The ancient Maya of Central America were the first to cultivate the cacao tree (theobroma cacao), which the Aztec people of present-day Mexico later called cacahuatl or xocolatl.
From its earliest known days, the cacao bean was used as a beverage, and the Nahuatl term xocolatl actually means, depending on the source, “foam water”, “bitter water” or “warm beverage.”
Cacao beans played an important role in the customs, religion and legends of the Aztecs, who also used them as money.
The Spanish explorer Hernando Cortès brought the first samples of cacao beans back to Europe in 1528, launching a veritable cacao era, during which the prized bean had a significant impact on the economic development of Latin America.
Cacao beans were introduced to Italy around 1606. Soon afterwards, their use spread to France and Austria, and eventually to England, where by 1707, cocoa had become a popular beverage.
The first chocolate shop in Paris was opened in the 17th century, on rue de l’Arbre Sec. On 28 May 1659, King Louis XIV granted Daniel Chaillou, a member of the Queen’s household, the exclusive right to sell a new concoction called chocolat.
Today, Ivory Coast is the world’s leading producer of cacao, followed by Brazil and Indonesia.