Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés, on his voyage of discovery of the famed El Dorado (Spanish gold), chanced upon something that seemed almost equally rich, what he later referred to as ‘liquid gold’. When Cortés arrived in the New World in 1519, Aztec emperor Montezuma II believed him to be the reincarnation of former king Quetzalcoatl.
A Perfect Present
Among other gifts bestowed upon Cortés by the Aztecs during his extravagant welcome, was something he (and later the entire world) would cherish: a cocoa plantation. However, Montezuma and the Aztecs soon realised Cortés wasn’t the king who was destined to return. Over the next few years, battles ensued between the Spanish and Aztecs. And even though the Aztecs believed that chocolate was the drink of the gods and would save them, its consumption during battles with the Spanish didn’t earn them a victory. The Aztecs were soon wiped out, and the ‘land of cocoa’ went into the hands of the Spanish.
Liquid Gold Spans Lands
Obsessed with his discovery and realising its potential, Cortés set up cocoa plantations around the Caribbean. With easy plantation and profits, cocoa soon attracted other Spanish settlers. In next to no time, cocoa was being churned in Mexico, Jamaica, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, with the areas continuing to boast of some the world’s best chocolates.
The Spanish wanted cocoa cultivation and the recipe to making a good chocolate drink to remain a secret. Cocoa planting and processing methods were kept under wraps for a long time. The Spanish planted shade-giving ‘mother trees’ next to cocoa plants, since the plants need cover especially when they are young. Shade-grown cocoa also yielded a richer harvest.
Also, the Aztec drink recipe was known to the Spanish and they made their own alterations to it, but the original recipe of the famed ‘drink of the gods’ remained a well guarded secret. Harvesting and preparing chocolate were illustrated only in lithographs, depicting the Aztec way of making a frothy drink, extremely rustic but extremely relished by them, nonetheless.