The Amazing Chocolate History

As a chocolate lover, you may wonder “where does chocolate come from?” The history of chocolate grows out of the warm climates of Mesoamerica. Unsweetened, the bitter product of the cocoa fruit was thought by ancient Mesoamericans to be a divine gift. If you are a chocolate lover, you may agree with the heavenly origin of chocolate. At Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, we think it’s at least magic.Amazing chocolate history. Where does chocolate come from? Mesoamerica and magic!

The Mesoamerican History of Chocolate

The first place the cocoa tree naturally grew was the Orinoco Valley of Venezuela, according to genetic testing. The earliest traces of cocoa tree products were found on South American pottery. Mesoamericans have been creating beverages from the cocoa tree since around 1150-1200 B.C.E. (We just don’t know if it was from cocoa fruit or from other parts of the tree.)

Chocolate was first formally cultivated in Mexico, likely by the Olmec. The Mayans learned how to grow cocoa and make chocolate from the Olmecs. By 600 C.E. the cacao beans were being refined by a variety of Mesoamerican cultures.

Cocoa beans were fermented, dried, and ground much like modern chocolate. That paste was made into unsweetened chocolate drinks, frequently blended with chili peppers. The drinks were called xocolātl. It boosted energy and mood, as well as providing long-lasting sustenance. Ancient Mesoamericans valued those qualities. They believed the chocolate drink had mystic qualities. It was frequently featured in religious rituals and important ceremonies.

The Mayans used cocoa beans as currency. And, the Aztecs believed chocolate seeds were a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. Spanish contact with the Aztecs is the infamous means by which chocolate came to Europe.

Chocolate Conquers the Conquerors

Spanish explorers brought chocolate back from the Americas in the 16th century. 

At its height, the Aztec empire ruled over 500 small states and 5-6 million people. Aztec king Moctezuma II welcomed Hernán Cortés in Tenochtitlán on November 8, 1519. The royal welcome included a goblet of cacao (allegedly lined in pure gold). A more militaristic culture than the Mayans, Moctezuma only allowed soldierly and the highest-ranking people to indulge in chocolate.

Two years after Cortés sipped cocoa with Moctezuma, the conquistadors overtook Tenochtitlán. They pillaged the royal bank of cocoa beans, in addition to other treasures.

In 1544, chocolate landed on the lips of Europe. Spain’s Prince Phillip enjoyed a frothy chocolate beverage brought by a Dominican delegation of Mayan nobles. It would still be some time before the bitter beverage would become available (and palatable) to the public.

Chocolate’s Move from Mayan Royalty to European Elites

Finally, CHOCOLATE! By 1570, cocoa gained popularity as both a medicine and an aphrodisiac. This was largely helped by the additions of sugar and vanilla to cocoa beverages. By 1585, official shipments of cocoa were regularly coming to Spain from Mexico.

The very first chocolate house, The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll, opened in London in 1664. The cocoa cost 15 shillings a pound, which is the equivalent approximately $105 US dollars today.

By the last quarter of the 17th century, chocolate pastries and cakes began showing up in chocolate emporiums. And by 1730, cocoa beans and cocoa was finally no longer a thing only for the elites.

Chocolate in America!

In 1765, an Irish chocolate maker brought chocolate to America. This lead to the first American chocolate mill, Baker’s, in 1780 in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

No Longer Cocoa

Originally, chocolate was only available as cocoa powder and liquid cocoa. The first solid eating chocolate was introduced in 1830 by Joseph Fry & Sons in the UK. The chocolate pot was a staple in many households. Cocoa was blended into pastries and cakes. Fry & Sons made the first modern chocolate bar in 1847.

Chocolate History - The First Modern Chocolate Bar and Eating Chocolate

In 1876, milk chocolate made its debut. Milk chocolate was the historical partnership of Swiss chemist Henri Nestle and a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, Daniel Peter. Nestle had invented powdered milk, which was then mixed in with the chocolate liquor, sugar, and cocoa butter.

Chocolate Heroes – The Role of Chocolate in World War II

In 1937, the Hershey company was asked to make a chocolate bar for US Army emergency rations. They named the special commission the D Ration Bar or Logan Bar. In addition to the normal ingredients, it had oat flour, higher fat, and conformed to the 4oz, high-energy, temperature resistant wartime requirements. We wouldn’t label this gourmet. The bar was brick hard and tasty wasn’t the primary descriptive. Its bitter taste earned it the moniker, “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” by displeased troops.

History of chocolate

history of chocolate

In a second attempt (to avoid the trash bin), they developed the Tropical bar. It was formulated for the Pacific Theater. This version came in 1oz and 2oz versions until later in the war when it was upped to the D Ration’s 4oz portion. The Tropical bar accompanied soldiers to Korea and Vietnam. It even rode to space with the Apollo 15 in 1971.

Between 1940 ad 1945, Hershey Chocolate had made more than 3 billion units of specialty bars for soldiers. Today, chocolate is still a military staple, alongside other candy treats.

How to Drink Chocolate Like an Aztec

“These seeds, which they call almonds or cacao, are ground & made into powder, & some other small seeds they have are also ground, & the powder put into ceramic vessels shaped with a spout. They then add water & stir with a spoon, & after it is well-mixed they pour it back & forth from one vessel to another until it’s foamy. The foam is gathered & put into a cup, & when they are ready to drink the beverage they agitate it with some small spoons made of gold, or silver or wood. To drink one must open the mouth wide since it has a froth so it’s necessary to make room for it to dissolve & so go in gradually. The drink is the most wholesome & substantial of any food or beverage in the world, because whoever drinks a cup of this liquor can go thru a whole day without taking anything else even if on a cross-country journey…” 

– The Anonymous Conquistador, 1556, from Narrative of Some Things of New Spain and of the Great City of Temestitan, Mexico

Chocolate History - Aztec woman pouring chocolate