The Aztecs or Méxicas were a very advanced Native American people from the Nahua group that ruled in Central America and were the first cacao growers. In 1519, the conquistadors led by Spaniard Hérnan Cortés ended the Aztecs’ reign.
History of Chocolate in the Aztec Era
After the Mayan invention of the first chocolate drink made from grilled and crushed cacao or cacahuatl beans, the Aztecs made their recipe with vanilla and honey to lessen its bitter taste. The Aztecs associated chocolate with the goddess of fertility (Xochiquetzal) and named this chocolate drink “xocoalt”. They believed that this drink helped them overcome fatigue, a belief resulting from the presence of large quantities of theobromine in chocolate.
During the Aztec era, cocoa fruits were reserved for the king and the nobles who used cocoa to spice up their food. According to their belief system, the Aztecs consumed chocolate as an offering to the great God of the forest (Quetzalcoatl). Cocoa pods were very valuable and they used them as a bargaining chip. The people living in the territories conquered by the Aztecs in which cocoa trees would grow had to pay them cocoa beans as a tax.
Hérnan Cortès and the Aztecs
Hernan Cortes discovered the Aztecs and their sacred drink in 1519. With his men, he was greeted by Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, who thought he was a god. The date of arrival of the conquistadors coincided with the expected return of the god Quetzacoatl and the Aztecs had never seen bearded white men with armor and guns and who rode horses.
The Aztecs offered him a drink made with chocolate. Savoring the drink, he found that chocolate helps fight against fatigue. Anxious to establish Spanish power over the New World, Cortes quickly understood all the economic benefits that could be derived from cocoa, he then decided to exploit cocoa trees and intensify the cocoa harvest throughout Aztec territory. In 1524, Hernán Cortès sent Charles V a cargo of cocoa beans.
The Emperor of Spain and his court delighted in this chocolate drink to which they added honey. At that time, the Spanish monopolized the cocoa trade. In 1528, the Aztec population almost disappeared. The Spanish dispatched cocoa as a common bargaining chip to the Spanish court.