Chocolate started its edible roots almost 4000 years ago, in 1900 BC. The ancient mesoamerican cultures from Central America cultivated the plant. These early cultures used pulp from cacao skin to make an alcoholic beverage.
Later, Mayan and Aztec cultures turned the bean into a bitter drink, calling this drink xocoatl. The bitter xocoatl was drunk by kings, priests, warriors, and athletes. This drink was thought to have godlike qualities, and was used in sacred rituals. The beans were used as a form of currency, so valuable that 100 beans could purchase a fertile turkey hen.
The Aztec emperors, such as the legendary Montezuma, drank xocoatl cold and frothy. This drink was produced by roasting the beans over an open fire. Then the beans were pounded until the liquid chocolate poured out into a special bowl made to collect it. This liquid was then mixed with water and spices, and it was poured back and forth between two cups until a froth developed on the top. Montezuma is said to have drunk this, tinted red, from golden goblets at least 50 times per day.
Later, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez was welcomed with a feast by Montezuma, who mistook Cortez for a reincarnated god. At first, the Spanish men didn’t like this drink, finding it too bitter, but when their wine ran out, they quickly developed a liking for the xocoatl.
The drink was then brought to Spain, where it quickly caught on with the nobles. The “drink of the gods” was served sweetened with honey or sugar, along with spices such as cinnamon and allspice to bring out the flavor.
The nobles managed to keep this highly favored drink a secret from the rest of Europe for close to 100 years. However, when the Spanish princess, Maria Theresa, married Louis XIV of France, she brought the drink with her as a wedding gift.
Chocolate quickly caught on in France. There, chocolate was thought to be an aphrodisiac by the French courts, being used by men such as Casanova. Erotic paintings and literature gave chocolate a prominent place in the bedroom, leading to the current romantic overtures chocolate retains to this day.
Around this time, the 1600s, the demand for chocolate had risen to such a point that the first chocolate plantations were formed in South America. At first, the natives were used as workers, but as disease killed them off, slaves were brought in from Africa to help grow and harvest the beans.
Around this same time, drinking chocolate started appearing in coffee shops. Some coffee shops even started putting cocoa into cakes and pastries, in the “Spanish style”.
In 1730, with the invention of the steam engine, came a way to mass produce chocolate, by separating the cocoa oil and butter from the rest of the bean which was then crushed into cocoa powder. The two halves could then be mixed together in different quantities, while milk and sugar could be added during this process. This method allowed chocolate to be produced in larger quantities, and the price dropped enough to make it available to anyone.