The earliest record of chocolate was over fifteen hundred years ago in the Central American rain forests, where the tropical mix of high rain fall combined with high year round temperatures and humidity provide the ideal climate for cultivation of the plant from which chocolate is derived, the Cacao Tree.
The Cacao Tree was worshipped by the Mayan civilisation of Central America and Southern Mexico, who believed it to be of divine origin, Cacao is actually a Mayan word meaning "God Food" hence the tree's modern generic Latin name 'Theobrama Cacao' meaning 'Food of the Gods'. Cacao was corrupted into the more familiar 'Cocoa' by the early European explorers. The Maya brewed a spicy, bitter sweet drink by roasting and pounding the seeds of the Cacao tree (cocoa beans) with maize and Capsicum (Chilli) peppers and letting the mixture ferment. This drink was reserved for use in ceremonies as well as for drinking by the wealthy and religious elite, they also ate a Cacao porridge (McNeil, 2006).
The Aztecs of central Mexico also prized the beans, but because the Aztec's lived further north in more arid regions at higher altitudes, where the climate was not suitable for cultivation of the tree, they had to acquire the beans through trade and/or the spoils of war. The Aztecs prized the beans so highly they used them as currency - 100 beans bought a Turkey or a slave - and tribute or Taxes were paid in cocoa beans to Aztec emperors. The Aztecs, like the Mayans, also enjoyed Cacao as a beverage fermented from the raw beans, which again featured prominently in ritual and as a luxury available only to the very wealthy. The Aztecs called this drink Xocolatl, the Spanish conquistadors found this almost impossible to pronounce and so corrupted it to the easier 'Chocolat', the English further changed this to Chocolate (McNeil, 2006).
The Aztec's regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac and their Emperor, Montezuma reputedly drank it fifty times a day from a golden goblet and is quoted as saying of Xocolatl: "The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food" (Doutre-Roussel, 2005).
In fact, the Aztec's prized Xocolatl well above Gold and Silver so much so, that when Montezuma was defeated by Cortez in 1519 and the victorious 'conquistadors' searched his palace for the Aztec treasury expecting to find Gold & Silver, all they found were huge quantities of cocoa beans. The Aztec Treasury consisted, not of precious metals, but Cocoa Beans.
Chocolate In Europe
Xocolatl! or Chocolat or Chocolate as it became known, was brought to Europe by Cortez, by this time the conquistadors had learned to make the drink more palatable to European tastes by mixing the ground roasted beans with sugar and vanilla (a practice still continued today), thus offsetting the spicy bitterness of the brew the Aztec's drank.
The first chocolate factories opened in Spain, where the ...