Giving chocolate as a gift dates back as far as 19th BC, to the times of the Aztecs and Mayans. It was believed to be a gift of the God Quetzalcoatl, the ancient feathered serpent god, who flew across the skies dropping cocoa beans as a gift for humanity.
It was used as a drink by the Elite Classes. A drink you wouldn’t recognise today as a soothing cuppa hot chocolate, they roasted and ground the cocoa beans, then mixed in vanilla, chilli and spices to make a cold bitter drink.
The Aztecs believed that cocoa beans would bestow wisdom, energy and enhanced sexuality, so its no wonder that emperor Montezuma was mad for the stuff consuming allegedly 50 cups of chocolate each day.
In the 15th Century, adventurers such as Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans back to Europe and Great Britain from the America’s but didn’t really know how to use them, however by the 17th Century, there were early chocolatiers who knew how to extract chocolate from the beans and the popularity of chocolate was launched across the continent of Europe amongst, of course, the rich! Chocolate houses sprang up in London in the seventeenth century and were frequented by the upper classes. By the year 1700 there were 2,000 in London.
Until the 19th Century, chocolate was very expensive to buy and so only available for the elite classes. Giving chocolates as a popular affordable gift became possible through the enterprises of well-known families – Fry, Rowntree, and of course Cadbury. Many early chocolate producers of the Victorian era were founded with money from Quaker families, who saw the consumption of alcohol as a sin and a cause of poverty and violence in society. They were keen to promote chocolate as a drink to takes its place.
A factor which help make chocolate more affordable occurred in the mid 1850’s when the taxes on imported cocoa beans were reduced by the Prime Minister, William Gladstone. A tax reduction! - Now that doesn’t happen very often!
Another major influence was the ingenious marketing of one of the descendent Cadbury brothers – Richard. Founded by John Cadbury in Birmingham, in the second half of the 19th Century, the Cadbury’s changed a process in the manufacture of their chocolate drink by pressing out some of the cocoa butter from the beans, which produced a cocoa essence that was much more like the chocolate drink we know today. This gave the Cadbury’s an abundance of cocoa butter to use in new kinds of chocolate for eating. From this Richard Cadbury pioneered a way to make chocolates that were affordable. The next step was to package his products into the beautiful sentimental boxes. You know the type - with cupids and flowers, which were so popular in the Victorian times.
And so on to present day and our love of chocolate just keeps on growing , supported by the large brands and bespoke independent Chocolatiers like me!
Apparently, recent figures about the chocolate confectionery market in the UK show that in Britain getting on for eight million people eat chocolate every day, and about the same number four to six times a week. Apparently, men are most likely to buy chocolate as a gift - according to BMRB's research, they are twice as likely as women to buy chocolates for Mother's Day or Valentine's Day.
Sources - Cadbury - The story of Cadbury, Mintel, Divine Chocolate - chocolate facts and figures