Ancient Aztec Chocolatiers

We are crazy about chocolate here at the BoroughBox Towers. It’s hands down our favourite office snack, but what do we really know about (arguably) the world's favourite munch?

To celebrate World Chocolate Day we explore the history of chocolate and how this deliciously sweet treat evolved and has conquered our hearts!

Origins


We start our journey 5400 miles south-west of the British Isles, in the beautiful tropical forests of Latin America, where The Olmec used chocolate a whopping 3000 years ago.

However, it wasn’t until the Maya civilisation began to thrive, roughly 250-900 AD (that’s over a thousand years later) that chocolate became an essential part of society. In fact, it was so essential that it acted as currency, as well as being used in numerous religious traditions.

The Maya’s neighbours were The Aztec, with their close proximity creating trade and political alliances. As such, the Maya love for chocolate was shared with Aztec civilisation. However, cacao beans, essential to chocolate production, would not grow in the Aztec city of Tenochitlan (where Mexico City now stands) so needed to be imported from Maya cities.

Chocolate was so important to these cultures that they even had gods who were devoted to this flavourful seed. The Aztec legend of Quetzalcoatl (the god of chocolate) states that Quetzalcoatl was cast out of paradise for bridging chocolate to Earth and sharing with humans - the other gods were unhappy, since chocolate was only to be savoured by the gods.

Liquid Gold

One big difference in the way ancient civilisations consumed chocolate, compared to present day, is that chocolate was not presented as the convenient, heavenly bar we are accustomed to, but in fact, it was strictly drunk as a hot drink.

These lost civilisations are to thank for the way we still harvest and prepare chocolate today - preparing this hot drink consisted of roasting the beans, removing the shells and grinding down to create a paste - which was then added to hot water.

They would top up the mix with flowers, honey, spices and vanilla to give some extra ‘oomph’ to the drink. It seems safe to say that The Maya were truly the original baristas!

However, not all were able to enjoy this delicious drink, since the beans were also used as currency. Only the rich would be able to spare their hard-earned cash… beans to enjoy this beloved drink.

Similar to the Egyptian traditions of burying their dead emperors with their riches and gold, the Maya would bury their dead with jars of chocolate.

It’s No Secret

It wasn't until 1502 that chocolate was finally discovered by Europeans - what a year.

While history has it, the first encounter happened between Italian navigator Columbus and his son, Ferdinand. Yet, it wasn't until Spaniard, Hernan Cotes, took over Aztec civilisation, that chocolate was truly discovered by Europeans.

Cotes and his comrades tried the beloved drink and, well… they hated it. Finding the drink bitter and not suitable for human consumption.

So Sweet

The bitter chocolate drink was actually first used as medicine back in Spain, but the bitter taste led people to sweeten the taste by adding sugar. Luckily, at the same time the Spanish had also taken over a number of Caribbean islands, where sugar grew rapidly.

And before they knew it, sweet chocolate drinks quickly became a favourite amongst the Spanish people.

In 1828 the chocolate game began to change. A Dutch man named Coenraad van Houten tried something never before done. He invented a press that would separate the fat from the cacao bean, leaving behind a powder. People started adding milk to the powder and voila, milk-based hot milk was created, commonly enjoyed as an enticing hot drink - which we’re all now familiar with today.

Success Solidified

Fast track 20 years, when J.S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar! They did this by mixing sugars and liquor to the fat, leftover from Coenraad’s press, finally placing the mixture into moulds.

It wasn't until Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter, a true innovator, added powdered milk to the mix that milk chocolate came to be! Making both the Fry clan and Daniel Peter the Willy Wonkas of their time!

So there you have it, who knew something we take for granted everyday had such a rich history. From being used as currency in beautiful Latin America to medicine overseas. What an incredible evolution this hot drink had into becoming the yummy delicacy we love today. No matter the journey, one thing is for certain chocolate still is an essential part of our life!