When we talk about chocolate today, we typically think of it as a food. That wasn’t always the case. People were enjoying chocolate as a drink for thousands of years before the creation of the first chocolate candy bars that we know and love today.
Archeological evidence shows that the people of Central and South America were drinking chocolate as early as 3500 years ago. Chocolate was first brought to Europe by explorers returning to Spain after coming into contact with the Aztecs in the early 1500s. The Aztecs they encountered had dissolved chocolate in water, seasoned it with spices, and made it frothy by pouring it between two containers. This produced a bitter and spicy chocolate drink that was served at room temperature.
Before chocolate gained popularity in Europe, two major changes were made to the Aztec recipe. The first was to serve the drink hot. This allowed the chocolate to fully melt in the water and be frothed by stirring as it heated. It also allowed for the second major change, which was the addition of sugar. Cane sugar was melted into the hot chocolate drink, giving it a much sweeter and less bitter flavor.
This new hot and sweet chocolate drink became very popular among the wealthy of Europe during the 1600s, but due to the high cost of ingredients that were imported from distant continents, it remained too expensive for most Europeans to enjoy. This was not the case in the American colonies, which were much closer to the sugar and chocolate producing plantations of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. In the colonies, chocolate was a drink that could be enjoyed by almost everyone and was served at most coffee houses. It became so popular that in 1785 Thomas Jefferson predicted chocolate would soon be preferred over coffee or tea in America.
The popularity of drinking chocolate never quite reached the level Jefferson predicted, as chocolate soon underwent the transformation into a food. Throughout the latter half of the 1800s, developments in chocolate production allowed for the creation of the first smooth chocolate candies, including milk chocolate. By the 1920s, eating chocolate had become more popular than drinking chocolate, a preference that still exists today.