A History of Chocolate

If you are good I will buy you a bar of chocolate. How often do we use such bribery with children? Today I feel like talking to children as well as to adults of all ages,  because almost all of us like it, we enjoy the melting taste of it. What about wiping over the face of a toddler or the little sticky hands terrorising mummy? Smile little one, you are very smart to tease in your own special way! You may have wondered how chocolate is made? Well chocolate is prepared from the fruit of the cacao tree, it sounds vague isn’t it?  We don’t see cacao trees everywhere.

Cacao tree

The Cacao Tree: where all the magic begins (source)

If you just pretended that you were Sinbad or Peter Pan flying across the continents, you would see the cacao trees in African countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon which are all in West Africa. These countries harvest about two thirds of the total world output, the rest comes from South American countries mainly Brazil and Ecuador.

The fruit or pods look like those of a melon, once ripe they are picked.  The pods are then split open to extract the cacao beans. At this stage the beans are covered with a thick fruity pulp which  must be removed, that is why the beans are spread on banana leaves and left to ferment for several days. The white beans turn dark brown and begin to have their chocolaty flavour. Afterwards the beans are dried in the sun then put in sacks ready for shipping to international markets.

In the chocolate factory

Now would you like to land in a chocolate factory and watch what is happening to those precious beans?

The Lindt Chocolate Factory at Koln in Germany (source

To start with the beans are cleaned in special machines, then roasted and made ready for the crushing machine. There the beans are shelled leaving the edible pieces of cacao called “nibs” which contain the fats. The process itself helps the fat to melt producing a sticky liquid called chocolate liquor which is used to make the chocolate you know or it can be filtered to separate the fat, the residue obtained is cooled then ground to produce the cocoa powder.

 Isn’t it fascinating? What is more fascinating is how it all began…

 In the beginning

When the Spanish adventurer Cortez invaded and conquered Mexico in 1519, he learned from the Aztecs (the native Indian) about a bitter drink called  chocolatl  which he introduced to Spain. The Spanish sweetened the preparation by mixing sugar and vanilla instead of peppery spices and kept it as a secret for a hundred years. In the 17th Century, that secrecy  was broken and the habit started to infiltrate  other European countries. It reached England probably around 1650.

Although, they don’t have any cacao trees, the British adopted chocolate or rather drinking chocolate from the start. If we follow the events we can understand it better.

 The expansion of  British trade in the American colonies encouraged an enterprising Frenchman in 1657 to open a “Chocolate House” in Bishopsgate London, where chocolate was sold for drinking and not for eating. Soon Chocolate Houses spread across England and some developed into famous clubs where poets and playwrights met like Addison and Steele who mentioned the Chocolate Houses in their works.

How was the chocolate in those days?  It came in blocks which had to be grated and mixed with hot water to make the drink, but as usual it was a luxury which only the rich could afford. For example a pound of chocolate was sold  for 10 to 15 shillings (in old English money). You can  expect as well that chocolate was drunk in dainty cups with a silver holder, it was rather a Spanish fashion at the time.

At the beginning of the 18th Century, the English improved the drinking chocolate by adding milk to it. The popularity of drinking chocolate increased among the gentry to the point where it replaced other drinks and became their favourite breakfast drink (with tea of course).

Did people drink chocolate for centuries? Yes indeed, but attempts to create eating chocolate were on their way. In 1828 through experimentation a Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten invented a hydraulic press machine to extract cocoa butter from the beans. Later eating chocolate was born and French produced eating chocolate started to be fashionable. Once again this was accepted by wealthy English families. You might be wondering what had happened to the British at that stage?

In the mid 18th Century, Doctor Joseph Fry founded the great Bristol firm of J. S Fry & Sons chocolate manufacturers. The business kept improving steadily from one generation to another until they produced  in 1849 an eating chocolate named  “Chocolat Delicieux a Manger” (it was considered snobbish to use French names to describe culinary products), the quality was far superior to the dry French chocolate and it was recognised as the world’s first  proper eating chocolate. By the second half of the 19th Century J. S Fry & Sons became the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. At the same time the firm had to compete with another growing rival the Cadbury’s factory founded by John Cadbury in 1824 in Birmingham. The Cadburys jumped ahead with the introduction of an improved method for extracting cacao butter and produced their own  form of cocoa powder which was sold as “Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence”. This established Cadburys as a force to be reckoned with. As a result a plentiful supply of eating chocolate was manufactured in England breaking for the first time the grip that French confectioners had on the British market. In 1853 Cadbury won the privilege of supplying chocolate to Queen Victoria and were awarded the Royal Warrant.

Of course we should not underestimate the other chocolate dynasties like the Rowntrees of York, Terrys and Thorntons. However Frys and  Cadburys were the main pioneers of what is the modern chocolate industry of today. Do they deserve a bar?