History of Chocolate Birmingham Heritage Week


Mayans were the first to consume chocolate but were soon taken over by the Aztecs. The Aztecs used chocolate at religious events and called it “The food of the Gods”. It was drunk by the most important members of society. The word chocolate is thought to come from the Aztec word “chocolatl” which means “Warming Water”.

The Aztecs always consumed chocolate as an unsweetened drink because there was no sugar in South America at the time and always made it with water, never milk. Milk competes with the flavour of cacao making it taste less chocolatey. We know it was poured from cup to cup to make it frothy and often combined with chilli peppers and sometimes even blood.

Please note the Aztec chocolate we sell, while being made the traditional way with water and not milk is never made with blood!

Did you know: It is said the Aztec king Montezuma, drank 50 cups of cocoa a day and then an extra one when he was going to meet his “lady friends”

Aztec depiction of hot chocolate at religious event



Europe first heard of chocolate in 1502 when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas but no one at the time cared about it.

Hernan Cortes arrived in the Aztec Empire in 1519 and was the first European to realise the amazing taste of chocolate and brought it back to Spain. Chocolate was kept a Spanish secret and consumed in Spain for it energising and medicinal effects.

Hernan Cortez’s arrival in the Aztec Empire

Not until 1569 did chocolate leave Spain and be consumed by Aristocrats more widely. The greatest factor in the wide spread use of chocolate was the declaration of Pope Pius V that consuming it did not break fast and his use of Benedictine monks to import it, warm it with water and most importantly combine it with cane sugar to make the hot chocolate we know today.

Pope Pius V


Industrial Revolution

Until 1700s chocolate was made the same as the Aztecs made it. The Industrial revolution introduced a series of technological changes.

  1. France – Doret invents a hydraulic machine to grind cocoa beans
  2. France – Dubuisson invents a steam driven chocolate mill

Chocolate was now mass produced and finally available to the public.

  1. Netherlands – 1829 – Coenraad Van Houten a Dutch chemist, invented the cocoa press.

This invention was a mixed blessing for chocolate and is a hotly debated topic in the chocolate industry even today. The Cocoa Press separates Cacao Butter from Cacao Solids like you would remove olive oil from an olive. This allows normal chocolate makers to add more Cacao Butter and Cacao Solids to their chocolates to give them different percentages, a smoother texture and a deeper taste. Conversely, it allows some Mass Producers to sell their Cacao Butter to normal chocolate makers, cosmetics companies and catering facilities for a profit. These Mass producers were left with lots of Cacao Mass. They did 2 things with their left over Cacao mass.

  1. Bleached and chemically altered it to make powdered hot chocolate. Normal hot chocolate powder if warmed in your hand should melt and stick together due to its butter content. We actually sell our Aztec Hot Chocolate as “Chocolate Squares” so you know it is real.
  2. Mixed Cacao Powder with vegetable fats and palm oils to make cheap mass produced chocolate.



Chocolate started in Birmingham with John Cadbury’s Chocolate business funded by his affluent farther, Richard Tapper Cadbury’s Linen business.


Cadbury grew from strength to strength

1824 – Opened 93 Bull St Grocery shop selling some chocolate. Near Todays Snow Hill Station
1831 – Opened Crooked Lane warehouses dealing more in Cacao, tea and spice
1847 – Moves to bigger factory on Bridge Street. Near Todays Symphony Hall

Started a Golden age of Innovation in Birmingham

1849 – Innovation. Added milk to a chocolate drink. First UK Milk Chocolate Drink
1875 – Innovation. Their first ever chocolate Easter Egg
1879 – Innovation. Bourneville is founded. Leading the world in manufacture and labour standards
1897 – Innovation. Added milk to a chocolate bar. First UK Milk Chocolate Bar
1900 – Innovation. Advertising Chocolate
1905 – Innovation. George Cadbury Jnr creates “Dairy Milk”, The world’s bestselling chocolate in UK
1908 – Innovation. Launched first ever Bounville “dark” chocolate bar
1915 – Innovation. Boxed chocolates. Launched the then Expensive Milk Tray.
1938 – Innovation. Wrapped Chocolates. Launched the then Expensive Roses Box.
1939 – World War II Rationing – Slow rebuild of company after the war

And then things changed (More Info)

1969 – Cadbury Merges with Schweppes to create a National Conglomerate.  Results in use of Cacao Bean presses to remove more Cacao Butter from chocolate and Chemically bleached and modified Cacao Solids. Created huge amounts of very cheap chocolate. End to true chocolate innovation in Birmingham.
1990 – Cadbury World “Theme Park” Opens. Cost – £6 million
2003 – Cadbury-Schweppes buys Adams. Becomes World’s Biggest Confectionary Company. Not Chocolate Company. Continues to support local work. Huge regional employer.

And then things changed again

2010 – American Giant Kraft perform Hostile takeover.
2010 – Closes down British factory. Moves manufacturing abroad.
2013 – Cuts bar sizes from 49g to 45g by rounding corners of original 1905 shape
2013 – Drops Birmingham Bournville for Swiss Tobelerone from Heroes.
2013 – Stops sending retired staff their Christmas chocolate gift.
2014 – Extensive  “innovations in chocolate” by adding Kraft Ritz crackers and Kraft processed cheese to Dairy Milk.
2014 – Roses goes from 975g to 748g.
2015 – Changes Cadbury Cream Egg to poor quality chocolate
2015 – Swaps 90 year Raisins recipe for Sultanas in Fruit and Nut bar
2015 – Ditched the popular but low profit Chocolate Coins
2015 – Scraps Cadbury’s 1938 innovation of Wrapped Chocolates in Roses
2016 – Channel 4 Dispatches discovers Dairy milk production moved to Poland

So when you eat chocolate, remember the history of chocolate and the work of the growers, harvesters, bean fermenters, bean roasters, bean grinders, chocolate makers and finally truffle makers.

Ask yourself:


Why is this chocolate so cheap?


The answer will not be because it is good!