Gourmet Chocolate logo woman enjoying chocolate
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Chocolate History

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Chocolate production and consumption is presently very much based in the 'Western world'. However the history of chocolate tells us that chocolate has it roots very much in the ancient worlds and cultures of the Americas.




Aztec symbol
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Christopher Columbus
The history of chocolate dates as far back as 1492 and the discovery of the Americas. Upon returning to Spain, after his successful voyage, Christopher Columbus presented his 'treasures' to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. These items included cocoa beans. Although these dark brown beans intially received little interest it was only a matter of time before someone grasped the comercial possiblilities these bean offered.
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The Conquistadors
Hernando Cortez and his conquistadors had an important part to play in the history of chocolate. While conquering Mexico, Cortez noted that the Aztec Indians used cocoa beans in the preparation of the royal drink, "chocolatl", meaning warm liquid. In 1519, Emperor Montezuma served chocolatl to his Spanish guests in golden goblets, as if a food for the gods.

Despite its regal importance the Spanish considered Montezuma's chocolatl very bitter. To make it more agreeable the Europeans, sweetened it with cane sugar.

When chocolatl was taken back to Spain it met great favour. It was then further changed with newly discovered spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla. And, eventually, someone decided the drink would taste better if served hot.

The new drink was well-liked, especially by the Spanish aristocracy. Spain, as a result, proceeded to plant cocoa in its overseas colonies, giving birth to a very profitable business. Amazingly, the Spanish succeeded in keeping the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the rest of Europe for almost a hundred years.
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Chocolate Spreads to the rest of Europe
Spanish monks, who were responsible for processing the cocoa beans eventually let the secret slip. Almost immediately chcolate gained interest and popularity all around Europe. In France, chocolate was the chosen drink of the Royal Court. It even crossed the English Channel in 1657, where a number of famous English Chocolate Houses appeared.

The production of chocolate eventually became mechanised. This transition was, in part, caused by the advent of the steam engine which mechanised the cocoa grinding process. This helped reduced the cost of chocolate to the consumer and by 1730, chocolate had dropped in price to within the financial reach of all. In 1828 the the cocoa press reduced the price even further and helped to improve quality by squeezing out part of the cocoa butter, the fat that occurs naturally in cocoa beans. From then on, drinking chocolate had more of the smooth consistency and the pleasing flavor it has today.

The 19th Century saw two more revolutionary developments. In 1847, the English introduced solid "eating chocolate" through the development of fondant chocolate, a smooth and velvety variety that has almost completely replaced the old coarse grained chocolate which formerly dominated the world market. The second development occurred in 1876 in Vevey, Switzerland. Daniel Peter invented a way of adding milk to the chocolate, creating what we enjoy today as milk chocolate.
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