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   Chocolate History

The "chocolate tree" (kah KOW) originated in South America's Amazon basin. With its roots in the tropical rainforest. The word "chocolate" is said to derive from the Mayan "xocoatl"; cocoa from the Aztec"cacahuatl." The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms choco ("foam") and atl ("water"); early chocolate was only consumed in beverage form.

The Olmec Indians are believed to be the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop around 1500 BC-400 BC. Mayans migrate into northern regions of South America establishing earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan around 600 AD. The consumption of cocoa beans was restricted to the Mayan society's elite, in the form of an unsweetened cocoa drink. The Maya and Aztec were the first to create a drink from crushed cocoa beans mixed with water and flavourings such as chilli peppers, vanilla, and other spices. It was a special beverage reserved for Mayan rulers and special ceremonies. The official name of the cocoa tree is Theobroma cacao. ("Theobroma" is Latin for "food of the gods.") Aztec Indian legend held that cacao seeds had been brought from Paradise and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree. They considered it a valuable commodity, used both as a means of payment and as units of calculation. In the 14th Century the drink became popular among the Aztec upper classes who acquired the cocoa beverage from the Mayans and were the first to tax the beans. The Aztecs called it "xocalatl" meaning warm or bitter liquid.

MONTEZUMA, the Aztec emperor, was said to drink up to 50 goblets of chocolate per day. The Aztecs created a powerful empire, and their armies conquered Mexico. Tributes in the form of food, cloth and luxury items such as cocoa beans. The Aztecs had many gods. One god, Quetzalcoatl, creator god and provider of agriculture, was particularly associated with cocoa beans. In Tenochtitlan and Moctezuma Great temples were built to honour him, Montezuma the Aztecs ruler particularly revered him.

In 1502 Columbus encountered a great Mayan trading canoe in Guanaja carrying cocoa beans as cargo. Christopher Columbus is said to have brought back cacao beans to King Ferdinand from his fourth visit to the New World, but they were overlooked in favour of the many other treasures he had found.

Chocolate was first noted in 1519 when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. In 1521, led his forces against Montezuma’s warriors and defeated them in battle.The Aztecs thought that Cortez, the Spanish conquistador was the god Quetzalcoatl who is linked with cocoa and chocolate. In Aztec myth Quetzalcoatl was forced to leave the country by a chief god, but was lovingly remembered by his devoted worshippers, who waited for his return. When Cortez arrived with his fleet of galleons, the Aztecs thought he was Quetzalcoatl returning, they would soon realise him to be a cruel conqueror.

The Aztec's prized Xocolatl (cocoa) well above Gold and Silver so much, that when Montezuma was defeated by Cortez and his conquistadors searched his palace expecting to find Gold & Silver, all they found were large amounts of cocoa beans. The Aztec Treasury consisted of Cocoa Beans. Cacao became one of the spoils of war. Spanish soldiers claimed the Aztec’s supply of cacao and began to demand it from the same peoples from whom the Aztecs had demanded tribute. Before long, cacao and chocolate made their way to Spain.

In 1528 Cortez brought chocolate back from Mexico to the royal court of King Charles V. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, processed the cocoa beans and kept chocolate a secret for nearly a century. It made a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies. In 1544 Dominican friars took a delegation of Kekchi Mayan nobles to visit Prince Philip of Spain. The Mayans brought gift jars of beaten cocoa , mixed and ready to drink.

Spain and Portugal did not export the beloved drink to the rest of Europe for nearly a century. The Spanish began to add cane sugar and flavourings such as vanilla to their sweet cocoa beverages.  In 1585 the First official shipments of cocoa beans began arriving in Seville from Vera Cruz, Mexico

It took an Italian traveller, Antonio Carletti, to discover the chocolate treasure in 1606 and take it into other parts of Europe. With the decline of Spain as a power, the secret of cacao leaked out at last, and the Spanish Crown's monopoly of the chocolate trade came to an end. In a few years the knowledge of it had spread through France, Italy, Germany, and England.


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