In this second of our series on the history of chocolate we're going to take a look at more modern times. More recently, in 1519, the famous explorer Cortez visited the court of another famous person in history, Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. According to history, Montezuma consumed no other beverage than chocolate which he flavored with vanilla and spices. He prepared it in such a way that it reduced the froth and the consistency was more like that of honey than of a liquid. It is said that he consumed this beverage while with his harem which led others to believe that it was an aphrodisiac. When Cortez returned to the Royal Court of King Charles in 1528 he brought this chocolate back from Mexico with him.
King Charles had Monks, who were hidden away in Spanish Monasteries, process this chocolate while keeping it a secret for almost a hundred years. This was a very profitable industry in Spain which then planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies. But the secret didn't stay a secret for long. In 1606 an Italian traveler by the name of Antonio Carletti discovered the chocolate during a trip to Spain and took it with him to other parts of Europe as he continued his journeys over the next few years. Very quickly the news of chocolate had spread.
In the meantime, Spain was declining as a world power because of the secret of chocolate having leaked out. The Spanish Crown's monopoly on chocolate had come to an end. In just a few short years the knowledge of chocolate had spread to France, Italy, Germany, and England. As a passing item, when the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was to be married to Louis XIV of France in 1615, she gave him an engagement gift of chocolate, which she packaged in an elegantly ornate chest. Their marriage was a symbol of the marriage of chocolate in the Spanish-Franco culture.
After the initial spread of chocolate, the first chocolate house was opened in London in 1657 by a Frenchman. Back then, chocolate was very expensive, costing ten to fifteen shillings a pound. At the time only the very elite could afford it.
Cocoa itself was passed as money among the nations. For example, a rabbit sold for about ten cocoa nibs while you could get your own slave girl for about 100 of these nibs. During that period, chocolate was also used for medicinal purposes by many of the leading physicians. It is said to have been a cure for many diseases, though none of these claims have ever been proven by modern science.
As chocolate became more common, the price began to drop from the $3 per pound that it had climbed to, to a more affordable price for the common everyday folk. This was around the year 1730. By 1828, with the invention of the cocoa press, prices were further cut and the quality of the chocolate had been improved by squeezing out the cocoa butter and giving the beverage a smoother consistency.
In our next article in this series we'll continue with chocolate improvements during the industrial revolution. .
By: Michael Russell