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The History Of Chocolate

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The History Of Chocolate

For World Chocolate Day, Artisan Coffee Co. dive into the history of chocolate. From its origins on the cocoa tree to the ancient groups who first drank it as a sign of wealth, to our very own chocolate flights...let's celebrate chocolate!

July 7th is World Chocolate Day: a day for chocolate lovers around the world to unite in unabandoned indulgence to celebrate their favourite treat without any guilt.


It’s a day to celebrate your favourite choccy indulgence, from bars and brownies, to drinks and cakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, mocha tarts, and anything else smothered, smeared, dipped or dunked in cocoa-y goodness.


Chocolate Flights

You know how you and your partner/spouse/sister/best friend bring out the absolute best in one another? It’s like that with our chocolate flights when they’re enjoyed alongside our delectable coffees. The whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.


Coffee and chocolate were always destined to be together. Created by Michelin-starred maverick, Ashley Palmer-Watts and his team, our chocolate flights have been crafted to pair perfectly with our characterful coffee blends, amplifying the flavours in your cup with every bite. Don’t believe in soulmates? You will once you’ve enjoyed our coffee and chocolate pairings for yourself.


But how did chocolate transform from a sacred drink consumed by ancient civilizations to a daily sweet treat? What is the origin of chocolate? Why do we love it so much? And how is chocolate made in the first place?



Back to the beginning

When somebody says ‘chocolate’, you probably think of a mass-produced sweet that you’d find in your local newsagent. Despite its long history, the modern chocolate bar is relatively new on the scene and little like the chocolate of the past.


To understand the history of chocolate and how it’s made from bean to bar, we must first go back to its origins: to the wonder that is cacao.



What is cacao and where does it come from?

Chocolate is made from the tropical cacao tree which is native to regions spanning Central and South America. The cacao tree is grown all over the world from Kenya to Papua New Guinea.


Cacao trees have two edible parts: the seeds - or beans - and the rugby ball-sized fruit - or pods. A typical pod contains around 40 beans, and chocolate is made from these beans.



A Potted History of Chocolate

It’s not exactly clear who started to consume cacao and when. However, historians have been able to trace its use through several different civilizations in Central and South American history. Let’s take a look at these ancient groups:



According to Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Olmec pots from around 1500 BC were discovered to contain traces of theobromine which is a chemical compound found in chocolate and tea.


Olmecs were the first major civilization in Mexico and it’s believed that they used cacao in ceremonial drinks. Historians believe that the word ‘cacao’ comes from the Olmec word "ka-ka-w”.


Since the Olmecs kept no written history, it’s unclear whether they used the cacao beans or only the pod.



It’s thought that the Olmecs passed their cacao knowledge onto the Mayan civilization who are perhaps the most well-known for their chocolate consumption. Chocolate was consumed during ritual and celebration, as well as more casually. According to Mayan written history, the roasted beans were also used as a form of currency for important transactions.


Despite having such a reverence for chocolate, the drink wasn’t just kept for the rich and powerful. It was common for ordinary Mayan families to drink cacao with every meal.


Mayans enjoyed cacao in a way similar to what we might call hot chocolate today - the drink was dark and frothy and often flavoured with honey, salt, chilli and other spices.



The Aztecs also liked to consume hot or cold spiced chocolate beverages, and served theirs in ornate cups. Like the Mayans before them, the Aztecs used the beans as currency, but they took it a step further by using them for everyday purchases such as food and other goods rather than reserving them for larger transactions.


To the Aztecs, cacao beans were more valuable than gold, and cacao drinks were typically consumed as a luxury in the upper classes. One way to look at it is that they were displaying wealth and prestige by quite literally drinking their money!


One particular chocolate lover was the Aztec ruler Montezuma II. It’s said that he drank gallons of frothy dark chocolate a day.




It’s unclear exactly who brought the first cacao beans back to Europe, but we do know that they were first brought to Spain some time in the 16th century. Some historians claim that it was Christopher Columbus in 1502 who brought cacao to western civilizations, others are of the opinion it was the Conquistador Hernan Cortes. A third claim comes from friars representing Guatemalan Mayans who brought cacao beans to Philip II of Spain as a gift in 1544.


Whichever story is true, chocolate boomed as a luxury among the Spanish upper classes and by 1585 it was beginning to be imported by other European countries. Soon, cacao became a popular commodity across Europe and plantations were developed in South America to meet the high demand. These plantations were, sadly and perhaps predictably, sustained by slavery.


The American Colonies

Perhaps surprisingly, chocolate only arrived in Florida via Spain in 1641. By 1648, the first American chocolate house was opened in Boston and it became a hub for revolutionary ideas.


By 1773, chocolate was enjoyed as a luxury flavoured drink by both wealthy and ordinary people across the western world, with European palates preferring it mixed with cane sugar and cinnamon.


During the American Civil War, cacao beans were given as rations to the military and sometimes used as wages instead of money.


The First Chocolate Bar

In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press which separated cocoa butter from roasted beans and discovered how to make powdered chocolate by treating cacao beans with alkaline salts.


These new techniques set the scene for mass produced chocolate. British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons jumped on the bandwagon and made the first chocolate bar out of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor and sugar in 1847.



In 1876, Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter added dried milk to the mix to create the first milk chocolate bar. Five years later, he co-founded the Nestle Company with Henri Nestle to mass-produce it.


Rudolf Lindt, another Swiss chocolatier, gets the credit for inventing the conching machine which gives chocolate that smooth, melt-in-the-mouth consistency.


Craving chocolate? We thought so, us too! Check out our very own Chocolate Flights. **Warning: they are highly addictive!