Chocolate trees originated in the Amazon basin and their seeds were
spread by monkeys and other small mammals as well as by humans
throughout Central America and Mesoamerica.
The Maya of Guatemala (ca 250-900 B.C.), established cacao
plantations. They considered chocolate to be food for the gods, but
there appears to be some question whether they consumed it.
In 1519, the Spanish explorer Cortez met the Aztec chief Montezuma
and saw him drinking "Xocalatl," the original hot chocolate. It was a
bitter drink brewed from cacao beans.
In 1657, the first chocolate house was opened in London.
Chocolate houses became places where men gathered to drink hot
chocolate, play cards and talk politics. Chocolate use became
popular, spreading rapidly across Europe.
Chocolate was also served in the
home. Due to the increased demand,
European cocoa plantations began in
Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Java, Sumatra,
the West Indies and Africa, and more
varieties were developed.
Pre-Columbian Aztec men were the first to use cocoa in a ritual
beverage. They also used cocoa beans as currency. Eighty to a
hundred beans could buy a new cloth mantle, 100 beans could
purchase a good turkey hen, and one, a tamale.
When Cortez raided Montezuma's treasuries, he found that they
contained vast amounts of cocoa beans, not silver and gold. In 1528,
he established a New World cacao plantation for trade and took
cocoa beans with him to Spain, as well as silver and gold and the
recipe for a chocolate drink sweetened with sugar or honey.
The Olmec (carved head above) word for chocolate "Kakawa"
became our word "cacao." Chocolate was considered toxic for
women and children, although today it is associated primarily with
them, with over twice as many women as men eating and craving
The Mayans were the first to
grow chocolate trees.
An Aztec sculpture
and cacao beans
A London coffee
house of the 1660s
An 18th century woman serves
chocolate to her gentleman
friend. Note the
Chocolate was served in the
salons of 18th century Europe.