10 Great Moments In Chocolate History

Chocolate in its many forms has become a sweet, sweet staple of the International diet. Only a few cacao devotees, however, know the first thing about the substance’s long, rich history. The last time you were in the checkout line at the grocery store and considered adding a last minute Snickers bar to the belt, did Aztecs, Mayans or Spanish monks or cross your mind? I didn’t think so. Enjoyment of your next piece of delicious chocolate might be enriched after perusing the 10 greatest moments in the delicacy’s extensive history.

1. 250-900 AD – Ancient Mayans Fill Their Mugs
The Mayan civilization is credited with being the first people to fully appreciate the cacao tree which is still the original source of chocolate as we know it today. Chocolate has taken many different forms throughout the centuries but the Mayans first preferred to drink it. They grew so fond of the energy-laden libation that it was soon taken out of the jungles and grown right in their own cities and ceremonial centers. The seeds were then harvested, fermented, roasted, and finally ground into a syrupy paste which became the final beverage. Humans wouldn’t drink it piping hot until many centuries later, probably sometime after the invention of early morning hockey practices.

2. 1400 – 1500 Aztecs go Crazy for Cacao
The mighty Aztecs of central Mexico lived further north than the Mayans and at higher altitudes where the climate was not suitable for cultivation of the cacao tree. As a result, it took them longer to discover the beans and they could only acquire them through trade or the spoils of war. The Aztecs developed trade routes with the Maya and quickly began to share their affection for cacao, the earliest incarnations of which offered such an energy boost that their warriors often drank it before going into battle. Frenzied demand for the drink became so great that Aztecs eventually required citizens and conquered peoples pay their tribute in cacao seeds, which became an early form of currency. Like the Maya, the Aztecs consumed their bitter chocolate libation, which they called "Xocolatl", seasoned with spices as sugar was a crop that had not yet been introduced to the area.

3. 1519 – Disappointed Spaniards Coin a Term
Spanish conquistadors arriving in the New World found the word Xocolatl almost impossible to pronounce and eventually morphed it to the more phonically pleasant 'Chocolat'. The Aztec's prized their beloved Xocolatl so much that when Montezuma was defeated by Cortez in 1519, and the victorious Spaniards searched his palace expecting to find a treasury filled with riches beyond their wildest dreams, they were in for a second-rate shock. All the mustached marauders found in the halls of the mighty Monty were mountainous quantities of cocoa beans. Karma was a very fickle friend, even 500 years ago.

4. 1521 – Cortez Finds the Missing Ingredient
Chocolatemania wouldn’t spread throughout the rest of Europe for nearly a century, but technically it first became a European import shortly after Spain’s conquest of Mexico. Recognizing the high value attached to cacao, the Spanish began to ship it home and even adopted the Aztec custom of drinking chocolate. The famous explorer Cortez is attributed with being the first person to use sugar in addition to spices, making the finished product far more palatable. As a result, a much wider audience was about to go crazy for the version of chocolate we’re familiar with today. It wouldn’t be long though before Spanish monks, who had been tasked by the royals with processing the new product, finally let the secret out. Chocolate would eventually become an elite beverage and status symbol for Europe’s upper classes and remain so the next 300 years.

5. 1657 – Europe Will Never be the Same
When the Spanish finally let the cat out of the bag in the early 17th century, the rest of Europe quickly caught on to what they had been missing. The new-and-improved sweetened version of "chocolate" as it became commonly known soon became the greatest culinary-related fad to hit the continent since fire. It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, invigorating and health-giving food. Chocolate drinking spread across the English Channel to Britain, and in 1657 the European craze was capped when the first of many famous English Chocolate Houses appeared.

6. 1728 – A New English Tradition
England was quick to adopt chocolate as part of their everyday cuisine and it was here that flavors and preparation were mastered and refined. Many of the founding families of British chocolate are still in existence today. The Rowntree, Cadbury and Fry companies began specializing in the product and competition for the chocolate gifts market was fierce. Joseph Fry of Fry & Sons (founded 1728 in Bristol) is credited with producing and selling the world’s first chocolate bar. Fry's was eventually absorbed by Cadbury and Rowntree merged with Swiss company Nestle to form the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. Cadbury have stayed with chocolate production as their main focus and are one of the best known Chocolate makers in the world to this day.

7. 1765 – Coco for the Colonies
As did most things inherently English, their new version of chocolate was brought full circle back to the New World as the first colonies were established. In the burgeoning United States the production of chocolate evolved faster pace than anywhere else in the world and in 1765 the first state side chocolate factory was established in New England. Was the introduction of the tasty treat a final realization by the colonists that they no longer needed to be under English control, thus sparking the onset of the revolution a year later? Probably not, but it’s a fun thought.

8. 1800 – A Tasty Industrial Revolution
Mass-production methods introduced at the beginning of the 19th century changed the world as we know it – and the chocolate industry was no exception. The invention of the steam engine made it possible to grind cacao beans and produce large amounts of chocolate cheaply and quickly. Greater quantities saw the steep prices plummeting, and for the first time chocolate could be afforded by the general public on both sides of the Atlantic. New inventions and ingredients further improved chocolate’s taste and texture, as the recipe evolved alongside production methods. The Industrial Revolution witnessed the development of an enormous number of new mechanical inventions and ushered in the era of the chocolate factory. Willy Wonka was not far behind!

9. 1875 – The Swiss Begin to Milk it.
Humankind kept right on devising chocolate innovations well after it reached mass appeal and became an ordinary household treat. After nearly a decade of experimentation, Switzerland’s Daniel Peter put the first milk chocolate on the market in 1875. Milk chocolate offered an alternative to the traditional dark and more bitter variety which made it much more appealing to a wider audience and furthered its progression into popular culture. The Swiss would continue to perfect and become known for their particular style of chocolate right up to the present day.

10. 1925 - Chocolate as Big Business
The most recent major milestone in the history of chocolate was the founding of the New York Cocoa Exchange in 1925. Originally located within the World Trade Center, the exchange officially recognized cacao as a valuable stock commodity which could be bought and sold on the open market. Perhaps the acceptance of cacao to the extent that it’s now traded internationally on stock exchanges is yet another form of Montezuma’s revenge.

The next time you reach for your favorite candy bar, tuck into a Deep Forest cake or dust your milkshake with sprinkles - remember the incredible history behind the wondrous substance which is chocolate. If learning about a food somehow makes it tastier, perhaps you’d better get ready to take your belt out a few notches.

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About The Author, Albert Delaney
This article is brought to you with pleasure by Phillips Chocolate, a Boston-based online gourmet chocolate retailer. Since 1925, Phillips has been delighting people of all ages with their unique, handmade chocolate gifts and high quality confections.