The history of chocolate in Europe actually began in Barcelona, at the start of the 16th century, when Christopher Columbus arrived home and presented King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella a boat load of curiosities from the New World.
Among them, the cocoa beans.
The beans were mistaken for a type of nut and more or less ignored, until almost thirty years later – when conquistador Hernando Cortes returned with the knowledge of how to prepare a chocolate drink, based on the recipe shown him by the Aztec empire he’d conquered.
Chocolate became an instant hit, served as a drink with sugar, vanilla, aniseed, nutmeg, cloves, orange, rose water and cinnamon.
For almost 100 years the Spanish kept this delicacy, and the source of the beans, a secret. Eventually, of course, word got out, and over time various other European countries have become far better known for chocolate than Spain ever was.
Barcelona is where chocolate – as we know it today – was born, so it’s the perfect place to explore its history and evolution.
By the early 17th century drinking chocolate began to be popular in Spain, and was first accepted by the upper classes and was part of palace rituals offered to visitors, as “entertainment”. This ritual was that the ladies of the Court offered their female visitors a dose of cocoa along with various sweets (cakes, sweetened bread, muffins and brioches) and a vase of snow.
The chocolate was served to visitors who rested on cushions, surrounded by tapestries and the heat of braziers heat. Chocolatadas, the social custom of drinking chocolate in the community, had made their first appearance in Spain.
Until the 19th century, travelers to Spain said that “chocolate is to the Spanish what tea is to the English”. In this way chocolate was converted into a national symbol. The unusual fondness for this drink meant that coffee remained relatively unpopular in Spain compared to other European countries.
After the Spanish Civil War the custom declined in favor of coffee consumption. In modern Spain, traces of the history of the drink can be seen in the chocolate companies and shops, as well as in the chocolate museums.