The Maya, Toltec, and Aztec people used the cocoa bean’s fruit to make a beverage, which is how chocolate got its start more than 3,000 years ago. The Maya buried dignitaries with chocolate bowls, considered chocolate to be the food of the gods, and considered the cacao tree to be sacred.
The Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples cultivated the cacao tree more than 3,000 years ago. They made a beverage from its fruit, the cocoa bean, sometimes used it as a drink for a ceremony, and they also used the bean as a currency. The Maya believed that chocolate was the food of the gods, revered the cacao tree, and even buried dignitaries with bowls of the substance (along with other items they thought would be useful in the afterlife). In point of fact, the Maya’s phonetic writing style could only be deciphered by locating the Olmec-derived word ka-ka-w (cacao) on those containers.
It is unclear how Spain became the first nation in Europe to incorporate chocolate into its cuisine. After his fourth voyage in 1502, it is known that Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to Spain, but little was said about it at the time. There appears to be no evidence to support the widespread belief that the Aztec ruler of Mexico, Montezuma II, introduced a bitter cocoa-bean drink to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. Chocolate may have first made its way to Spain in 1544 when representatives of the Kekch Mayan people from Guatemala brought gifts, including chocolate, to visit Prince Philip’s court. However, the first known shipment of cocoa beans from Veracruz, Mexico, did not arrive in Spain until 1585. Chocolate became quite popular in the Spanish court because it was hot and sweetened with cinnamon and vanilla. Before chocolate was introduced to France, England, and other countries, it took a long time.
A Frenchman opened a shop in London in 1657 where solid chocolate could be purchased for 10 to 15 shillings per pound to make the beverage. At that price, only the wealthy could afford to drink it, so fashionable chocolate houses started popping up in European capitals like London, Amsterdam, and others. Some of these houses later turned into famous private clubs. Cocoa-Tree Chocolate-House (later the Cocoa-Tree Club), which opened in 1698, and White’s, which Francis White opened in 1693 as White’s Chocolate-House, were two examples of the high-stakes gambling establishments that were popular in London. The English added milk to chocolate around 1700 to make it better. The imposition of high import duties on the raw cocoa bean hampered the process of lowering the beverage’s cost in Great Britain. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century, when the duty was reduced to a uniform rate of one penny per pound, that chocolate gained popularity.
The kernels of fermented and roasted cocoa beans are used to make chocolate. The kernels are ground into a pasty, liquid chocolate liquor. This liquor can be hardened in molds to make bitter (baking) chocolate, pressed to reduce the amount of cocoa butter, and then pulverized to make cocoa powder, or mixed with sugar and more cocoa butter to make sweet (eating) chocolate. Milk chocolate is produced when sweet chocolate is combined with dried or concentrated milk.
White chocolate is technically not a chocolate because of its delicate flavor and rich texture. White chocolate is made with milk products, sugar, flavorings like vanilla, and cocoa butter.