The origins of chocolate can be traced back to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilisations in Central America, who first enjoyed 'chocolatl'; a much-prized spicy drink made from roasted cocoa beans.

Throughout its history, whether as cocoa or drinking chocolate beverage or

confectionery treat, chocolate has been a much sought after food. Because cocoa beans were valuable, they were given as gifts on occasions such as a child coming of age and at religious ceremonies. Merchants often traded cocoa beans for other commodities such as cloth, jade and ceremonial feathers.

'Chocolate' (in the form of a luxury drink) was consumed in large quantities by the Aztecs: the drink was described as 'finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter with chilli water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey'.

The dry climate meant the Aztecs were unable to grow cocoa trees, and had to obtain supplies

of cocoa beans from 'tribute' or trade.

The Spanish invaded Mexico in the 16th century, by this time the Aztecs had created a powerful empire, and the Spanish armies conquered Mexico. Don Cortes was made Captain General and Governor of Mexico.

When he returned to Spain in 1528 he loaded his galleons with cocoa beans and equipment

for making the chocolate drink. Soon 'chocolate' became a fashionable drink enjoyed by the rich in Spain..

An Italian traveller, Francesco Carletti , was the first to break the Spanish monopoly. He had visited Central America and seen how the Indians prepared the cocoa beans and how they made the drink, and by 1606 chocolate was well established in Italy.

The secret of chocolate was taken to France in 1615, when Anne, daughter of Philip II of Spain, married King Louis XIII of France.

The French court enthusiastically adopted this new exotic drink, which was considered to have medicinal benefits as well as being a nourishing food. Gradually the custom of drinking

chocolate spread across Europe, reaching England in the 1650s.