How Chocolate Helped An Aztec King Make Peace With Conquistadors
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The story of chocolate begins with the Aztecs, an ancient civilization that flourished in what is now Mexico. When the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the New World in the 16th century, they encountered a strange and exotic drink that was revered by the Aztecs. The drink, known as xocolatl, was made from ground cocoa beans and was consumed as a symbol of wealth and status.

When Hernán Cortés and his army of conquistadors arrived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, they were greeted by the Aztec king, Montezuma. The Aztec king offered them xocolatl as a gesture of peace, hoping to form an alliance with the Spanish against the Aztecs' common enemies. However, the conquistadors were not impressed with the bitter drink and considered it to be unrefined. However, Cortés and his crew quickly changed their views on the beverage after realizing the energizing effects it had. Cortés himself said that "chocolate is the divine drink that builds up resistance and fights fatigue." A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food." 

The Aztecs also considered the bean a symbol of longevity and power, going so far as to use the bean as a form of currency. They also used cacao as an aphrodisiac and a celebratory drink that was served at parties. Cortés notes the ceremonial aspect of the drink: "From time to time, they served him [King Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao." It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.

Despite their initial misgivings, the conquistadors soon developed a taste for xocolatl and took the drink back to Spain with them. They added sugar to the drink to make it more palatable, and chocolate quickly became a popular drink among the Spanish nobility. As the popularity of chocolate grew, the Spanish began to cultivate cocoa trees in their colonies in the New World, and chocolate production became a major industry.

Over time, chocolate has become one of the most beloved and ubiquitous treats in the world. Today, chocolate is consumed in a variety of forms, from simple bars to complex confections. The Aztecs' gift of xocolatl has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry, making chocolate one of the most popular and addictive foods on the planet.

The tale of chocolate and the Aztec-Conquistador encounter is a story of cultural exchange and adaptation. The conquistadors brought sugar to the New World and transformed the bitter xocolatl into the sweet chocolate we know and love today. In a way, chocolate is a symbol of the global interconnectedness of our world and the power of cultural exchange to shape our tastes and habits.

Cacao beans were first brought back to Spain by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to the Americas. However, despite the initial excitement, the beans had little impact on Spanish culture until they were presented directly to the Spanish court by Spanish friars. The friars were quick to recognize the potential of this new crop, and the court was soon enamored with the rich, bitter drink made from the beans. The unique flavor and luxurious nature of cacao helped establish it as a staple of the Spanish royal court, where it quickly became a popular item for special occasions and celebrations. This early exposure to cacao set the stage for its eventual spread across Europe and its rise to the status of one of the world's most beloved indulgences.

The Industrial Revolution would see the introduction of several new processes that would forever change the way chocolate was made and consumed. As early as 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten found that adding alkaline salts to chocolate reduced the bitterness that was characteristic of the bean. He also invented a press that extracted a substantial amount of cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor, resulting in a low-fat product called "Dutch cocoa" that was both inexpensive to manufacture and more consistent in quality. This new development aided in the development of the solid form of chocolate. 

It wasn't until a few decades later that J. S. Fry & Sons patented a method that involved blending cocoa butter and solids to make a moldable chocolate bar. Dairy was first added to chocolate drinks in the mid-17th century, but it wasn't until 1875 that the first bar of milk chocolate was made, with Daniel Peter combining Henri Nestlé's milk powder with chocolate liquor to create a rudimentary milk chocolate. The next major development in the industry would come only four years later with the invention of the conching machine. Rodolphe Lindt invented the contraption in 1879, massively improving the texture and flavor of chocolate by ensuring the even distribution of ingredients within the mixture before it was poured. Lindt & Sprüngli would later join the ranks of more popular brands such as Cadbury and Hershey's, which began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commodifying chocolate and contributing to its widespread consumption as we know it today.

Despite the industrialization and commodification of chocolate, traditional chocolate-making practices still persist in some cultures. For example, the Bribri indigenous people of South America continue to make organic, handmade chocolate using traditional methods passed down through generations. They source locally grown cacao beans and use natural ingredients to create a unique product that is both delicious and culturally significant. The sale of this organic, handmade chocolate not only supports their community but also preserves the traditional chocolate-making methods that are becoming increasingly rare in the modern world. Traditional chocolate-making methods, such as those used by the Bribri, may experience a renaissance as consumers become more concerned about the origins of their food and its effect on the environment.

The next time you bite into a chocolate bar or sip a cup of hot cocoa, remember the story of how an Aztec king tried to make peace with Spanish conquistadors and kickstarted a modern addiction. It's a story of diplomacy, taste, and the power of cultural exchange, and a testament to the enduring appeal of this delicious treat.