The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica (now Central America and Mexico), where it’s believed the ancient Olmec civilisation first cultivated cacao beans, as early as 1750 BC. 

The Olmecs used the cacao plant for religious rituals and medicinal purposes, but the first evidence of cocoa as a drink comes from the Mayan people. Mayan chocolate was very different than the chocolate we know today. It was a liquid made from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, and water. (There was no sugar in Central America.) They poured the liquid from one cup to another until a frothy foam appeared on top. In fact, the word ‘chocolate’ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’

The Mayans called this bitter drink the “food of the gods.” Cocoa was so revered that images of cocoa pods were painted on the walls of stone temples and Mayan artifacts have been found that show kings and Mayan gods drinking chocolate. Cocoa was often consumed during religious ceremonies, and was used in marriage ceremonies for the upper classes. 

How to make Mayan chocolate (Xocolatl): 

1.  Remove beans from cocoa pods.

2. Ferment and dry them.

3. Roast them on a griddle until done.

4. Remove the shells and grind the seeds into a fine paste.

5. Mix paste with water, chili peppers, and cornmeal.

6. Pour the resulting concoction back and forth from pot to cup until frothy foam develops on top.

7. Serve with pride in finely decorated earthenware cups.

Cocoa was highly valued for its healing and medicinal properties, and the demand for the cocoa bean and the beverage that it produced brought about a huge network of trade routes throughout the region.

When the Aztecs conquered huge swathes of Mesoamerica, the Mayans were forced to pay taxes to the Aztecs. These taxes were called ‘tributes’, and were in the form of cocoa beans, as the Aztecs were unable to grow their own. 

According to legend, Quetzacoatl (ket za koh AH tul), the Aztec God of Vegetation, came to earth with a cocoa tree and taught the mortals how to cultivate cocoa and make a drink out of its beans. This made the other gods furious, and they threw him out of paradise for sharing the sacred drink with humans. 

Cacao beans became a prized form of currency, used for food, clothes, taxes, gifts and offerings. 

Cacao in Europe

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate came to Europe. Initially, chocolate was still a bitter drink, used mainly for medicinal purposes and with the spices added. Once the addition of sugar and honey was added, it became incredibly popular across Europe. In 1847, chocolate became mouldable, and the modern chocolate bar was born. 

From a bitter, spicy drink revered by ancient civilisations, to unique and wonderful flavour combinations enjoyed today, Godiva is proud to be part of chocolate’s rich and varied history. Explore our chocolates online and discover the delicious and unique Godiva taste.