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The Columbian Exchange: Cocoa Essay

791 words - 4 pages

The Columbian Exchange was a critical episode in history that created the first truly global network between the Old and New Worlds (Green). Many goods were recognized for their value instantaneously while the potential profits that other assets could offer were overlooked (Mcneill). Modest in appearance, the cacao bean would eventually develop into one of the most delectable, sought-after beverages by the elite of Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and eventually France and England. Nonetheless, the history of the cacao bean is a very bittersweet one. Its prominence among Europeans can ultimately be traced to the inhumane labor imposed on Native American captives and African slaves to cultivate cocoa beans as demand in Western Europe augmented by exponential numbers.
Though, the origin of the cacao bean is indefinite, the first instant that Europeans encountered cacao beans is alleged to have been in 1502 between Christopher Columbus and the ancient Mayan civilization. Initial impressions were less than satisfactory. Christopher Columbus having believed the beans were “shriveled almonds” (Rosenblum 6), . During Hernan Cortez’s voyage to the Aztec Empire of the Americas during 1517, he was introduced to the Emperor Montezuma’s favorite drink “chocolatl”. Though, he also was not very appreciative of the drink, Cortez was fascinated with the very idea that cacao beans were used as a form of currency among the Aztec. The Spanish would pay Aztec laborers in cacao beans, as they would load their treasure ships with deposits of silver and gold. For this reason, the Spanish nicknamed the cacao bean “black gold” (Lopez 19). Still, it was Spanish monks and missionaries who recognized the value of cacao beans as a medial tonic, similar to a placebo. As Cortez had once mentioned to King Charles in a letter from 1520, “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for an entire day without food” (Lopez 47). To suit European preferences, Dominican missionaries added “cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar” to the Aztec recipe (Cadbury). It was a recipe that won over the Spanish elite, a secret kept over a century from other regions of Europe due to its prized status and low availability. With a changed mindset, the Spanish ensuingly taxed conquered Aztec territory for cacao beans. In 1615, the marriage of Anne of Austria, the daughter of King Philip III, to Louis XIII of France brought chocolate to the French court (Lopez 57).
As Charles Dickens had famously written, “It was the best of times....

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