Cocoa – Whether divine or not – our chocolate is holy to us.
Prussian diplomat, George Hesekiel, is quoted to have said, “Chocolate, the turkey, and the pineapple are three things for which anyone who eats, really owes thanks to America’s discoverer.” We agree with him, at least in regards to chocolate.
The word, cacao, (spoken: kakawa) means, tree. Like the word, the cocoa tree originally comes from Central America. The word itself probably comes from a prototype of the Mixe-Zoque language. It was already a part of the Olmec vocabulary circa 1000 BC. They were first humans to cultivate the cocoa tree more than 3,500 years ago. They used its roasted seeds to make a drink that, in a way, was a prototype for drinking chocolate.
This civilisation was later superseded by the Mayas and Aztecs. The Maya called the drink, chacau haa (chacau=hot, haa=water). The Aztecs called it, cacahuatl (caca= cocoa, atl= water). Both peoples preferred it rather bitter and often spicy. The Maya drank it hot whereas the Aztecs drank it cold. This cocoa drink usually consisted of roasted, crushed cocoa beans that were beaten frothy with water and mixed with pimento, carnation pepper, ground chilli husks, or vanilla mark. Unfortunately, there is only little evidence regarding its production.
The cocoa tree was considered holy by both cultures. Enjoyment of the cocoa drink was, however, reserved for high aristocracy, warriors, or priests. Cocoa beans were used as currency into the Spanish colonial period. The exact value of a cocoa bean at the time of the Aztec empire has not survived. However, one price list from the year 1545 indicates that one turkey was equivalent to 200 cocoa beans and that one large tomato was equivalent to 1 cocoa bean.
The first European to see a cocoa bean was Christopher Columbus in 1502. He came across a fully laden Mayan commercial canoe off the island of Guanaja. The importance of cocoa beans and their value, however, remained unknown to him. It was the conqueror, Hernando Cortez, that discovered the use of cocoa beans. He landed on the coast of Mexico in 1519. The Aztecs probably held him to be their returning god, Quetzalcoatl. Their ruler at that time, Montezuma, received him with great hospitality.
Cocoa beans quickly piqued the interest of the Spaniards and made their way back to Europe. The Spanish settlers were also the ones who coined the term, chocolate. It probably resulted as a combination of the Mayan word, chocol, (hot) and the Aztec word, atl, for water.
However, it was not love at first sip. Only after a recipe-change did chocolate achieve its big breakthrough. The colonists hit on the idea of sweetening the chocolate drink with cane sugar.
As to exactly how chocolate made its way to Spanish courts is still not clear. The first documented proof of it comes from 1544. Dominican monks travelled with a delegation of noble Maya to the court of Prince Phillip and brought him, among other things, a gift of chocolate. The enjoyment of chocolate rapidly developed as a fixed feature of Spanish court ceremonials.
Although Spain had the trade monopoly on cocoa beans for over 100 years, cocoa beans nevertheless quickly found their way beyond Spanish borders. This was either in the bags of Spanish refugees or as the coveted smuggled goods of Spanish sailors. These sailors would exchange the valuable beans in French and Italian ports. Above all, relations between European courts led to chocolate spreading, firstly, to Italy and France, and then to the rest of Europe. Very soon cocoa parlours sprung up everywhere, particularly in Florence and Venice. Drinking chocolate rapidly developed into a fashionable drink of the upper classes.
Chocolate, however, also had its opponents. For 250 years, the enjoyment of chocolate during Lent was hotly discussed in all the catholic countries of Europe. The question was whether chocolate was a drink or – due to its nutritiousness – a meal. This argument was only finally settled in 1664, when cardinal Francesco Maria Brancaccio declared nutritious chocolate to be a drink and, therefore, not a breach of Lent.
The epoch of chocolate as a fashionable, aristocratic drink came to an end around 1850. This was due to the displacement of the aristocracies of Europe by the bourgeois classes. The final transition of the chocolate drink for the few, to the chocolate bar for the many, is owed the inventions of some great figures:
In 1828, van Houten made the production of cocoa powder possible for the first time. In 1847, Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. In 1875, Daniel Peter brought the first milk chocolate on to the market. To do so, he used milk powder, which had been invented only a few years previously by Henry Nestlé. Since 1879, chocolate has been conched according to the principles set out by Rudolphe Lindt.
RITTER SPORT should, of course, not be left off this long list of achievements. The family owned Swabian company wrote chocolate history in 1932 with the first square chocolate bar. Fortunately, we continue to do so today.
Our latest varieties: