The earliest record of chocolate consumption dates from the Classic period of the Ancient Maya of Mexico and Central America. The Maya and their ancestors made chocolate into a spicy drink (cacao paste mixed with chili peppers, vanilla and other ingredients) that they used in ceremonies.
The Aztec, between the 13th and 16th centuries, were among those who had to trade for cacao and often required that citizens and conquered peoples pay their tribute in cacao seeds—a form of Aztec money. Like the earlier Maya, the Aztecs also consumed their bitter chocolate drink seasoned with spices, and sometimes with honey (sugar was unavailable to them).
Columbus encountered a great Mayan trading boat carrying cocoa beans.
Europe’s first contact with chocolate came during the conquest of Mexico in 1521. The Spaniards recognized the value attached to cacao and observed the Aztec custom of drinking chocolate. Soon after, the Spanish began to ship cacao seeds back home. An expensive import, chocolate remained an elite beverage and a status symbol for Europe’s upper classes for the next 300 years.
When the Spanish brought cacao home, they doctored up the bitter brew with cinnamon and other spices and began sweetening it with sugar. They managed to keep their delicious drink a Spanish secret for almost 100 years before the rest of Europe discovered what they were missing. Sweetened chocolate soon became the latest and greatest fad to hit the continent.
The first chocolate house was opened in London.
Because cacao and sugar were expensive imports, only those with money could afford to drink chocolate and it was considered a beverage for the elite class. In fact, in France, chocolate was a state monopoly that could be consumed only by members of the royal court.
Like the Maya and the Aztecs, Europeans developed their own special protocol for the drinking of chocolate. They even designed elaborate porcelain and silver serving pieces and cups for chocolate that acted as symbols of wealth and power.
Cacao and sugar were labor-intensive agricultural products. To keep up with the demand for chocolate, Spain and many other European nations established colonial plantations for growing these plants.
A combination of wage laborers and enslaved peoples were used to create a plantation workforce.
The French artisan Debuisson invented a table to grind cocoa. It still needed manpower but it made the processing more efficient and the hard work a little more comfortable.
The cocoa tree got an official Latin botanical name from Linnaeus: Theobroma cacao. The name refers to the mythical background of the tree and means literally: “cocoa, food of the gods”.
Chocolate was introduced to the United States when Irish chocolate maker John Hanan and Dr. James Baker built the first chocolate mill in America in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
For centuries, chocolate had remained a handmade luxury sipped only by society’s upper crust. But by the 1800s, mass production made solid chocolate candy affordable to a much broader public.
The Industrial Revolution witnessed the development of an enormous number of new mechanical inventions and ushered in the era of the factory. The steam engine made it possible to grind cacao and produce large amounts of chocolate cheaply and quickly. Later inventions like the cocoa press and the conching machine made it possible to create smooth, creamy, solid chocolate for eating—not just liquid chocolate for drinking.
In France, Doret built the first machine that automatically ground cocoa beans.
Dr Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, employed a steam engine for grinding cocoa beans, which led to the manufacture of chocolate on a large factory scale.
Francois-Louis Cailler opens up the first Swiss chocolate factory.
Dutchman Conrad Van Houten patented a method for separating cocoa solids from cocoa butter.
This invention helped cut prices and improve the quality of chocolate. His alkalizing process became known as “Dutching”.
Joseph Fry & Son discovered a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the “Dutched” chocolate, added other ingredients to make a paste that could be molded – the result was the first chocolate bar for eating.
Introduction of the first mass marketed boxes of chocolates by the Cadbury brothers.
After eight years of experimenting, Daniel Peter of Switzerland developed the world’s first milk chocolate bar.
Rodolphe Lindt of Switzerland produced a more smooth and creamy chocolate that melted on the tongue. He invented a machine that churns the paste squeezed from cacao seeds into a smooth blend (conching), giving chocolate a new texture.
Candy maker Milton S. Hershey built a chocolate factory and started to produce milk chocolate using modern, mass-production techniques that made the product more affordable to all.
Jean Neuhaus invented a chocolate shell that he could fill with cream or nut pastes. The praline is now almost synonymous with Belgian chocolate. He also designed an appropriate package to hold his treasured chocolate praline gifts called a ballotin box. Throughout the world, chocolate made in Belgium is easily recognized for its rich taste and textures and delicate, yet complicated flavors.
Jules Sechaud of Montreux introduced a machine process for manufacturing filled chocolates.
Philippe and Huguette Dumas moved from Paris France to Napa, California bringing their recipes for world-class chocolate with them. More than two decades later, Le Belge’s decadent truffles and innovative packaging are found in the most exclusive resorts across the country. We use only the finest Belgian chocolate and premium ingredients.
Master Chocolatier, Chef Sebastien Beline joined Le Belge. With a long family heritage in chocolate making. Chef Beline’s handcrafted creations are inspired by classic French techniques and the latest innovative trends to create truly unique chocolates of unparallel quality.