History of Chocolate
Around the fourth century AD, the Maya had settled themselves in the region just South of present day Mexico. Close proximity to the Equator meant that conditions were perfect for the cultivation of the cacao tree. The Maya called the tree ’cacahuaquchtl’ which simply means ‘tree’ for as far as they were concerned there was no other tree worth naming. They also believed that the pods growing from the trunk of the cacao tree were a gift from the gods. In the eighteenth century, the Swedish botanist Linnaeus named the tree ’Theobroma Cacao’ which means drink of the gods.
The Maya were the creators of a bitter brew made from the cacao bean, a drink enjoyed mainly by royalty and the nobility and used in sacred rituals. The drink was eventually flavoured with spices such as chilli, and was poured from cup to cup to create a frothy effect.
Around 1200AD the Maya were conquered by the Aztecs and they imposed taxes that had to be paid with cocoa beans. Cocoa became a favoured drink of the emperor Montezuma and it was during this period that further spices were added such as vanilla and cinnamon.
With the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492, cocoa beans were brought back to Spain and the court of King Ferdinand where they were not really appreciated. However, in 1528 Cortez brought back the utensils used to prepare the cocoa drink. The Spanish followed the Aztec recipe but also added further spices as they still considered the drink to be too bitter. History does not record when sugar was first added, but it is believed to have been in France.
The popularity of the drink spread quickly throughout Europe and many countries began establishing their own plantations in countries as diverse as Java, the Philippines, Indonesia and others in South America. The Portugese and Belgians planted the first trees in West Africa.
In 1795 an Englishman named Dr. Joseph Fry became the first to produce chocolate in large quantities using a steam engine to grind the beans. Some thirty years later, a Dutch chocolate maker, C.J. Van Houten invented a machine to extract the cocoa butter which resulted in a more consistent and pleasant drink. Van Houten cocoa is still available to this day. During the following one hundred years or so the product has been further refined to the delightful, mouth-watering indulgence we all enjoy today!
Most true chocolate lovers have an understanding of how to appreciate the fine qualities of good chocolate and this can involve developing all of our senses.
Chocolate should display a glossy finish, have a uniform colour and be free of cracks and streaks. Also, a white powdery look indicates ’bloom’ which can mean that the product has been improperly stored or been exposed to heat or humidity.
Chocolate should be crisp and make a distinct snap when broken…if it splinters then it is too dry and if difficult to break it is too waxy both of which indicate poor manufacture.
Chocolate with high cocoa butter content should quickly start to melt when held in the hand which is a good sign. In the mouth it should feel extra smooth with no trace of graininess and should start to melt instantly.
Chocolate contains a myriad of flavours and aromas which should continue to develop in the mouth. The basic flavours are bitterness with a hint of acidity, sweetness and also a touch of saltiness which helps release the aromas of cocoa, pineapple, vanilla and cinnamon.
At Hunter Valley Chocolate we have an on-going passion for our product and indeed, for all good chocolate. We continually strive for perfection and to keep developing new and exciting ways to enjoy chocolate! It is indeed, in our opinion, ‘a gift of the gods’