Recent studies of international botany dates the discovery of the first cocoa tree around 5.000 B.C. along the river Orinoco, between Columbia and Venezuela.
Only around 600 B.C. cocoa tree enters in the history, in the territories spreading within the peninsula of Yucatan, Chiapas and the pacific coast of Guatemala, where the ancient Maya civilisation gave birth to the first cocoa plantation. The name of this noble nourishment comes from the term "chocolatl" or "xocolat", which was in its origins a beverage for the upper classes. This beverage was prepared by mixing the powder of the toasted beans together with water and spices, had a very aromatic and "bitterish" taste and was considered to have excitant, beautiful even magic properties.
This is the Maya's tree, known as the legendary tree which was found originally in the New World by the Spaniards from Cortez, who gave it the name of "Creola". The Europeans called it Caracca. This tree produces the finest cocoa, with a delicate taste, a rich and not very bitter flavour. The tree is very delicate, gives a low production and its cultivation is very difficult. This cocoa is produced in limited quantities and represents 5% - 10% of the worlds production.
In Spanish this means "foreigner". It comes from the northern regions of Amazonas. It is stronger than the Criollo, grows quicker and produces much more fruits. It represents quite 80% of the world's production. The Forestero with its amenolado quality produces a sweet smelling cocoa, which is not too bitter: it is supposed to be the highest quality in commerce above all for its arriba or national variety found in Equador.
This hybrid quality is a cross between Criollo and Forestero beans. It was born in Trinidad, an island around Venezuela, the country that gave it its name. The Portuguese colonies were cultivating here the Criollo, when at the beginning of 1700 a cyclone ruined the most important plantation of the island. At this point, the inhabitants started cultivating the Forestero imported from the valley of Orinoco. As some Criollo trees had anyway survived the cyclone, there was a natural crossbreed between these two varieties which brought to the production of the Trinitario tree. As it happens in all hybrid crossbreed, this variety is very resistant and represents today 10% - 15% of the worlds production. Its cocoa has the highest fat contents.
The culture became popular all over Central America through the Aztecs, whose founder God called "Quetzalcoatl" was supposed to be the first creator of cocoa, considered as a divine gift which built up resistance and fought fatigue. Cocoa arrived in Spain only in 1528 together with the "conquistador" Cortez: the first cocoa beans were named "cacahuti" and began to be used as currency. The recipe of the drink was copied by the Aztecs, adding some chilli pepper to alleviate the bitter taste and some anise, cinnamon and vanilla to make it sweeter. During 1600, Anne from Austria, the daughter of the King of Spain, married Luis XIII from France and brought her chocolate drink in Paris, where it became very fashionable among the aristocratic and spread out all over Europe. In Italy, chocolate had been produced since 1606 in Florence, Venice and Turin, where cocoa arrived thanks to Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, a general of the Spanish army.
The culture of cocoa extended during the XVI century: first of all in Venezuela and Ecuador and afterwards all aver the islands of the Caribbean sea, such as Trinidad, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Martinique... Today the noblest species of cocoa come from Brazil, its land of origin, and from the Caribbean.
In the XIX century the Portuguese planted cocoa trees on Sao TomÃ© island, an island far from the African coast and only later, towards the XX century these plants reached Western Africa, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and above all today Gabon.
The Dutchmen had been exporting this culture to Java and Sumatra starting from the XVII century, when they reached the Philippines, Ceylon and Indonesia. Nowadays Brazil, Ivory Coast and Malaysia are the worldâ€™s leading producers of cocoa: they are indeed supplying over half of the 200.000 tons of beans, which have been sold all over the world under the monopoly of the Dutchmen since the beginning of the XIX century.