The European Beginnings of Cacao & Chocolate

Most people are unaware where the chocolate they eat everyday comes from or where chocolate began in the first place. When asked where the finest chocolate comes from in the world, several point to Europe’s diverse sets of chocolatiers, but chocolate was not always a European cuisine. Chocolate finds its humble beginnings with the cacao tree in Central and South America. It was here where the idea of chocolate began and it was here where the Europeans discovered the irresistible delicacy they now know as chocolate, though today, Europe’s chocolate is vastly different from its original beginnings in Mesoamerica.

conquest
A painting depicting Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World with his crew.

Introduction of Cacao to Europe

Christopher Columbus was the reason Europeans first set eyes on cacao beans when he found them in Guanaja (Honduras) in 1502 (Coe 107). Little did he know that these beans were the “New World’s most esteemed beverage” because at first early conquistadors were baffled and repelled by cacao as a drink (Coe 109). Columbus also threw away the first beans he found, not knowing how valued they were to the natives. (Coe 109). The way Mesoamericans prepared and delighted in their cacao beverages would be transformed to adhere to European tastes in Europe.  Several year later, chocolate beverages became an elite drink during the Baroque Age of Europe. Chocolate beverages found there way into Baroque palaces and mansions consumed by Europe’s elite and powerful (Coe 125). Chocolate was a new and exciting cuisine that Europeans began to become very accustomed to even though they had debates on several aspects of it, such as whether it was a beverage or a food. This new treat in Europe quickly spread and became a stable for many in their meals.

 

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A painting of an early European chocolate house. Chocolate houses were social clubs for the elite to socialize while enjoying their chocolate beverages.

By the mid-1600s, chocolate houses had begun to sprout in Europe (Wheatherford). These places were quite more expensive than coffee houses, so they became the social clubs for the elites of Europe (Wheaterford). Chocolate drinks were being made by grinding the whole bean and then adding sugar and hot water (Wheaterford). This preparation was close to the Aztec recipe and therefore a little too rich for European tastes (Wheaterford). In 1828, the Dutch developed a press to force out the fat of cacao which produced the cacao powder that Europeans would add milk to in order to create a chocolate beverage more to their liking (Wheaterford). From here Europeans had added their own unique ingredients to cacao production and formed a beverage more accustomed to their taste buds and they had discovered the cacao butter byproduct that would lead to the production of chocolate bars.

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Today’s use of cacao beans is nothing like its beginnings in Mesoamerica.

Concluding Thoughts

What began in Mesoamerica as a cold beverage for the elites, cacao beans were then brought to Europe to be adapted to European palates and transformed into their own unique recipes and own forms of the delicacy. The arguments for who in Europe started the chocolate and cacao storm are numerous and varied, but what is known for sure is that chocolate and cacao swept through Europe fast as an exciting new beverage and later solid food (Wheaterford). What began as a tree in Central America, cacao became one of the biggest delights in Europe and still maintains this reputation today.

Sources

*Pictures from Media Library in WordPress

 

 

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

Weatherford, Jack. “All about Chocolate — History.” All about Chocolate — History. N.p., n.d. Web.

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