Already 1000 years before Christ, the folk of the Olmek living in the humid lowlands along the Mexican Gulf used the word “kakawa” = cacao which leads to the assumption that the Olmek were the first to drink cocoa.

What we do not know, regrettably, is whether the secret about how chocolate was prepared was passed on in the following centuries.

500 after Christ the Maya enjoyed the chocolate beverage, a pleasure only reserved for the nobleness, however. The chocolate beverage was very bitter since sugar was unknown at the time. According to historical tradition, this drinking chocolate used to be mixed with spices like chilli pepper. At the end, the chocolate used to be poured from one pot into another to make it foamy.

Besides, the cocoa beans were also used as a currency. In fact, the Maya’s prosperity was based on the commerce with cocoa beans. The Maya used to deal with the Aztec as well, a folk that also considered cocoa beans as currency and also cultivated cocoa after the breakdown of the Maya empire.

The Aztec too gave great importance to chocolate. This special treat was only reserved for the royal house, the nobility, high dignitaries as well as long-distance traders and warriors. However, cocoa was not just a luxury food; the Aztec also used it as currency, like once did the Maya. Since the Aztec did not own any growing areas, cocoa could only be obtained through tributes and commerce. The long-distance merchants made sure that the cocoa beans were imported from regions now belonging to Mexico and Guatemala. Another region also known for its high qualitative products was Xoconochco (Soconusco, on the Pacific coast in the borderland between Mexico and Guatemala). This area was so important to the Aztec that their monarch Ahuitzolts (1486-1502) conquered it to secure the provision of cocoa through tributes and duties. Soconusco was considered one of the most important growing areas with the best cocoa, not only before the Aztec but also long after them.

In year 1492 after Christ, Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) discovers the American continent. It was only on his fourth trip, which begun on 9th May 1502 and which led him to Guanaja on 15th August 1502, that Colombus was to be the first European to encounter chocolate. On this day the admiral Columbus came across a loaded trading canoe of Mayas. Columbus had the canoe boarded and both the occupants and loading brought to his caravel, during which the Spanish noted that whenever a cocoa bean fell many indigenes bent down immediately to pick it up. Why the indigenes considered these beans so important was something Columbus never found out since he had no interpreter. Columbus never tried chocolate himself.

It was left to Hernán Cortés to discover cocoa and bring it to Spain. In year 1519 Hernán Cortés began conquering the Aztec empire in today’s Mexico which lasted until 1521 with the Spanish victory. The Spanish were soon to discover the great importance cocoa had for the Maya and the Aztec. Especially the fact that cocoa was used as a currency was enthusiastically accepted by the Spanish who kept this function for a long time during the Spanish colonial period.

However, the Spanish thought the cocoa drink too bitter at the beginning. This changed as time passed by and the Spanish colonies grew. More and more poor Spanish married indigene women. This growing union between Spanish and Maya and between Spanish and Aztec approximated the different cultures in many aspects while the chocolate drink experienced a number of changes. The Spanish used to drink the chocolate hot like the Maya and not cold or slightly warm like the Aztec. Many of the local spices were replaced by other spices brought along by the Spanish, like for example black pepper. The most important change that helped chocolate finally find full acceptance among the Spanish, however, was the idea of sweetening it with cane sugar, since it was particularly the bitter, acerb taste of the Maya’s and Aztec’s chocolate that the conquerors didn’t like. The Spanish, as all other Europeans, were absolutely addicted to “sweet things“ from the moment sugar had been imported to Europe during the Middle Ages.

Not only the chocolate recipes changed over the years; also the word “cacao” was linguistically adapted. First, the Spanish took over the word “cacao” from the Maya in Yucatán. The Aztec name for the chocolate drink was “cacahuatl” (cocoa water). Decisive for the appearance of the word “chocolate” as it is still used in English nowadays, was the fact that the Spanish had great difficulties in learning the indigene’s language so that many words were adapted to their own way of speaking. The chocolate drink was called „chocol haa“ by the Maya, which means as much as “hot water”. Today it is assumed that the Spanish word “chocolate” appeared when the Maya word “chocol” (hot) was combined with the Aztec word “atl” (water), which first resulted in the word “chocolatl”. The ending „atl“ so typical in the Aztec language, was however a problem for the Spanish. They were simply unable or unwilling to pronounce “tl” correctly. They said „te“ whenever they came across an Aztec „tl“ and this is the reason why “chocolatl” became “chocolate”, as we know it today.

After chocolate enjoyed more and more popularity among the Spanish immigrants in Central America, it also reached the Spanish royal court. Who took chocolate to Spain for the first time and when is not quite clear and there are many speculations about it. Most probably, this merit has to be accredited to Hernán Cortés.

During the first half of the 17th Century chocolate began to become widely accepted in the Spanish royal court as well as by the Spanish novelty, and finally it became something like a Spanish national drink. Even today, hot chocolate is part of a traditional Spanish breakfast.

The chocolate reached Germany at the beginning of the 17th Century, when it was already known in the other European countries. In Germany, chocolate was first only sold as medicine and restorative in pharmacies for a long time. One of the first occasions when drinking chocolate was offered as a delight was in a coffee shop founded in Bremen in 1673 by the Dutch Jan Jantz von Huesden. He had obtained a half-year license to produce and offer foreign drinks such as coffee and chocolate in Bremen. As in many other countries, the high price was a reason why chocolate was something only the novelty and the rich had the possibility to enjoy. The high price in the German states was also due to customs duties and tributes. This high price continued throughout the 18th Century because of the taxes which, like in Prussia, were raised by King Frederick II to reduce the importation of cocoa. Frederick the Great himself was considered a chocolate enthusiast like many other German celebrities. Also the poets Goethe (1749-1832) and Schiller (1759-1805) were counted among the greatest chocolate lovers at the time.

One of the first chocolate factories in Germany is the one built by Prince Wilhelm von der Lippe in Steinhude in 1756. The denomination manufactury would suit better, since chocolate still used to be produced only by hand. Wilhelm von der Lippe recruited workers from Portugal who where well trained in chocolate making.

While chocolate was still considered an expensive restorative in Berlin, the pastry shop Wilhelm Felsche opened in Leipzig in 1821 with its own chocolate production. In 1835 noblemen and rich met there to chat over a cup of chocolate as it had long been in vogue in France, Italy and Spain already. This growth in the chocolate industry was enhanced by the fact that the customs duties and taxes on cocoa were lowered or even abolished in nearly all German states at the beginning of the 19th Century.

This is the time when many other factories emerge which manufacture chocolate predominantly by hand. In the course of the industrialisation the factories begin to rely more on machines. One of the first chocolate factories that used steam engines was company J.F. Miethe in Halle/Saale (founded in 1804). It was then when the term „steam chocolate“ appeared in Germany to refer to chocolate made with the help of steam engines.

The abolishment of inland duties in Germany promoted commerce and industrialisation. In year 1834, with the abolition of inland duties in Saxony, the machine factory J.M. Lehmann is founded in Dresden. With their own developments for the chocolate industry this firm makes a great contribution to the industrialisation. Not only company Lehmann was located in Dresden but especially many chocolate manufacturers had their origin in Dresden as well.

On 6th January 1877 the Association of German Chocolate Manufacturers is founded in Dresden. The Association’s main objective is to enforce their self-made directives. Beside the control of misleading denominations, it is particularly the fight for the quality of chocolate where this association puts their effort. The increasingly good business with chocolate had moved many manufacturers to replace parts of the expensive import product cocoa with low-quality stuffs. From 1878 on, the association has its own brand which guarantees the pureness of products marked with it. Manufacturers who want to use this brand must accept being controlled anytime.

In Dresden, the centre of the German chocolate industry at the time, four limited companies within the chocolate sector were established right during the foundation time from 1871 to 1873. In the time surrounding 1880 almost 550 tones of chocolate per year were produced in Dresden. This was then as much as 30% of the German total production of approx. 1700 tones a year. The per-capita consumption in Germany in 1881 is 60 grams per year.
With the growing offer, brand names gain more and more in importance.

Dresden was the pivot of the chocolate manufacturers such as Petzold & Aulhorn (founded in 1843) and Riedel & Engelmann (Schwerter chocolates) in Dresden-Plauen, but also machine manufacturers such as J.M. Lehmann Dresden and Elitewerke AG Erbisdorf/ Saxony settled in and around Dresden.

Not to forget is of course the tinware manufacturer Anton Reiche.
This business was founded by Anton Reiche – a farmer’s son born in Wilsdruff in 1845 – in the Münzgasse street around 1870, and later it was relocated in Annenhof in the suburbs of Wildsdruff. During his years of travel in Paris, Anton Reiche got familiar with the production of metal (oder tin?) moulds at company Létang Fils, taking his knowledge to his Saxon hometown. In 1877 the skilled plumber moved his factory to Freiberger Square and specialised in the production of metal moulds and metal packagings. Anton Reiche, regarded as a clever businessman, used the rests that remained from the production of the moulds to make toys, saving boxes and advertising plates to take full advantage of this valuable material. Decisive for his success however was the use of tinplate for the production of chocolate moulds, replacing the expensive copperplate used until then.

Following the suggestion made by the mill owner Traugott Bienert of Plauen, Anton Reiche 1886 acquired a building site in the Bamberger street 1-9, to where he shifted his entire production facilities. Traugott Bienert was actually the one who gave him money to purchase the building site in the Bamberger Street.

With the benefits of the improved space conditions, Anton Reiche Blechwarenfabrik AG belonged to the most significant businesses in Plauen in 1900, occasionally employing as much as 1800 workers. After the death of the corporate founder in 1913, his sons continued to run the factory, which remained the most significant German business in this sector until World War II. The factory, badly hit in 1945, was expropriated and turned into VEB Schokoladenformen Dresden, being later taken over by the East-German NAGEMA and finally closed in 1991. Last year, apartment and office buildings were built on the former factory premises. Monica Tinhofer was the one who collected chocolate moulds through the decades, putting her collection at the disposal of the foundation Hofmühle Dresden (former Bienert-Mühle) for the Anton Reiche Museum in Dresden.
(Resources: Monica Tinhofer, grand-granddaughter of Anton Reiche and Arne Homborg, Minden)