This pleasant-sounding Latin name of Theobroma cacao was given to the cacao tree in 1753 by Swedish natural scientist Carl von Linné.
Cocoa, which is prepared from the cacao bean, the fruit of the cacao tree, was first used much earlier. The Olmecs, the first highly developed culture of Central America, lived in present-day Mexico over 3000 years ago. The hot, humid climate there was ideal for cultivating the sensitive cacao tree. The Mayas, who settled in the region a few centuries after the disappearance of the Olmecs, used cacao beans to prepare a bitter and highly spiced drink. This beverage was drunk and sacrificed in sacred rituals performed
by their priests, kings and nobility.
But the Mayan civilization also came to a mysterious end, and they were replaced by the Toltecs in approximately 900 AD, and then the Aztecs. These two cultures adopted the tradition of the holy beverage, which they named “xocoatl” (xoco = bitter; atl = water). For the Aztecs, this bitter, spicy drink was a source of wisdom and energy, an aphrodisiac and a soothing balsam. The cacao bean also served as currency at the time and was offered to the gods as a sacrifice.
The first European to come into contact with cocoa was Christopher Columbus. In 1502, on his fourth journey to the New World, he first tasted chocolate - and found it to be too bitter and spicy. Several years later, in 1528, the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés brought this brown gold and the recipe for the exotic drink to Spain.