The Story of Chocolate



Quetzalcoatl God of ChocolateThe etymology of the word “Chocolate” may remain uncertain and open debate even today, but there can be no doubt that at the origins of the drink lies the Aztec civilization. 

The god Quetzalcoatl, gardener of paradise, was venerated as guardian of the cocoa tree, purveyor of both strength and wealth. The seeds or beans, were used as a form of currency. It was the scene of monkeys and squirrels sucking the refreshing pulp surrounding the beans that first gave men the idea of tasting it. Who was it who first had the notion of roasting and crushing them into a paste? Nobody knows.

But in the course of time, the sophisticated Aztec civilization discovered how to flavor cocoa paste with spices in order to make a nourishing and invigorating drink, as useful to the poor, to supplement their staple diet of maize broth, as to the king, Moctezuma II, a source of gastronomic pleasure.

Cocoa Pods on Cocoa Tree

When, in 1502, Christopher Columbus was presented with some cocoa beans by an Indian chief, he failed to realize the value of this gift, as he had only visited the coastal zone of this land of ‘New Spain’ and was not familiar with its customs. Not until the conquest of Central America by Hernàn Cortès and his men was the significance of cocoa bean to be understood and the drink of chocolate to be discovered. Having set out in search of Eldorado, the conquistador were somewhat disconcerted by this “brown gold” they had discovered. Deeply septic at first of the highly spiced drink with its greasy texture and bitter taste, as their reserves of wine ran out they found themselves becoming accustomed to it. Sweetened with cane sugar, and fortified by its restorative properties and its reputation as an aphrodisiac, the chocolate drink invaded their daily lives. 

The Spanish become passionate devotees of the new beverage, which promptly gave rise to interminable disputations between different factions within the church on the vexed question of whether or not liquid chocolate broke the fast: The beverage had become particularly popular in ecclesiastic circles, notably on days when the eating of meat was forbidden. 


Hernan CortesCortès had brought the first cocoa beans to Charles V in 1528. Yet it was not until 1580 that the Conquistadors, who up to that point had zealously hoarded this treasure for themselves, were obliged to resign themselves to send cargoes of beans to Spain. Chocolate now began to be manufactured on the Iberian Peninsula, and before long, commercial exchanges. The curiosity of travelers and royal marriages had combined to ensure the spread of hot chocolate, the drink of aristocrats, throughout Europe.
The Low Countries and the trading ports of Flanders discovered the beverage in the late sixteenth century, though they remained in ignorance of the recipe, which was jealously guarded by the Spanish. Only in 1606 was it brought out of Spain, by the Florentine merchant Antonio Carletti, whereupon it was swiftly adopted as a restorative by Italian doctors. The arrival of chocolate in France was for many years attributed to Jewish chocolate makers who, first hounded out Spain and then Portugal, settled in Bayonne in 1609. The official introduction to Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, who married Louis XIII in 1615. 

The vogue of chocolate continued at Versailles under Louis XIV and gained in strength  under Louis XV. The last country in Europe to discover chocolate was Switzerland, were it was introduced by Italian merchants in 1750. But another 150 years were to pass and many new techniques and inventions to be perfected before chocolate was to accomplish its universal, popular conquest of Europe.


In  the eighteenth century, chocolate factories were to remain small scale, unmechanized cottage industries for two centuries. Early in nineteenth century advances in the harnessing of hydraulic energy and the use of steam-driven machinery opened the way for the production of chocolate in large quantities and at low cost, and encouraged the development of veritable specialist industries. 

The general rise in living standards across Europe together combined to ensure the democratization of chocolate. In France, Menier and Poulain were the pioneers of this growing industry, destined to make chocolate available to all. In Holland in 1825, Coenraad Van Houten develop a process for making cocoa powder by extracting cocoa butter. In Switzerland , 1875, Daniel Peter became the first to produce milk chocolate. In Italy, Caffarel created the recipe for the hazelnut and almond chocolate know as the Gianduja. In Belgium, Jean Neuhaus invented first the praline chocolate and then the cardboard Ballotin, now the traditional packaging for numerous chocolate assortments. And finally, again in Switzerland, Philippe Suchard earned worldwide fame largely through the success of his celebrated milk chocolate bar, Milka.

II: The Three Giants



THE CRIOLLO (Creole in Spanish) is the original cacao tree of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, delicate and hence rare: it accounts for less than 5% of world production. Highly perfumed, subtle and aromatic nut flavour, it varies greatly in different regions of production. The most famous Crus include Chuao, Puerto  Cabello and Porcelana from Venezuela, Sambirano from Madagascar and the Indonesian Criollo. They are seldom use pure, and even in small quantities will enhance the quality of a mixed blend.

THE FORASTERO (Foreigner in Spanish) originates from the high Amazon. Dubbed the robusta of cocoa because of its toughness and its high level in tannin, this is the predominant variety in Africa and throughout the world (85%). Although African varieties are fairly ordinary, and are used  essentially in industrial manufacture or as the basic of blends, there are also more distinguished crus, such as Arriba or Nacional from Ecuador and Trinidad, and Maragnan from Brazil and Venezuela.

THE TRINITARIO, lastly, is a hybrid of Criollo, from which it takes its elegant aroma, and the Forastero,  from which its derives its robust constitution. First cultivated in Trinidad, it is now also cultivated in Latin America, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and accounts for between 10 and 15% of world production. The finest Crus come from Trinidad (Santa Vera) and Java, and its lingering fruity  flavour has earned it the nick name ‘The Medoc of Cocoa”. Research is continuing to develop new high-quality hybrids on robust stock.



Chocolate Map
(source: & the International Cocoa Organization)


In 1900, world production of 105,000 tons was divided between Latin America (80%) led by Ecuador, Africa (15%) and Asia (5%). Today it has reached a figure 2,700,000 tons, and its geographical distribution has been reversed in favour of Africa (65% in 1996), followed by Latin America (18%) and Asia and Oceania (17%). Forecasts predicted that Latin America would drop to the third place in 1997.

The biggest world producer by far is the Ivory Coast (40%) followed by Ghana (13%) and Indonesia (11%)




After harvesting, the fruit of cacao tree is split open and the seeds, or beans, and the surrounding pulp are removed. The pulp and beans heaped in conical-shaped piles and covered with banana leaves , or put in wooden boxes holding 40 and 100 kg. Natural yeast in the air cause spontaneous fermentation of the whitish pulp, which in 2 days reaches a temperature of 45-50°C. This first fermentation is anaerobic, or oxygen–free, and the product is therefore alcoholic. Then the beans are turned regularly to produce an acetic or aerobic, fermentation. With this external transformation the enzymes react with the proteins to produce the beginning of aromas, also certain polyphenols begin to give the characteristic brown color of cocoa. The process take 3 days for Criollo beans and a week for other varieties.

After fermentation, the beans still contain 60% humidity, which must be reduce to 8% or less in order to ensure optimum conservation during storage and transportation. Natural drying process consist to spread out in the sun cocoa beans on the ground or wooden boards. This long and gradual drying process, which may last up to four night. Artificial drying at 100°C may be used as a complement or a substitute. In this, the beans are placed on a heated surface or dried by hot air. Care must be taken not to let the beans come into contact with the combustion gases, which would give them an unpleasant smoky flavor. 

Thorough drying avoids the formation of moulds, which would spoil the cocoa butter, and prevents over-fermentation. The dried beans are then checked and stored, put in sacks and stored to await export or processing.


Coming after the initial treatment of the beans in the producer countries and before the fabrication of chocolate or chocolate truffles, the process of making cocoa paste involves cracking and winnowing, roasting, grinding, refining, conching and blending.

Cocoa paste is produced by cocoa beans by means of a series of mechanical processes. After cleaning to remove any impurities, the beans are dried by a technique using infra-red light which facilates the removal of the shells and the elimination of undesirable bacteria. The cooled beans are coarsely crushed and the rough pieces, called ‘Nibs’, are roasted. The purpose of this essential process being to develop the aromas formed during fermentation, to eliminate the last volatile acids, to lower the water content from 8% to 2% and to reduce the level of bacteria. There follows a milling process at 90°C, followed by refinement, to obtain a paste of fluid consistency, know as ‘Cocoa Paste’ or Mass or Liquor which still contains its original level of fat.

If cocoa powder or butter is desired, the paste is pressed in order to separate its oily content from the dry residue, known as ‘Cake’. Otherwise, it will continue the process of being turned into chocolate. The choice  and blending of various pastes, obtained from different varieties of beans, will determine the flavor and quality of the final chocolate. Forastero beans from Africa or Brazil frequently predominate, with varying proportions of the finer Criollo and Trinitario varieties. 

Making chocolate involves the mixing together  in a kneading machine of cocoa pastes, sugar, vanilla and, in the case of milk chocolate, milk powder. In order to obtain a smooth, granule-free mixture, the paste is then worked by multiple–roller refiners. This process reduce the cocoa and sugar particles to a size of less than thirty microns and ensures perfect blending of the dry and fatty components.

Conching process to reduce any acidness and bitterness in the paste and also removes some of its last traces of humidity. Dry conching, in which friction between the cocoa particles and the sugar  is used to maximum effect to smooth their sharp corners.

Wet conching during which the cocoa butter is added. Lastly, soya-derived lecithin, a natural emulsifier, may be added to render the mixture more liquid and homogeneous. During conching, the chocolate mass is kept at a temperature between 60 and 80°C, mixed and smoothed for many  hours. It is this which give chocolate its velvety-smooth texture, mellow and melting in the mouth.

Tempering, in which the stable crystals of the cocoa butter are selected in order to obtain a homogeneous, glossy appearance and an even, non granular texture, and to ensure good keeping qualities for the finished product.

After tempering, the chocolate is poured into metallic moulds which are passed over vibrating tables in order to ensure that the paste is evenly spread and contains no air bubbles. The moulds then pass through cooling tunnels. The chocolate contracts as it crystallizes, finally slipping easily out of the moulds in bar form. Now it is ready for wrapping and selling.


Milk and Dark Chocolate Tempering Graph


Before coating, molding and decoration the chocolate has to be tempered. This mean it has to be at a specific temperature to get a smooth and shiny looking when set.

Melting: Melt the amount of chocolate required in microwave, double boiler, but never over a direct flame. Respect the higher temperature for each kind of chocolate (Dark 113°F, Milk and  White105°F)

Tempering: Pour 2./3 of the chocolate on a clean and dry marble table. Stir with a spatula  or a scraper to reduce the temperature to 79°F. When chocolate start to get thicker, return to bowl with remaining 1/3 warm chocolate. Stir to bring temperature to 84°F in order to obtain good viscosity. Mix well. The couverture is tempered and ready to use.


Since July 1976 France passed a decree concerning the composition of chocolate. Luxury dark chocolate should contain at least 43% cocoa paste, over 26% of cocoa butter and less than 57% sugar, with the cocoa content given on the packaging. Milk chocolate should contain a total of 25% dry cocoa products, 16% dried milk products, 26% total fat and a maximum of 50% sugar.