Just like Mesoamerica itself, the cacao bean and its products were unknown to the European continent. This would all change following one of Christopher Columbus’ subsequent voyages to Europe. Columbus’ crew upon receiving the cacao beans believed them to be almonds, and were somewhat bewildered to the value in which was placed on them. Ferdinand Columbus mused “…I observed that if any of these almonds fell, they stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen”. As the crew were without translator they were unable to understand the why such value was placed upon the “almonds” or what they even were.
Much of this would change as time went on, with the Spanish explorers taking notice of the value which the Mesoamericans placed upon the beans, they however unable to appreciate the product in the same way. Unlike modern day chocolate which is highly processed and loaded with various additives and sweetness to make it’s taste palatable, 16th century chocolate was very bitter and foreign to the European tongue. Benzoni harshly referred to it as a “drink for pigs”.
The first major appearance of chocolate in Europe is believed to be in 1544 when a group of Dominican nobles took a delegation of Mayans (Kechi Maya) to meet the then Prince Phillip of Spain. Upon meeting him they would serve him his first taste of chocolate. This began the so called chocolate craze around the country which would not spread to the rest of the country for about a hundred years. They preferred to consume their chocolate warmed up as opposed to the “Indian” method of having it cold. This was believed to have been done because the cold chocolate was said to result in stomach aches. Also chocolate cold was more appropriate for the climate in the Americas than in Europe. As the desire for chocolate proliferated more and more slaves were acquired in order to work on the plantations in the New World .
The introduction of chocolate into Italy is even more unclear than Spain. The most accepted theory is that Francesco d’Antonio Caretti a businessman from Florence encountered chocolate in Spain to returned with it to Italy, from where it would eventually expand towards the rest of Europe. In France under the reign of Louis XVI chocolate was seen as a luxury item with it being served to guest at the palace. It was around that period that the first chocolatière were reported to appear (Although similar apparatus had previously been present in Mexico). The luxurious appearance of this pot enhanced the reputation of chocolate as a object of luxury and privilege, giving it similar status to what it was regarded with in the Americas.
Strasbourg Chocolatière (source)
- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. N. pag. Print.
- “A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE. N.p., n.d. Web