European Introduction and Influences

While the Mayans and Aztec civilization had their own way of life and ways of using and developing the uses of the Cacao bean, it wasn’t until the Europeans came to Central and South America that the “full” potential of the Cacao bean was reached.

It was believed that Christopher Columbus was the first European who brought back cacao beans to Europe back in 1502 after he robbed a trading vessel of a Mayan native.  He didn’t know the importance of the beans just yet but he heard that they were pretty valuable; but compared to all his other spoils of conquest they were really minor.  Columbus was exposed to the frothy chocolate drink but he wasn’t impressed with it;  guess he didn’t know what he was missing.


Columbus receiving the chocolate drink

Since Christopher Columbus passed on a great opportunity to actually see the value of the Cacao beans, it was finally discovered by Hernando Cortez a Spanish explorer who saw all the great possibilities that could come from this small treasure.  When Cortez set sail in 1517 he was in search of fame and fortune that he was sure to get when discovering the wonders of the “new world”. He ended up landing in Mexico where he encountered the Aztec Empire and their Emperor Montezuma.  It was said that Cortez wanted to see the famously talked-about riches that Montezuma possessed.

Hernando Cortez meeting  Aztec Emperor Montezuma

Like Christopher Columbus, Cortez was introduced to the very popular chocolate drink by the natives, even though it was to bitter for their taste , he saw many great things that he could do with this drink. Montezuma was who introduced the drink to Cortez by serving it in a golden goblet.

When Cortez returned to Europe in 1528 he brought with him an abundance of seeds and chocolate drink making supplies. While he was in Mexico City, he learned how to add flavour to the bitter drink to enhance its taste and he that back to Spain with him. Once back in Spain, a revision of the chocolate drink was made to suit the taste buds of the Spanish, this was done by monks in monasteries who were  known for their pharmaceutical skills. Additives such as cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar were added and chilli pepper was omitted from the drink and after some tests it was discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot; so the drink was served hot. Much like the Aztec civilization, the drink and ‘chocolate’ became very popular and was only reserved for the rich and noble and since the beans were in short supply the chocolate drink recipe was kept secret of the Spanish for almost 100 years.

Like many before him, an explorer by the name of Francesco Carletti, was one of the first that broke the Spanish monopoly. When he visited Central America he to witnessed the making of this heavily guarded drink and brought back beans and the secret of making this drink back to Italy.  So by 1606, chocolate was very established in Italy and this was the beginning of the spread of chocolate in Europe.  There was a slow spread throughout Europe, but with a royal wedding and secret sharing of chocolate and its wonders it became very popular very fast and needed to be acquired.  Germany was introduced to chocolate around 1646 when brought by visitors.  Chocolate ultimately reached England in the 1650s, where King Charles II found it to be on of his most-valued treasures.  In 1684, the French conquered Haiti and Cuba and started their very own cocoa crop plantations, with this being done a great supply for chocolate in the French market was established.

A London Chocolate House

After England’s introduction to chocolate in the mid 1600’s, the very first Chocolate house was opened where the wealthy and elite could enjoy drinking their chocolate drinks.  The most famous was White’s Chocolate House in the fashionable St James Street, opened in 1693 by Italian immigrant Frances White.  The chocolate drinks were made from blocks of solid cocoa, probably imported from Spain since Spain had a longer working knowledge of the product and had many years to manipulate and process the beans to met demands.  These chocolate houses also sold a pressed cake from which the drink could be made at home. Chocolate was now being provided in many new forms and recipes.  A porcelain cup designed especially for chocolate was created in 1700, and at this time milk was added which improved the drink.

Chocolate Pot used for pouring the hot chocolate drink

By the end of the 18th century, London’s chocolate houses began to disappear, many of the more fashionable ones becoming smart gentlemen clubs. White’s Chocolate House remained an exclusive gentlemen’s club.

Chocolate House/Gentleman’s Club

 Since the demand for chocolate and its products were so high at the time a pound of chocolate was prized around 10 -15 shillings. This made it a luxury commodity only affordable to the rich. The value of cocoa grew so great it surpassed money through out the countries and it was used for trade and worth the weight of gold. So as much as the Europeans where ‘advanced’ they mirrored the Aztec and Maya civilizations, using  cacao as currency for trade and taxes.

As time passed and the demand for chocolate and chocolate products got greater, cocoa plantations were needed and many were set up in the West Indies on a larger scale to supply the demand. In 1828, the Dutch chocolate maker Conrad van Houten invented a hydraulic press to make cocoa powder, and an alkalizing process used to mellow the taste, and to make the powder easier to mix with water.  This process is now known as the  “dutch process” or “dutching process”.

Some of the earliest cocoa makers were apothecaries (early chemists) who became interested because of cocoa’s supposed medicinal properties.  They had the equipment to heat, measure and blend the ingredients as well as the necessary skills. In 1847, Fry and Sons of England created the first solid eating chocolate using a process similar to that used today this was dark chocolate.  Apothecaries founded by Fry’s of Bristol and Terry’s of York, later became two well-known names in chocolate production.

Fry’s of Bristol

Terry’s of York

As time passed, other manufacturers became involved in cocoa making through the grocery trade. John Cadbury began by dealing in tea and coffee in his Birmingham shop, while Rowntree’s of York was founded by branching out from the family grocery business.Cadbury’s Birmingham Shop

The art of making chocolate and chocolate products became very successful and given the technology that was around, discovering, inventing and improving ways of making chocolate was important.Cadbury’s began business operations in England in 1860.  Tobler was making hand-made chocolates in Switzerland in 1864 and by 1876 the Swiss were adding dry milk to the formula to make milk chocolate.  Lindt invented the conch in 1879 while Milton Hershey began operations in 1894; and in 1899, Lindt and Sprüngli were formed and Tobler opened its first factory.The Original Lindt Chocolate Factory

Model of Lindt’s conche

Tobler Chocolate

Hershey’s Factory

Humble beginnings started from the Theobroma Cacao Tree, being transformed into a sacred drink by natives and being manipulated and converted into a sweeter and better quality, chocolate has really stood the test of time.  It is one of the most loved foods around, it was loved back then and loved even more now. After all the years chocolate making and getting everything precise, I must say that chocolate is the greatest invention ever.


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