The Mayans were already growing and cultivating entire plantations of cocoa around the year 600 AD. From the cocoa beans they brewed a nourishing drink called ‘Xocolatl’, which gave chocolate its name. The beans of the cocoa tree were so highly prized by the Mayans that they were even used as a form of payment.
Spanish conquistadors brought the cocoa bean to Europe in the 16th century. Ground and mixed with spices and brewed into an exotic and bitter drink, the precious beans gained considerable popularity first at the Spanish and later the French royal courts. The beverage soon became fashionable among aristocrats throughout Europe.
Although drinking chocolate lost ground to tea and coffee in the 19th century following the decline of the aristocracy, solid chocolate, by contrast, was gaining in popularity. Its production was first mentioned in Italy, where itinerant ‘cioccolatieri’ travelled around and peddled the sweet delicacy at fairs.
François-Luis Cailler learned the art of chocolate-making in Italy, returned to Switzerland and opened the first chocolate factory there in 1819. He was followed by further pioneers, including such names as Philippe Suchard, Rudolf Sprüngli, Aquilino Maestrani, Johann Georg Munz, Rodolphe Lindt, Jean Tobler, Henri Néstle, and Robert and Max Frey, who are familiar from chocolate brands that still exist today.
It is remarkable that it was the Swiss of all people who enjoyed such success with chocolate, despite the high prices they had to pay to import the raw ingredients such as cocoa and sugar from abroad. Their achievement was due in no small part to their uncompromising pursuit of quality, something which remains the recipe for success to this day.
You can find further exciting information on Swiss chocolate on the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers website at www.chocosuisse.ch.