cocoa bean could be mixed with water, creating a drink they called “chacau haa” (hot water).
The beans were used as offerings in tombs of high officials, but also during everyday life events: births, engagements, weddings. The beans were also used as currency to settle small household debts and became units of reference for accounting.
This use stimulated trade relations across Central America.
Towards the end of the ninth century AD, the Mayan civilization disappeared.
From the tenth to twelfth centuries AD, the Toltecs ruled Mexico and in their capital, Tula, lived their mythical king Quetzalcoatl, a priest and bearer of the legend of “the feathered serpent”.
At the end of the twelfth century, the Aztecs went south to conquer new territories. After two centuries of migration, in 1300 AD they reached the Valley of Mexico, where they founded the lakeside city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City).
The Aztecs continued using the beans as a currency to be payed as tax by the conquered people…
With one bean you could buy a tomato,
With three, an avocado, with four, a pumpkin,
With ten, a rabbit.
For a slave or a nice turkey, you need a hundred beans.
The Mayan « cacau » became the Aztec « cacahuatl », and then xoxolate.
The beans, once dried in the sun, were roasted at a low heat in earthenware pots, and then removed from their shells. They were then crushed on a grinding stone, called metate, using a roller, the métlapilli.
To prepare the Xocoalt (chocolate), cocoa powder was diluted in water and mixed with a corn porridge called atolle. The wealthiest Aztecs added hot peppers, spices, vanilla, annatto or axiotl (red coloring), and sometimes honey and flowers (especially hueinacaztli or « ear flower »).
The Aztecs, like the Mayans eight centuries earlier, poured the brew from one container to another to cause foaming, embraced by the people as the “Spirit of cocoa”, considered to bring them closer to the Gods. The divine drink was served in decorated gourds called Xicalli or in turtle shells.
Chocolate was reserved for the elite – the clergy, nobility, warriors and great merchants – and played a crucial role in religious rituals, but also in ceremonies, festivals and banquets, where it was served after the meal.
In the court of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma, more than fifty jars of frothy cocoa, presented in cups of fine gold, could be served by women in the course of one banquet. Up to 640 cups of cocoa were consumed in one day.
In addition, more than 960 million beans were stored in the imperial reserves.
For the “Xocoalt” to become “chocolate”, it took for the “conquistadores” to conquer the continents of the New World in search of “a famous metal”. They would of course bring back gold, but they would also load their caravel boats with a hitherto unknown “brown gold”- cocoa.
The first European encounter with cocoa was in July 1502 during the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus. Off the island of Guanaja, a boat approached the caravel, and the natives offered an assortment of products they were carrying, in particular, unfamiliar brown seeds and a curious drink. Nobody understood the value of this, and thus the first contact with cocoa was dismissed as inconsequential.
Seventeen years later, in 1519, Hernan Cortez landed in eastern Mexico on the coast of Tabasco with 700 men, 16 horses and 11 boats. He was welcomed as a god and allowed himself to be showered with gifts by the Aztecs, who believed that the prophecy of Quetzalcoatl had been fulfilled and the feathered serpent had returned.
In 1524, King Charles V received from Cortez a cargo of cane sugar and cocoa beans. The king saw it as a mere botanical curiosity although the Spanish conquerors had by that stage already become involved in cocoa farming and had even collected some benefits.
On his return to Spain in 1528, Cortez brought from Mexico beans and utensils for manufacturing chocolate, including the reel, which froths and degreases the brew before drinking. He recounted to Charles V that a cup of chocolate prepared by the Aztecs augmented the body’s resistance and decreased fatigue.
The recipe was transformed by nuns, who added the famous sugar cane, and later cinnamon or vanilla.
The liquid chocolate drink became very popular with Spaniards and soon, the Spanish colonists tried to increase cocoa yields by expanding the areas of cocoa plantations using local manpower.
Spain was able to acquire a monopoly of trade in beans and take control of a part of the New World.
From then on, people began to drink chocolate everywhere and at any time.
Upper-class ladies would even bring it to church.
In 1680, the word “chocolate” appeared in the dictionary.
The Court of Spain would be the first to serve chocolate to its members. Until the eighteenth century, the ancient “Drink of the Gods” remained the preserve of nobles and clerics.
It would be the merchants and travellers who would assist in the discovery of chocolate across the whole of Europe.
Even Pope Pius V declared that drinking chocolate does not break the fast and soon all of Europe became infatuated with this new beverage.
In France, in 1615, it was during the wedding of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, that chocolate was introduced to the Court.
Until the seventeenth century, chocolate was only consumed in beverage form.
Around 1660, Maria Theresa of Austria, wife of Louis XIV, the new Queen of France
was quick to share her passion for chocolate at the Court of Versailles.
David Chaillou, originally from Toulouse, was the first chocolate manufacturer of France, and obtained from King Louis XIV the exclusive privilege of manufacturing, selling and issuing “chocolate” as drinks or lozenges, in his shop on Rue de l’Arbre Sec in Paris.
Meanwhile, in London, the first “Chocolate Houses” were being launched by
a Frenchman who popularized chocolate in 1655 and immediately started stocking it behind the counters of bars and pubs.
In 1674 the first eating chocolate, “Spanish chocolate puddings”, was born.
Chocolate makers became fashionable, and their presence was essential during chocolate degustation.
Chocolate soon became synonymous with refinement.
For example, Madame de Maintenon and Ninon de l’Enclos, who first offered chocolate to Voltaire, were chocolate’s devoted admirers, taking great pleasure from consuming as well as sharing chocolate.
When it was learned that chocolate might have aphrodisiac properties, the demand for cocoa intensified.
In 1768, the Marquis de Sade encountered a few problems for having ordered some fancy chocolate candies poisoned with Spanish Fly!
Casanova believed that chocolate improved the prowess of love-making. Much more than champagne, chocolate inspired real passion. He devoured chocolate in all its forms.
The favourites of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour and Madame Dubarry, were also fanatical about chocolate.
Chocolate thus became a sign of aristocracy but also a certain libertinism.
Marie Antoinette, known for her gourmet tastes, arrived at the court of Louis XVI
accompanied by her personal chocolate maker, who each morning brought her chocolate elixir flavoured with amber and vanilla.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the regent Philippe d’Orleans enjoyed some chocolate every morning at sunrise while receiving his courtiers. Later, this would give rise to the French expression “to be received to chocolate”, meaning to receive a great favour from the Royal Court.
Later, after the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution saw the democratization of the chocolate, which began to be consumed in new ways.
Thanks to several revolutionary inventions, the production of chocolate was modernised and chocolate became widely available in the late 18th century.
In 1778, the English geologist Joseph Townsend had the idea to use hydraulic energy to grind the beans. This invention, approved by the Faculty of Medicine, was the first major step in mass chocolate manufacture. This machine, the brainchild of a visionary, would increase the volume of cocoa processed during the crushing and grinding stage.
In 1811, a French engineer named Poincelet would develop the first type of blender of cocoa beans. This principle would soon be adopted by all of Europe.
The steel industry helped produce malleable iron plates resistant to stretching. In 1825, Felix Gum developed the pendulum press that would revolutionize the manufacture of chocolate.
The casting and moulding industry flourished in the 19th century. In 1832, the first casts appeared, with the advent of mechanical grinder that gave chocolate a very fine texture. The casts were used to produce three-dimensional images in chocolate, and were first cast of silver or pewter, and then copper- or silver-plated and or made of stainless steel. These images reflect the imagination of engravers and metalworkers – anonymous for the most part – better known as the houses of Pinat, Cadot and especially Letang, who have transformed the way we look at chocolate today.
From these inventions followed a rapid chocolate evolution.
In 1819, Cailler founded the first chocolate factory in Switzerland. He was closely followed by Suchard and Tobler Kholer.
But the greatest invention would probably be in 1828, when the Dutch pharmacist Van Houten invented the cocoa skimming press, and obtained cocoa powder, which was best suited for the preparation of drinking chocolate. He also managed to separate the various components of cocoa.
- In 1842, the Englishman Charles Barry moved to Meulan and created the famous “Cocoa Barry” powder.
- In 1847, the House of Fry in England’s moulded the first chocolate block.
- In 1862, Victor Auguste Poulain moved to Blois.
- In 1867, Henri Nestlé invented powdered milk.
- In 1875, the Swiss Daniel Peter added Henri Nestlé powdered milk to chocolate.
- In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt perfected the process of conching. This process helps to refine the flavour and gives chocolate that melt-in-the-mouth texture.
By the end of the 19th century, the chocolate industry was progressing well in all European countries.
Then Weiss moved to Saint-Etienne in France in 1882, Valrhona to Tain l’Hermitage
in 1924 and Michel Cluizel to Damville in 1948.
The acceleration of the industry during the 20th century would see the pioneers of Western countries become multinational groups.
Sulpice Debauve and Antoine Gallais established the oldest chocolate factory in Paris in 1800. At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean-Antoine Brutus Menier, pharmacist’s assistant, bought a small chocolate factory, which became an empire thanks to his son Emile-Justin.
Victor-Auguste Poulain established his chocolate factory in Blois in 1848.
Jean Neuhaus founded Neuhaus-Perrin confectionary and chocolate factory in 1895. His grandson would later invent praline.
The Jacques chocolate factory, founded in 1986 by Antoine Jacques, manufactured chocolate, confection and gingerbread.
Jean Galler founded his business in 1909 near Brussels.
Subsequently, in 1911, Léonidas Kestekides, confectioner, established the house of Léonidas, which currently has 1650 points of sale around the world.
Callebaut set up shop near Liège after the First World War.
Stollwerck established the biggest chocolate factory in the world in Koln in 1860.
John Cadbury established a housing development for workers of his factory on Bull Street, Birmingham, in 1824.
In 1842, Englishman Charles Barry created Barry powdered cocoa.
In 1860, Joseph Fry put in place a method allowing cocoa butter to be reincorporated into cocoa mass.
In 1920, John Mars launched the famous chocolate bar that carries his name.
In Genoa, the House of Romanegro rose again in 1780.
In 1865, the house of Caffarel in Turin invented gianduja chocolate.
Pietro Ferrero established the Ferrero society in Alba in the north of Italy in 1946.
In 1832, Franz Sacher created the most famous chocolate torte in Europe: the Sachertorte.
Coenraad Van Houten created powdered chocolate in 1828.
In 1883, Milton Hershey bought German machines he saw being exposed in Chicago. He created a chocolate bar that was launched in 1894 and founded his factory in 1903.
In the early nineteenth century, chocolate makers, knowing children’s love of sweets, inserted pictures or images in their chocolate bars in order to secure the loyalty of their young customers.
These gifts were in the form of black and white photographs, stamp collections, key holders, cut-outs or educational pictures or stickers to stick in albums.
The images were personalized by the major chocolate brands and were given to well-behaved children to decorate their books and notebooks.
Taking advantage of the industrial revolution, chocolate makers wanted to make chocolate a mass product with a large number of consumers. Thus, they started to put in place chocolate distributors, and to display advertising signs and cardboard versions of their products in order to creatively promote their brands.
These were soon replaced by colourful enamel plaques, which were more durable and could be exhibited outside of stores.
In the early twentieth century, advertising broadened its product range: lithographed boxes, paper blotters and notebook protectors commonly used by schoolkids.
One of the most famous advertisments was that of powdered chocolate praised by a convalescing Senegalese soldier, who exclaimed “It’s good, Banania!” And who could forget the ad of Bouisset Firmin in 1893, featuring a little girl writing “Beware of cheap imitations” on a wall, an image that will forever be tied to Menier.
The second half of the nineteenth century was marked by great illustrators such as Mucha, Grebault and Carrey who contributed their talents to chocolate.
For example, in 1905, Cappiello designed a poster depicting a gambolling young foal, which has since become the emblem of the brand Poulain.