For millennia chocolate has been a beloved commodity either as a beverage, a candy, an expression of love and even as a form of currency. The word "chocolate" derives from the Mayan "xocoatl" and the word cocoa from the Aztec "cacahuatl." The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms "choco" (foam) and "atl" (water).
The origin of cocoa beans from whence chocolate comes, is the tree Cacao theobroma, a native of tropical America. Most of the modern world's supply of cocoa beans comes from West Africa. The Aztec people called it the "food of the Gods" and emperor Montezuma is reported to have drunk as many as 50 cups of hot chocolate a day. His was not the sweet version of today, but a thick, dark red elixir flavored with chili peppers. When Hernando Cortez pillaged the Aztec people and their culture, he took back to Spain not only their gold, but chocolate as well. There, the drink was altered and sweetened with sugar and spices. Chocolate's reputation spread throughout Europe and a new source of wealth was created for the Spanish empire. It was in the 1800's that chocolate "came of age" through the reduction of excise duties, improvements in transportation facilities and manufacturing methods which allowed people to eat it instead of just drink it.
From bitter bean to sweet delight.
Workers cut the fruit (or pods) of the cacao tree open and scoop out the beans. These beans are allowed to ferment and then dry, then they are cleaned, roasted and hulled. The hulled beans or nibs, are blended much like coffee beans, to produce different colors and flavors. Next they are ground up and the cocoa butter is separated out. A mixture of cocoa butter and finely ground nibs forms a free-flowing substance known as "chocolate liquor" (nonalcoholic, by the way). From there different varieties of chocolate are produced as described below. Raw unprocessed chocolate is gritty, grainy and really not suitable for