When Spanish conquistadors first arrived in South America they encountered the Aztecs, who had been drinking a beverage made out of water, cocoa powder and spices for decades. This is how the history of modern chocolate began.
The use the Aztecs made of cocoa was thousands of years old: first evidence of domesticated cocoa trees dates back to the 4th millennium B.C.E. and was found in Ecuador. The first people who cultivated cocoa in the Yucatán peninsula were the Mayans, who also invented the beverage described above. The Aztecs learnt how to cultivate cocoa and make the beverage by the Mayans and went on doing both, even after the downfall of the Mayan civilization. When the Spanish arrived they learnt these things from the Aztecs and, during the next few centuries, cocoa spread all throughout Europe.
Of course, being produced across the Atlantic made it really precious and expensive, so, in that first period, it was a fancy drink for aristocracy and rich people. Also, by that time, it wasn’t even the drink the Aztecs used to have: by adding some sugar instead of spices and heating the drink Europeans invented the first hot chocolate. Moving on to the 19th century, it was the work of four Swiss men that made the chocolate what we know today. Those men were Daniel Peter and François-Louis Cailler, who in 1867 invented milk chocolate and the first chocolate bar; Henri Nestlé, who discovered how to make condensed milk, which helped the production and conservation of milk chocolate; and, last but not least, Rudolph Lindt, who invented the conching process to make chocolate as homogeneous as possible, and also invented dark chocolate.
Nowadays the process of making chocolate is complex and requires a lot of stages. First of all, the main ingredient, cocoa, is produced in the tropical areas of South America and Africa: there it’s cultivated, harvested, fermented and, finally, dried; afterwards it’s collected and sent to the chocolate producers. Here it’s roasted and shredded and then separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. These are mixed in various percentages with sugar to make different types of chocolate; not so for white chocolate, in which there’s no cocoa powder. Chocolate is then subjected to the conching process, tempered to give it the right consistency and molded into bars; it’s afterwards packed and sent to sellers.
Chocolate is appreciated all around the world, mostly because it’s delicious, but also because of its energizing and organoleptic properties: it’s good for the mood and it has aphrodisiac effects, like Casanova claimed, and dark chocolate seems to be good for the heart, reducing blood pressure.
From Mayans to these days chocolate has become a worldwide delicacy and is loved by billions of people and it seems it’s one of those inventions that don’t need any more improvement.