History of Chocolate in 20 Pictures
…and religious lives. Children were anointed with perfumed cacao in naming ceremonies; and the elite class were buried with bowls, of frothy cacao drinks to give them the strength to make their way into the next life. By 250 A.D., the Maya were enjoying a cultural explosion that saw fantastic cities, palaces and temples spring up throughout northern Guatemala and the southern Yucatán in Mexico. They painted, carved, sculpted, made pottery, wrote books and, in their writings, arts and crafts, they celebrated the rituals that had sprung up around cacao. There are gods depicted doing all kinds of things with cacao pods and beans, from offering up plates piled high with beans
to piercing their ears and splattering blood all over them. Children were anointed with perfumed cacao in naming ceremonies; sacrificial victims were plied with it before they went to their death; and the elite class were buried with bowls, jars and cylindrical vases filled with frothy cacao drinks to give them the strength and energy they needed to make their way into the next life.
..laced with poison for trying to ban his congregation from drinking chocolate in church. There’s a famous story about a group of passionate chocoholics who turned nasty when someone tried to get between them and their drinking chocolate. The trouble began when a bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, became irritated with the ladies of his congregation, who insisted that they needed to drink hot chocolate during mass because of their weak stomachs. He banned chocolate from the cathedral and threatened to excommunicate anyone who ate or drank during services. Unwilling to do without their mid-mass fix, the ladies began to attend church in the convents instead of the cathedral. Despite being told about rumours of death threats against him, the bishop stood firm. The cathedral emptied altogether and shortly afterwards the bishop was found dead, having drunk a bowl of chocolate laced with poison. To this day, there’s a Mexican proverb that warns: ‘Beware the chocolate of Chiapas’.
In 1544, a group of Dominican Friars introduced a delegation of Guatemalan Maya to Prince Philip in Spain. Among the offerings they brought were clay gourds filled with beaten chocolate, so perhaps this was chocolate’s debut in Europe. Either way, it wasn’t imported officially until 1585, so it wasn’t an overnight sensation. Yet during the first half of the seventeenth century, it became wildly popular at the Spanish court, where it was drunk hot, spicy and sweet.
He fervently believed it to be an aphrodisiac, famously drinking it to enhance his love-making. Cacao has through its long history often been associated with romance and sex. Cacao was revered for its aphrodisiacal properties among the Maya and the Aztecs in ancient times.
In the eighteenth century, the notorious Marquis de Sade was implicated in a scandal involving the known aphrodisiac Spanish fly, with which he is alleged to have spiked the chocolate pastilles on offer at one of his balls, provoking a spontaneous, frenzied orgy.
Even Pope Clement XIV was allegedly murdered with a cup of bitter tasting chocolate. Because of its dark, rich flavours and pungent aroma, chocolate was an effective way to mask the bitter taste of poison.
…died in alarming numbers on the early plantations. The conquistadors were not slow to realise the money making potential in growing cacao. At first, they made slaves of the local population and put them to work on the plantations, but then Pope Paul III outlawed the enslavement of Indians in 1537. So they instituted a legal system of forced work called encomienda, exacting tribute from the natives in the form of labour in return for teaching them Spanish and Christianity. But that didn’t work either because the Indians began to die in alarming numbers from Old World diseases and epidemics against which they had no immunity. Shockingly, disease and maltreatment meant that by the end of the seventeenth century, only about a tenth of the Indian population had survived the hostile takeover of their country.
The brilliant diarist Samuel Pepys even mentions that he ‘went to Mr Bland’s and there drank my morning draft of chocolate’.
Chocolate Houses enjoyed a huge surge in popularity across the capitals of Europe in the seventeenth century, much as independent coffee shops are today. They were meeting places for the exchange of all the latest news and gossip. The hot chocolate, made from rough 100% cacao would have tasted nothing like the hot chocolate people think of today, but it would certainly have given them a buzz!
…and special drinking cups called trembleuses, were devised. In the same way that in China tea spawned an elaborate drinking and an array of equipment designed to perfect its enjoyment, a whole industry grew up in Europe around the drinking of cacao. As making chocolate became more mechanized, there was an explosion of chocolate-related equipment and merchandise. First, chocolate-pot lids were pierced with holes to fit the molinillo beating stick, a design that is still on sale in Mexican markets today. The French developed silver chocolate pots with built in molinillos (or moussoirs, as they called them), and porcelain cups and saucers also became popular. One of the most intriguing of the specialized chocolate ceramics was the trembleuse stand, devised for people with shaky hands by the Marqués de Mancera, Viceroy of Mexico, himself a palsy sufferer. The trembleuse (known as a mancerina in Mexico) is a special saucer with a cup holder that steadied the cup, like a reinforced, exaggerated saucer lip. Since chocolate was often administered as nourishment for the old and the sick, it became a standard piece in every chocolate set.
…while Mexico, cacao’s birthplace, supplied only 1.5%. Cacao made it to Africa via the islands of Principe and Sao Tomé, west of Gabon, where the Portuguese planted forastero cuttings taken from Brazil. More cuttings were taken to Equatorial New Guinea and the colonies of Portuguese Africa. Then, in 1879, a West African blacksmith took some plants home to Ghana, where the British governor seized upon the idea of growing cacao and encouraged its cultivation. Cacao then journeyed on to Nigeria and to the Ivory Coast, which is now the world’s largest producer. Moving east, the Spanish took it to the Philippines, the British to Sri Lanka and the Dutch to Java and Sumatra. By 1991, Africa was the source of just over half of the world’s cacao, while Mexico, cacao’s birthplace, supplied only 1.5%. I found out from Willem at Daarnhouwer & Co that the beans I use to make my Madagascan 71% chocolate bar are grown from trees that arrived on the island as seedlings from Venezuela 100 years ago! Once Venezuelan criollo, they have now developed their own lively fruit flavours.
It wasn’t until the end of the century that he patented a grinding machine powered by a James Watt steam engine. Even then, chocolate was still predominantly a drink.
…after Henri Nestle had developed condensed milk. Now that cacao butter could be extracted from the beans, ‘eating’ chocolate became a possibility because the butter could be used to bind and coat a mix of milled sugar and cacao nibs to make a chocolate bar. Joseph Fry made this discovery in 1847 and went on to open the first chocolate bar factory; by now, roasting, winnowing and grinding had all become mechanized. In 1875, the Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter launched a milk chocolate bar after his neighbour Henri Nestlé developed condensed milk. Too much water in chocolate adversely affects its shelf life and texture, so Nestlé’s dehydrated milk formula was key to the future of the milk chocolate bar.
…into the all-time unhealthy luxury. Your average chocolate confectionery bar contains no more than 5–10% cacao liquor; the rest is mainly fat and sugar. There is nothing about these bars that the Aztecs would recognise!
On July 17, 2010 Mr Anthony Ward aka Chocfinger bought up 7% of the world’s cacao crop sparking fears that the world’s chocolate manufacturers would be held to ransom as the world cocoa price rose to its highest level since 1977. This spectacular trade ended in spectacular disaster when his company Armajaro overstretched itself and loss making, was forced into a fire sale in November 2013. Cacao is now a global business, a far cry from the ancient wild cacao trees in the Amazon basin. Happily events like this have if anything helped wake people up to the benefits of small scale quality beans with provenance and flavour. Viva Cacao!
… working on genetically modified cacao.
In the past few years, teams of scientists working with both Mars and Hersheys have started mapping the chocolate tree genome in the hope of developing a cacao, genetically modified to counteract the perceived threats disease, drought and under supply in the face of rising worldwide demand. This is undoubtedly the largest threat that the world of chocolate has ever faced, making the prioritising of output over flavour even more extreme, not to mention unleashing the wider unknowns associated with genetic modification.