The discovery of the Americas opened up the delectable secrets of the Cocoa tree. Christopher Columbus, the first European in 1502, failed to realize its value as a form of local currency and taxation by the powerful Aztecs. It was Hernando Cortez who noted the social and religious importance of chocolate in 1521.
A frothy brew of ground cocoa seeds and local seasonings, Montezuma, the Aztec emperor was observed to drink 50 cups per day. Unimpressed by the taste Cortez, however, appreciated it for building up strength and fighting fatigue, returning to Spain with chests full of the cocoa bean treasure.
The Spaniards then created a delicacy afforded only by the nobility by adding sugar and cinnamon to the brew and then heating it. Keeping cocoa secret, Spain established her plantations but chocolate’s sweet reputation wafted across Europe. By 1707 chocolate was being enjoyed by the wealthy in Londons trendy chocolate houses.
Coinciding with colonialism, the French, English and Dutch challenged Spain and planted cocoa in their Caribbean colonies and elsewhere. Cocoa is now cultivated in the equatorial regions with West Africa the leading producer.
The breakthrough invention of the van Houten press in 1828 provided for the extra cocoa butter, required for smooth shiny chocolate, and created a cake that could be crushed into cocoa powder. Significantly, chocolate and sugar re-mixed with cocoa butter as the key ingredient now made “eating chocolate” possible.
Plain dark chocolate, somewhat inedible by present standards, was produced to decades later.
The first milk chocolate bar was produced with powdered milk by Daniel Peters in 1875. Building upon a process invented by Rudolph Lindt called “conching” which greatly improved the quality of chocolate by making it easier to blend, Peters started producing select chocolate of taste and texture in 1897 by using condensed milk.
These late 19th Century inventions established Swiss fame and reputation and whereby the process of making fine chocolate has remained unchanged.