Everyone thinks chocolate is simple. Everyone probably thinks Hershey’s kisses are the real deal, but you’re all so so wrong. Chocolate has a history as deep as its natural shade of brown. Let me outline it for you.
Once upon a time, in Mexico near 1000 BC, the Olmecs began cultivating the cacao tree. Yes, you read that right. The Olmecs, not the Mayans. It’s a common misconception. But by 300 AD, it was indeed the Mayans that took over cacao and all its magnificence. They worshipped the cacao tree and named it cacahuaquchtl (pronounced cah-cah-WA-tay), and revered Ek-Chuah, its patron saint. After the Mayans came the Toltecs, and after the Toltecs came the Aztecs, but basically all you need to know is cacao was used primarily as a beverage and as currency during this time. The Aztecs transformed cacao into a drink called cacahuatl or xocolatl, meaning “sun beans”, and they used the golden bean as payment for goods and services. Xocolatl was a foamy mixture of cacao, chili, allspice, honey or vanilla, and Christopher Columbus got really confused when the Aztecs offered cacao beans in trade for his own European goods. Europeans in general were confused with the bitter bean, and so cacao failed to make its way to Europe for another few decades.
Finally in 1528, Herman Coste, Spanish expeditioner and spearhead of the fall of the Aztec empire, brought cacao back to Spain, along with the necessary tools and knowledge to make xocolatl. At first, xocolatl was badly received, but as people got creative and began infusing the foamy liquid with spices like cinnamon and vanilla, the beverage began to get popular among the nobles and royals. The Spanish saw the value of the beans and started cultivating them in their territory near the equator, including Haiti, Mexico and the Caribbean, before importing them back to Spain to be sold. The Spanish were ultra protective of their cacao cultivation and processing secrets because the bean was extremely profitable. They kept this up for a full eighty years.
However, by the 1600s, chocolate had spread across Europe; From Holland to Italy to Germany to Great Britain, France and Switzerland. Chocolate was going vogue. In France, David Chaillou’s chocolate shop, the only shop permitted to sell chocolate, played a huge role in making chocolate the latest fad amongst the French aristocracy. It was exotic, and it’s appeal toxic, and by 1657, the first chocolate house was opened in England. It was basically a place where people paid large sums of money to enter and sip on chocolate beverages together. Chocolate had establishments of its own. Chocolate was that cool.
The 1700s and its industrial revolution had a huge impact on chocolate processing. The steam engine meant faster grounding of cacao beans, and that meant greater amounts of beans could be processed with less time and manpower, and that meant prices plummeted, and soon, most of the working population could afford the treat. 1765 saw the first chocolate factory being built in America by Dr. James and John Hannon. This first chocolate company still exists today and is known as Baker’s Chocolate to the general public.
1847 saw the first chocolate bar being created, and thank god for that. It was a mixture of melted cocoa butter, cocoa powder and sugar pressed into a mold, and people went nuts for it. People soon began to crave chocolate in solid form as much as in liquid form. But just imagine the insanity that ensued when Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle of Switzerland found a way to incorporate powdered milk into chocolate in 1879, creating the first milk chocolate and forming the world-famous Nestle company in the process.
Chocolate has evolved from the traditional, revered drink of the gods to snooty, aristocratic fad food to a common household treat. Chocolate continues to evolve even now, as people are ever more creative, coming up with new chocolate flavours like mint chocolate, white chocolate and salted caramel chocolate. We at NOMSTERS believe that chocolate has a long path ahead of it, and will be around for generations to come. I mean, it better be. What else are our grandchildren going to binge on in the heat of a late night study session, or give their beloved for Valentine’s Day? Chocolate makes the world a better place, so let’s keep growing those beans.
– Nomster Tori