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Chapter 2

Cacao Growing and Harvesting Practices R. Anthony Lass

Cocoa was a well-established crop and article of commerce in the early 16th century in Central America. In 1520, when Cortés discovered Mexico City (then the capital of the Aztec peoples) and met their leader (Montezuma), he found that cocoa beans were used in the preparation of a luxury drink chocolatl made by roasting the whole cocoa beans, grinding them and mixing with maize meal, vanilla and chilli. They were then stirred with a special whisk, rather in the fashion still adopted today in Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere. These cocoa beans had not been actually grown by the Aztec peoples but by Mayas who gave them as tribute to Montezuma. At that time cocoa had more significance than merely being the main ingredient of a drink; as the cocoa beans were easy to count and were relatively valuable, they were widely used as currency. In Mexico, this use for cocoa beans appears to have continued until at least 1840.

From 1520 through to the middle of the 17th century, the main cocoa areas were all in, or around, present-day Mexico, extending as far as Honduras. All the cocoa cultivated at that time was Criollo (see below), probably as this type gives a palatable drink with little fermentation. Columbus encountered cocoa from Honduras in 1502 and this represented the first contact of the Old World with cocoa beans. He transported some to Spain and introduced cocoa drinks to the Spanish court, where it was much valued. The drink soon became popular amongst the aristocracy in Spain, later in Italy, Flanders, France and England. Spain maintained a monopoly on the trade in cocoa until the Dutch took over Curaçao in 1634, enabling the trade and use of cocoa beans to then expand rapidly, though still only amongst the most wealthy as the duties and cost of transport were very high.

In the mid-16th century, cocoa cultivation of Criollo types spread in the West Indies (Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad), having in addition been transported in about 1560 across the Pacific to the Philippines, thence a little later to Sulawesi and Java, and perhaps as well to India and Sri Lanka (1). By 1700, cocoa was

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