Where did it all start?

Maya, Aztec or Olmec?

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Aztecs had an advanced and powerful civilization located in what is now central Mexico. Many people believe that the Aztecs first developed chocolate, however, chocolate goes back much farther. The ancient Maya, who inhabited what is now parts of southern Mexico and Central America, certainly consumed chocolate. In fact, the word "cacao" is Mayan: as early as 500 A.D., the Mayans were writing about cacao on their pottery. Some think chocolate may be even older, dating back to the Olmec civilization that preceded the Maya.

Soon chocolate made its way across the Atlantic -- first to Spain, and then to the rest of Europe. The first official shipment was made in 1585 from Veracruz to Seville.While it is likely that Columbus brought the cacao beans he seized back to Europe, their potential value was initially overlooked by the Spanish King and his court. Twenty years later, however, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez is said to have brought back three chests full of cacao beans. This time the beans were recognized as one treasure among the many stolen from the conquered Aztecs.

The chocolate of the Mesoamerican civilizations was consumed as a bitter-tasting drink made of ground cacao beans mixed with a variety of local ingredients. An officer serving with Cortez observed Motecuhzoma, the ruler of the Aztecs, drinking fifty flagons of chocolate a day. The frothy beverage, which was sometimes made with water, and sometimes with wine, could be seasoned with vanilla, pimiento, and chili pepper. It was thought to cure diarrhea and dysentery, and was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Cortez is said to have tried the beverage, but found it too bitter. He did, however, write to King Carlos I of Spain, calling "xocoatl" a "drink that builds up resistance and fights fatigue."

"Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant to taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women, that are accustomed to the country, are very greedy of this Chocolaté. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that 'chili'; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh."

When the Spanish first brought chocolate back to Europe, it was still being served as a beverage, but soon went through an important evolution: the chili pepper was replaced by sugar. The new, sweetened, chocolate beverage was a luxury few could afford, but by the 17th century the drink was common among European nobility. In England, which was somewhat more egalitarian than the rest of Europe, chocolate was more widely available. Those who could afford it could enjoy chocolate drinks in the new coffee and chocolate houses of London.

chili hot chocolate