Chocolate History

Even though the chocolate itself is very recent in history, the tchocolatl or xocolatl (bitter cocoa-based beverage) was already used by the Mayas and Aztecs more than 2500 yeras ago.

The word cocoa comes from the Aztec word “cacahuatl”. Legend has it that the cocoa tree was the most beautiful tree in the Aztec paradise. It was considered to have multiple virtues; calming hunger and thirst, providing universal wisdom and healing illness. It is known that the first cocoa trees (Theobroma Cocoa) grew naturally in the tropical rainforests, in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, about 4000 years ago. The Mayas started to grow it more than 2500 years ago.

The xocolatl, or chocolate, as the first Spanish explorers called it, was considered a drink of the Gods, already known by the Mayas in the IV century B.C. The Aztecs thought cocoa seeds were Quetzalcoatl, the presonification od the God of Wisdom and it was so valuable that it was used as tradeable currency (fours cocoa beans were equal to a pumpkin , ten to a rabbit and a hundred were enough to buy a slave).

It was a sparkling bitter liquid, mixed with lots of spices, wine or corn mixture, and it was served cold.

It was also considered to have aphrodisiac and strength powers due to its stimulating constituents. In 1502 Cristobal Colón received, as a welcoming offering, weapons, fabrics and a sac filled with some dark beans which were used in the Aztec society as currency and consumer goods. Nevertheless, it was Hernán Cortés the first to send a cargo of cocoa to Spain in 1524.

Some monks, possibly from the Piedra Monastery in Zaragoza, added to it in its arrival to Spain or Oaxaca, some sugar, honey and later flour to suit Spanish tastes at the time. And like that, it became highly popular, first among the dominant classes (Clergy and Nobility) and afterwards among the people.

In spite of the secrecy, the chocolate soon arrived to other countries such as France, one of the first countries to arrive thanks to the wedding between Luis XIV the Sun King and Maria Teresa de Austria, who was a fan of this drink.

The first chocolate shop was founded in London in the XVII century, the first chocolate factory was opened in the XVIII century in the U.S.A and the first milk chocolate bars factory was opened in Switzerland in the XIX century. 

In the XX century, chocolate was considered a staple and it was essential requirement in the rations to the troops during the war. In fact, it was sold in chemists as a medication. In 1828, the Dutch Coenraad Johannes van Houtentook out a patent for a new hydraulic press. His initial aim was to test the quality of the chocolate but with the press he got the solid chocolate, having a similar consistency to today’s chocolate.They were the first chocolate bars, until then it had always been a beverage.

The first signs of the marketing of chocolate for children date from the 1930s. At the time, chocolate was widely recognized as nutrient. As the average household income was increasing, the traders saw this as a chance to give the chocolate a fresh and young image. So they focused designs and products to the young people, and they soon became highly successful.


Bernard Diaz del Castillo tells in his True History of the New Spain that during a feast which Moctezuma offered to Hernán Cortés, the Aztec emperor who had a wide variety of the most selected fruit, hardly ate them. He preferred the well-known infusion at that time, a cocoa-based beverage served in fine gold cups. In this case, there were fifty big jars, filled with good cocoa, with its foam. That’s what he drank, it was said to be done in order to gain access to women.

The XIX century historian Hughes Branncfrot claims about the powder of cocoa that the best seed grains were exposed to moon light for four nights. Apparently people who worked on the lands should sleep separately from their wives or concubines with the aim of  giving free reign to their passions the night before the planting. It was also said that certain people used to be designated to engage the sexual act right at the time when the seeds were planted. Madame du Barry, apparently, served chocolate to all her lovers before the sexual act. Casanova himself declared that chocolate was a much more invigorating drink than the champagne. It had such a positive result that the Aztec emperor, as we said before, drank it before sleeping with the concubines.

Maria Teresa from Austria even had black descendants. However, people thought it was due to her large consumption of chocolate.