The History of Chocolate–Part II

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The European Invasion

Europe was first introduced to the primary ingredient in chocolate when Christopher Columbus brought a handful of dark, almond-shaped beans back to Spain from his 1502 voyage. Among the many strange objects that Columbus presented to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, these cocoa beans from Nicaragua seemed the least promising. Columbus, who was still searching for the sea route to India, was not interested in the cocoa. And the King and Queen never dreamed how important cocoa beans would become. It would be Hernando Cortez, the Spanish explorer, to grasp the commercial possibilities of cocoa beans.

Spain and Hernando Cortez

Mistakenly believed to be the reincarnation of a former Aztec god-king, Hernando Cortez was able to infiltrate the Aztecs, overpower them and within three years, bring about the fall of the Aztec empire. It was during this time that Cortez realized the economic potential for cocoa beans. He experimented with xocolātl, adding cane sugar to make it more agreeable to Spanish tastes. He also established additional cacao plantings in the Caribbean region before returning to Spain with the first cocoa and the utensils necessary for preparation of the beans.

Back in Spain, Cortez version of xocolātl became a favorite of the wealthy and continued to undergo flavor refinements. Newly discovered spices such as cinnamon and vanilla were added to the drink. Finally, someone determined the drink would taste better hot, which quickly won followers among the Spanish aristocracy.

Seeing the growing economic potential for cocoa beans, Spain planted more cacao trees overseas in Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Jamaica to insure an ample supply of cocoa beans. Remarkably, the Spanish were able to keep their cocoa cultivation and creation of cocoa drinks a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly one hundred years.

Taking Europe by Storm

The first cocoa processing plant was established in Spain in 1580. In 1615, the Spanish princess Anna of Austria married Louis XIII and introduced, amongst other Spanish customs, the drinking of chocolate to the French court.

It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, health-giving drink. Chocolate drinking spread across the English Channel and to Great Britain, and in 1657 London the first chocolate shop was opened. As other countries challenged Spain’s monopoly on cacao, chocolate became more widely available.

Soon the French, English, and Dutch were cultivating cacao in their colonies in the Caribbean, and later, elsewhere in the world. With more production came lower prices, and soon the masses in Europe and the Americas were enjoying chocolate. For many people, however, the expanded production of cacao in the New World meant slavery. Cacao production relied heavily on the forced labor of Native Americans and imported African slaves.

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