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Origins of chocolate

What and where are the origins of chocolate? And what are the stages along the way which turn cocoa beans into mouth-watering VIVANI chocolate bars?

Arrow The history of chocolate
Arrow Cocoa farming
Arrow Processing the cocoa
Arrow Chocolate making

Vivani - From bean to bar

Movie Movie
„From Bean to Bar - documentary film, 2011 “ (112 MB)
have a look

The history of chocolate

Mask of Quetzalcoatl
This is a mask of Quetzalcoatl, the god of the wind and moon. He is said to have brought the seeds of the cacao tree to the Aztecs
(British Museum)

MAYA   Stories surrounding the making of chocolate can be traced back as far as the mysterious kingdom of the Maya (AD 300-900). The Maya believed that the cacao tree and the beans it provided were a gift of the gods, and they worshipped the tree as an idol. For them, the cacao tree was a symbol of fertility and life. These were the people who invented drinking made from cacao beans. The Latin word for chocolate “theobroma” means food of the Gods. The Maya drank it cold and it tasted fatty and bitter despite the addition of Chili beans and other flavourings like vanilla. The best and most desirable part of a cup of drinking chocolate was considered to be the foam which was created by beating and pouring.

preparing xocoatl
Aztecs preparing xocoatl.
(From »America« by John Ogilby 1671)

AZTECS   From 1200 AD onwards the success of the cacao tree and its fruit continued during the reigns of the Toltecs and Aztecs. Cocoa was thought of as a source of wisdom and vigour. Tales have it that a man could march all day long on just one cup of cocoa without any other food. Cocoa was also thought to increase sexual potency. The Emperor Montezuma reportedly drank 50 or more cups per day.

The arrival of Columbus at the island of Guanaja in 1502. Aztecs welcome the ships with gifts. (Contemporary engraving, ca. 1535)

COLUMBUS   When Columbus reached the American coast in 1520 on his fourth and last voyage he had no idea that the native Indians were offering him their most valuable goods for trade. He thought cocoa tasted abominable and only brought back a few beans to Spain out of curiosity.

exporting cocoa
A symbolic representation of exporting cocoa from America to Europe. (Illustration from Brancaccio´s work »De potu chocolatis« „Of Chocolate Drinking„ Rome 1672)

CORTES   It was only seventeen years later that Herman Cortes began to understand the true value of cocoa beans. For they were also used as local currency. A slave cost one hundred beans and a rabbit ten beans. Not long afterwards he began to promote the cultivation of cocoa and the first settlers arrived in Latin America, enticed by the prospect of making a quick fortune. In their view money literally grew on trees.

SUGAR   In 1522 the nuns of Oaxaca tested a new recipe by mixing the bitter cocoa with sugar and sweet spices. This concoction tasted considerably better and was probably the origin of the delicious drink we know today.

EUROPE   In 1528 cocoa and all its potential variations finally found its way to Europe.

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION   In the course of the Industrial Revolution (1750), the development of the steam engine effectively mechanised the grinding of the cocoa beans. About sixty years later, the Dutch chemist Conrad Van Houten invented a cocoa press that enabled confectioners to make chocolate candy by mixing cocoa butter with finely ground sugar.

hall of conches
Hall of conches at Lindt & Sprüngli at the turn of the century. (Fotografie um 1900)

MILK-CHOCOLATE   In 1875, a Swiss candymaker added dry milk powder to chocolate liquor, thus smoothing the way for milk chocolate.

CONCHING   At the end of the 19th century a Swiss citizen by the name of Rudolph Lindt was the first person to produce chocolate with a smooth, fine texture by using a conch, i.e. a machine with heavy rollers that plough back and forth through the chocolate mass.

TODAY   Since then there have been international efforts to produce all kinds of chocolates in varying qualities and shapes and geared to different needs. And the end is not yet in sight.

Growing the cocoa beans

harvesting cocoa
Harvesting cocoa with a machete.
Covering cocoa beans with banana leaves for fermentation.

HABITAT   The cacao tree is very delicate and sensitive. It only thrives in hot, rainy climates on fertile soil, protected from the sun and the wind. Thus, its cultivation is more or less confined to countries close to the equator.

HARVEST   The cocoa pods, which range in colour from bright yellow to deep purple, grow directly on the branches and can ripen to a length up to 14 inches. Experienced pickers snip the pods with sharp steel knives or machetes.

FERMENTATION   After the pods are collected they are transported to the breakers who split them open.The pulp and the beans are then placed on banana leaves and also covered with banana leaves. Fermentation, which lasts from five to ten days, serves to remove the bitter taste of cocoa and to develop the typical cocoa flavour. The pulp dissolves, and the beans, which were lavender or purple before, take on their rich brown colour.

cocoa beans
The contents of the cocoa pods - the cocoa beans - are gathered and put to fermentation.

DRYING   Drying is accomplished by laying the beans on bamboo matting in the sun. During this procedure, the beans lose nearly all their moisture, thus preventing their going mouldy. The finished raw cocoa is put into sacks and shipped to the countries of the chocolate manufacturers.

Processing the Cocoa

Drying in the tropical sun enhances the aroma of the cocoa, and the beans lose nearly all their moisture.

CLEANING   First, the cocoa beans are thoroughly cleaned by passing them through a cleaning machine.

ROASTING   Each sort is then roasted separately in large rotary cylinders. The roasting process is crucial for the development of the characteristic aroma of chocolate. In addition each bean becomes loose within its brittle shell.

CRACKING   The roasted beans are passed through a winnowing machine which cracks them open. The last remains of dirt are blown away by fans along with the thin light pieces of broken shell.

raw cocoa
When the beans have been dried, they are referred to as raw cocoa.

BLENDING   Different qualities of chocolate are blended according to particular recipes. Manufacturers always make a big secret out of this, since they want to achieve the right formula for a desired product that no one can copy.

GRINDING   The broken pieces of the cocoa beans are next conveyed to mills where they are run through several courses of grinding. The frictional heat, generated by this process, liquefies the cocoa butter. The result is a bright brown cocoa mass which already smells like chocolate.


PRESSING   The mass is put into hydraulic presses and high pressure is applied to remove the desired cocoa butter (the fat of the cocoa bean). It drains away as a clear, golden liquid. The pressed cake that is left after the removal of cocoa butter can be pulverized and sifted into customary cocoa powder (there can be up to 60 different sorts, depending on usage).

Arrow How chocolate is made

blending cocoa

BLENDING   At this stage of the process top chocolate makers are keeping their secrets close to their chest. In the “mélangeur” as it is called the relevant ingredients are kneaded together according to the kind and quality of the chocolate required.

Relevant ingredients:
Dark chocolate: cocoa mass*, cocoa butter*, and sugar. Milk chocolate: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder. Fine white chocolate: cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder.

drying conche
The diagram of a drying conche explains the principle of refining. The constant movement produces aeration, and undesired, volatile substances are removed.

FINE GRINDING   The relatively solid coarse mass now travels through a series of five heavy steel rollers set at different intervals and different speeds. The gaps between the final rollers are so small that the chocolate components are ground into a thick fluid mass which is then run off.

CONCHING   The name “conching” is taken from the shell-like containers which were originally used in this part of the processing. The containers are equipped with heavy rollers which plough back and forth through the chocolate mass for several hours. These rollers can produce different degrees of agitation and aeration in order to develop and modify the chocolate flavours. This is where chocolate gets its very fine smoothness.


COOLING   There now follows a cooling process known as tempering. This is a complicated procedure because the various fats in cocoa butter have different melting and congealing points. After this, the chocolate is ready to be shaped into the end product.