Around 600 AD, cacao was cultivated by the Mayas. According to their tradition, cacao was of divine origin. A festival was celebrated every year in April in honour of the cacao god Ek Chuah. The Aztecs called the cacao drink prepared with cold water ‘xocolatl’. Cacao was regarded as intoxicating and therefore, in the eyes of the Aztecs, it was unsuitable for women and children and was reserved above all for warriors and priests.
Cacao was first brought to Europe in 1528 by the Spanish conquerors. In 1544, it was drunk for the first time at the Spanish court. Unsweetened, however, it did not appeal to the Europeans. It only became popular when it was prepared with honey and sugar cane. Since cacao was expensive, the consumption of chocolate remained the reserve of the nobility. The drink only became accessible to the public at large when cheaper beans from Amazonia began to be used and the pressing and grinding process yielding a powder was invented.
Chocolate was generally recommended as a tonic, easily digestible and as an aphrodisiac. The belief in its invigorating effect lasted for a long time. Up to the 19th century, chocolate was sold as a ‘restorative’ in pharmacies.
Many journeymen studied the art of confectioners and chocolatiers in Italy and they included Swiss pioneers. The first mechanized chocolate factory opened in 1819 in Corsier near Vevey. It was founded by François-Louis Cailler. The first Swiss milk chocolate was marketed in 1875 by Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé. The conching process (refinement process) was developed by Rodolphe Lindt. These two inventions made a significant contribution to establishing the good reputation of Swiss chocolate.