The cocoa tree is a specices native to the rainforests of central and South america. Since ancient times, civilizations in central america have used cocoa beans to make drinks.

It is believed that the Olmec civilizations was the first to grow cocoa trees, between 1000 BC and 250 BC.

The Mayan civilization took over the cultivation and use of cocoa beans. Cocoa beans or products were used in official ceremonies and religious rituals, at celebrations and festivals, as funeral offerings, as tributes and for medicinal purposes.


Vase asortate, utilizate la prepararea și consumul produselor din cacao, cu reziduuri de teobromină ce confirmă utilizarea continuă a boabelor de cacao, la San Lorenzo, între 1800 și 1000 î.e.n

Assorted vessels, used in the preparation and consumption of cocoa products, with residues of theobromine confirming the continued use of cocoa beans,
at San Lorenzo, between 1800 and 1000 BC
Source: Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec by Powis, Cyphers,, 2011 –

Mayan Civilization

They maked a simple drink from cocoa beans. They were dried, lightly roasted and then ground. Local spices were also added, usually varieties of peppers(chili), aromatic flowers or vanilla pods. The resulting paste was mixed with water and the liquid poured from one dish to another until it became frothy. Often, corn flour was added to make a more consistent drink.


Woman making chocolate, pouring from one dish to another.

The Mayans were the first to create a symbol for the word cocoa in their writing system.

The graphic writing marks of ancient Mayan culture were used to transmit individual syllabes. The Mayan word, ancient and modern, for chocolate is Ka-ka-W[a], or in translation Cocoa. 

The symbol for the sound”Ka” is a figurative one: “Ka” is the name of a small fish native to Guatemala. The sound of “Ka” was represented by a graphic symbol in the form of a fish. The symbol for the sound ” Wa”is a more abstract one.

Therefore, to indicate the word ka-ka-wa, the sign for the fish”Ka” was used, two points were added in front of the fisht(or on its head) to tell readers to repeat the syllable “Ka”and the sign for the sound “wa” was added, either under the fish or behind the fish.

Source: Lecture: Understanding the History of Chocolate

Source of the image:

Aztec Civilization

The Aztecs believed that the cocoa tree was given to them by the god Quetzacoatl, who also taught them the method of processing. The drink made from cocoa beans became a sacred drink, consumed only by the Aztec elite and soldiers, to energize them during the fighting.

Cocoa beans were used as a means of payment. Ten beans were the price to buy a turkey or a rabbit.


Aztec man with a cocoa pod. Volcanic rock statuette with traces of red pigment, 1440-1521. From the Brooklyn Museum collection.

First contact with chocolate

In 1502, during his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus was the first European to come into contact with cocoa beans, but did not pay much attention to the drink prepared from them, due to its bitter and spicy taste.

In 1519, Hernan Cortes was welcomed to the court of King Montezuma, where he was served the local drink created from cocoa beans.

It is assumed that in 1528, Cortes brought to Europe the first cocoa beans and ustensils needed to prepare the drink. But those who adopted the habit of drinking cocoa were the Spanish colonists.

Over time, Spanish settlers made changes to the recipe for preparations of the drink from cocoa beans:

  • added sugar to the composition,
  • replaced the native spices with some that were more familiar to them, such as cinnamon, anise and pepper,
  • for foaming, they used a cane with a rosette-shaped head, called molinillo,
  • serveau băutura fierbinte

Image: Molinillo -Chocolate preparation utensil.

First Document

The first documentary attestation of the cocoa drink in Spain is the description of a delegation of Dominican monks, led by Bartolomé de las Casas, who arrived 1544 on the iberian Peninsula to visit Prince Phillip of Spain. It is noted that this delegation brought in liquidambar, maize and cocoa. It also refers to the serving of the cocoa drink, which is the first documented case in Spain.

The cocoa drink was appreciated for its medicinal effect, being refreshing and nutritious and, unlike other medecines, having a great taste. Thus, the first to prepare this drink wor wide consumptions were pharmacists.

The Spanish word, which refers to the drink prepared from cocoa beans, “chocolate”, is used for the first time in the opera”History Natural”, published in 1590 by José de Acosta.

Etymologicaly there is no clear correspondance with the native languages of Central America. It is assumed that tha Spanish term may come from the Aztec word “xocolatl”(which means “bitter drink”) or possibly from the word “chiclattl”(which means ” beaten drink”, citing the habit of foaming the drink).

1600s – 1700s

1606 – An italian traveller, Antonio Carletti, discovers chocolate in Spain and takes it to Italy. From there, it spreads to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

1615 – Spanish Princess Anna of Austria marries Louis XIII of France and introduces, among other Spanish customs, the consumption of chocolate at the French court.

1643 – During the reing of Louis XIV, guests of the French court were served chocolate in the morning at 10:00 while they were still in bed.

1659 – -David Chaliou of Toulouse obtains the first patent for the manufacture of chocolate from King Louis XIV. Chaliou opens, in 1666, the first chocolate shop in Paris.

cană specială de preparare a ciocolatei

It is believed that the French were the ones who created a special cup for serving chocolate. Called the chocolatière, this tall ediarch had a strong handle, attached at a right angle to facilitate pouring and a hole in the lid for the beater, or molinillo, with which to foam the drink before serving.


Cocoa plantations spread during the 17th to 18th centuries as the English, Dutch and French import cocoa trees into the territories they colonize.

Geographical spread of the cocoa tree

  • 1660-70 Mexico -> Philippines
  • 1822 Brazil -> São Tomé and Príncipe
  • 1880-1 Tending -> United Kingdom -> Sri Lanka
  • 1883 Trinidad -> Great Britain -> Fiji
  • 1880s Central America -> São Tomé
  • 1899 Central America -> Cameroon
  • 19th century Indonesia -> Samoa

Source: The Genetic Diversity of Cacao, B.G.D. Bartley – 

World cocoa production, 2016/17

  • 43% Ivory Coast
  • 20% Ghana
  • 6% Ecuador
  • 6% Indonesia
  • 5% Cameroun
  • 5% Nigeria
  • 4% Brazil
  • 1% Papua New Guinea
  • 10% Other countries

Source: ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLV, No.3, Cocoa year 2018/19 – 

Harta răspândirii arborelui de cacao
Map of the spread of the cocoa tree

1674- At a famous café in London, called “At the Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll”, “Spanish-style” chocolate is served.

1697- Heinrich Escher, mayor of Zurich, visits Brussels where he drinks chocolate and returns to his hometown with the desire to perpetuate the consumption of the new drink.


Girl with chocolate. Painting, Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744-1745)

1720 – Cafes in Florence and Venice offer chocolate whose reputation crosses the country’s borders. Italian chocolate farmers are welcome guest in France, Germany and Switzerland.

1728 – The Fry family established the first chocolate factory in the UK, in Bristol, using hydraulic machinery and equipment for processing and grinding of cocoa beans.


1737 – The cocoa tree is given the botanical name “Theobroma Cacao” in Latin by Carl Linnaeus. This name, which will become the official one, literally translates as “cacao, the food of the gods”.

1765 – Dr.James Baker build the first chocolate factory in Massachusetts,USA.

O doamnă care toarnă ciocolată. Pictură, Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744)
A lady who pours chocolate. Painting, Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744)


portret Coeraand Johannes van Houten
Tekening van Coenraad Johannes van Houten

1828 – Dutch Coenraad Van Houten inventes the cocoa press. This press removes about halof of the natural fat(cacao butter) from the cocoa liqueur, which makes chocolate cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This separates the two main ingredients: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Van Houten also adds alkalines salts to cocoa to reduce its acidity and bitter taste. The cocoa powder obtained is diluted much more easily in liquids.

1841 – Rssian chemis Aleksandr Voskranskyd identifies theobromine in cocoa beans.

Theobromine is the main alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate, with the chemical formula C7H8N4O2. It has an energizing effect, similar to caffeine. Cocoa powder can contain between 2-10% theobromine.

Portret alb-negru Rodolphe Lindt
Rodolphe Lindt
Portret alb-negru Daniel Peter
Daniel Peter
Portret alb-negru Henri Nestle
Henri Nestle

1847 – Joseph Fry combines the dry cocoa powder with the sugar and then adds some of the cocoa butter extracted and thus creates a chocolate tablet that is solid at room temperature, with a smooth consistency, and melts in the mouth.

1875 – Swiss Daniel Peter creates the first milk chocolate by adding the milk power developed by Henri Nestlé to the chocolate

1879 – The Swiss Rodolphe Lindt inventes the process of consing, by which chocolate kneads for hours, resulting in a fine, creamy consistency and a rich taste of chocolate.

1912 – Belgian Jean Neuhaus, founder of the famous Neuhaus brand, invents a small chocolate shell, which he fills with various creams, nut pastes, etc. In short, invent praline

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