Chocolate has many common uses. Although most people associate the word “chocolate” with something sweet, it has not always been synonymous with indulgence associated with feeling good, a treat for guests in the hospitality industry, or a gesture of love. Despite what most people think, chocolate has long been tied to drinking, rather than eating.
Modern historians estimate chocolate to have been in existence for about 2000 years, but additional research indicates it may have been even longer. Starting in pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica, chocolate, or “cocoa” residue was found on pottery in the Honduras dating as far back as 1400 B.C.E. Interestingly enough, cocoa beans were used as a form of currency in pre-modern Latin America. According to a 16th-century Aztec document, one bean was traded for a tamale, while 100 beans purchased a good turkey hen.
In the 1500’s, Columbus discovered cocoa beans being used as currency, and as a drink. In 1519, Hernan Cortez converted the beans to a spicy beverage, and started a new trend. In 1528, cocoa beans were presented to King Charles V in Europe, along with the techniques to make chocolate. In 1643, the French Court embraced cocoa beans, and King Louis XIV said it inspired erotic pleasure, which created the chocolate craze we know today.
In 1828, the cocoa press was created, and in 1830, making chocolate into a confection was developed by J.S. Fry and Sons. 1847 saw the creation of smooth and creamy chocolate, and the company we know as Cadbury started a chocolate exhibition in 1849.
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Considered the “drink of the Gods,” it was hardly as accessible as it is today. Due to geography, colonization, the ability to replicate it, purpose and audience, chocolate has evolved into an everyday staple. There are, however, different types of chocolate that are still considered luxurious and have the price tag to accompany it.
Imagine this - there used to be a time when anyone outside a certain social class consumed chocolate, they were executed on the spot. Chocolate was highly valued and accepted as a form of payment. As time went on, chocolate became a local drink that was too bitter for the taste buds of foreigners. Chocolate was changed by trying different preparation techniques, adding flavorings, and providing a finer grind that helped create the taste we know and love today.
New flavors have been created, with different variations of how to serve it. When chocolate came to England, it became popular. Adding certain amounts of sugar changed the flavor again, prompting people to meet in social spaces like coffee houses and the like. As it gained in popularity, it lost its status, but is now a beverage and confection that everyone can afford.
Although chocolate is a confection that is popular among the masses, there are many people who still see chocolate as an item associated with luxury. For hospitality managers, it can be used as an object of branding and contribute to its reputation like the famous Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. Depending on how exclusive the hotel is, having chocolates available in the room can also be standard protocol.
Article inspired by A Brief History of Chocolate published by smithsonianmag.com