History of cocoa and chocolate

From cocoa to chocolate : from discovery to tasting

If chocolate exists since the origins of human civilisation in Central America, industrial manufacturing only commenced at the start of the 19th century and CEMOI’s creator was the pioneer in France. 

Chocolate originates from the tropical forests of Central America with documented use as far back as prehistoric times. The cocoa tree was looked upon as the tree of the gods (the latin name “Theobrama” meaning “Food of the Gods”) and was cultivated by the Mayas and Aztecs.

It was originally consumed as a beverage known as “xocolatl” (bitter water). The drink was made with cocoa beans that were grilled and then crushed on burning stones. The paste obtained was then heated and mixed with water, to which vanilla, pepper, cinnamon, chilli and corn flour were added. This drink was greatly appreciated for its nourishing and fortifying virtues. According to Aztec legend wisdom and power came to those who ate the fruit of the cocoa tree.

The first outside sighting was in 1502 when Christopher Colombus caught sight of the beans on board an Indian canoe. Unfortunately he paid little attention, thinking they were goat’s excrement !

Spain was the first European country to discover the worth of this “brown goldmine” when Hernan Cortes, brought some beans back to the Spanish Court in 1528, after having been offered the drink by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma in 1519.

The King of Spain is immediately seduced by this thick, syrupy and frothy drink.

Once Spain conquered the Indians and destroyed the Aztec civilisation, the King set about increasing cacao production in New Spain to create a more than lucrative commerce throughout Europe.

By the 17th century chocolate is a firm favourite amongst the Spanish aristocracy and clergy. Its popularity extends into other Spanish colonies such as Flanders and the Netherlands.

France discovers chocolate in 1615 with the Franco-Spanish union of Anne of Austria to Louis XIII in Bayonne (she agreed to the marriage upon condition that she could bring her chocolate drink and preparers with her).

It was Louis XIV and his wife Marie Therese of Austria who introduced chocolate to Versailles.

It was then drunk hot like coffee.

Only the King’s Court, nobles and rich families had access to this new drink. Production and sale of chocolate was a privilege accorded by the King only.

In 1693 this privilege came to an end and chocolate could at last be discovered and enjoyed throughout France.

Sweetened chocolate appears in Catalonia in the 17th century : In 1659, with the signing of the Pyrenees Treaty, formalising peace between Spain and France, the Roussillon is returned to France. Catalan chocolate commences its conquest of the world !

Over on the West coast Jews escaping Spain bring chocolate to Bayonne. The Catalan chocolate makers experience such success that very soon every large town possesses their own chocolate workshop, making it rapidly a North Catalan speciality.

The first factory in France is built by the chocolate maker Jules Pares, in 1814 in the Pyrenees-Orientales (origins of the CEMOI Group).

The 19th century marks the commencement of industrialisation in Europe making chocolate an accessible product for everyone.

Cocoa plantations start to develop throughout the world, notably in Sao Tome off the African coast and the chocolate industry develops in numerous countries thanks to several important inventions.

  • In 1776 the Frenchman Doret invents the 1st machine that mechanically grinds the cacao : a hydraulic process that completely revolutionised chocolate manufacture.
  • In 1828 the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten invents cacao solubilisation. This new process pressed the fat form the beans, reducing the cocoa butter content by nearly half. Once crushed and sieved the result was a cocoa powder, easier to work with and more cost effective in the production process.
  • In 1879 Rodolph Lindt patented the process that marks the creation of melted chocolate. The Conche was a mechanical agitator that improves the aromas of chocolate and removes the grittiness.

This process meant that chocolate rapidly developed from a drink to bars and other confections.

The first chocolate bar was created in 1847 by an English chocolate maker and milk chocolate was invented by the Swiss in 1875. The first chocolate bars appear on the market in the 1920s in America and the Netherlands.