A little history

Chocolate was discovered by the Spanish in 1519 when Hernán Cortés, upon landing in Mexico, was offered the favourite local drink as a welcome present: 'Tchocoatl'.

Chocolate was consumed by the Aztecs as a traditional spicy beverage, produced using grated cocoa paste mixed with water, flavoured with vanilla and various other spices, and thickened with cornflour.

Cocoa was already being grown by the Olmec and the Maya who used the beans for bartering as well for paying taxes! The Spanish had the idea to mix the cocoa with cane sugar, which they were cultivating at a rapid pace in the tropical regions of Central and South America and in the Caribbean.

The first cocoa beans were brought back to Spain when Hernán Cortés returned to the Iberian Peninsula in 1528, but regular deliveries from Mexico only started landing in Seville at the end of the 16th century, and it was only at the start of the 17th century that chocolate emerged as an 'obsessive passion' of Spanish daily life.

Spain jealously guarded its monopoly on the importation of cocoa to Europe and its chocolate production secrets. But from the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch, followed by the English and the French, also began to import cocoa beans.

In all likelihood, it was the marriage of the infante Anne of Austria, daughter of Philippe III of Spain, to Louis XIII in 1615 which contributed to the introduction of chocolate to the French Court. But consumption in France only really began to spread after the marriage of Marie-Thérèse and Louis XIV in 1660. The first cocoa processing works were established during the 17th century in Bayonne and several towns in South-West France by members of the Jewish Marrano community, who had been chased out of Spain and Portugal.

While in Spain cocoa was consumed by ordinary working people, in France it was for a long time used exclusively by the Court and the aristocracy. This is perhaps the reason why French chocolate has remained a refined product with a high cocoa content, which justifies its price but also its high quality.

It was only at the start of the 19th century, with the development of manufacturing techniques and in particular the fall in the price of sugar, that the industrial production of chocolate was able to significantly expand, with its rich taste and properties making for a highly popular treat and drink.

It was also in this period that the cocoa tree was introduced to Africa by the Portuguese and to South-East Asia by the Dutch.