( Originally Published 1917 )
Cocoa, a popular drink. One of the most delicious of all table drinks, cocoa a favorite with children in every part of the world, especially in Europe has a history that reaches back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico and contains many dark and forbidding chapters. Not even the spice trade of the South Seas has a wilder background of romance, adventure, and sacrifice of human life than has the cocoa traffic.
Long before Columbus discovered this continent the natives of Mexico and Peru were enjoying the delicious and wholesome beverage made from the cocoa bean. The Spanish conquerors of Mexico, who followed Columbus, found the natives cultivating extensive plantations of cocoa. Tradition tells us the emperor Montezuma was a lover of cocoa and consumed many jars of the drink each day. There can be no question that it was highly appreciated by the ancient semi-civilized races that flourished in Central America.
Christopher Columbus is said to have been the first to bring a knowledge of this remarkable article of food to Europe. But it was not until later that the use of cocoa became a common custom in Spain and Portugal. It was introduced by the Castilians (Spaniards) into many other countries. But because of Spain's monopoly of the cocoa industry the price demanded when it was first introduced into England was so high that only the very rich could afford it.
Cocoa is at once a food and a drink, its popularity being indicated by the variety of its uses. Cocoa,or chocolate, is used at the soda fountain, as a candy, as a drink, as a flavoring, for cooking and baking purposes, and, finally, as a condensed food.
The real name of this popular food is "cacao," the term "cocoa," now so commonly used, being a corruption of the correct name. Usage, however, has established the practice of applying the term "cacao" to the tree and to the unbroken fruit, while the bean, whether whole or crushed, is called cocoa.
Chocolate is so much more generally used than commercial cocoa that the distinction between these two forms of the same food is not understood by most consumers. Both are prepared from the bean of the cacao tree, but chocolate is made from the meal of the bean after it has been roasted and ground, before its rich oils are extracted. It is almost always sold in cake form and may be bought plain, sweetened, or flavored, according to the purpose for which it is to be used.
Cocoa is the powdered form of the crushed, roasted cocoa bean, from which most of the heavy oil found in chocolate has been extracted. As a table drink for the home this is undoubtedly the most popular preparation made from the fruit of the cacao tree.
Some people, however, prefer to have their breakfast drink made from what is called cocoa nibs or cracked beans because the latter contain more oil than ordinary cocoa. Although these are cheaper, it requires more time and it is more trouble to make a drink from them than from ground cocoa.
As bran is removed from the wheat kernel, so the shell or husk is taken from the cocoa bean. Many persons of delicate digestion find wheat bran a food that they can easily assimilate. So, too, many who find cocoa or chocolate a little heavy for their use, brew a light but delicious drink from the cocoa shells. The shells are very cheap and are sometimes used as food for cattle.
Cocoa is grown in many countries, among which are the British Gold Coast colony, Africa, Ecuador, Brazil, Ceylon, Java, the Portuguese colony of St. Thomas, Venezuela, Trinidad, Santo Domingo, and practically all the other islands of the West Indies.
It is estimated that early in the nineteenth century about 23,000,000 pounds of cocoa were consumed each year, one third of which was used in Spain.The annual consumption of cocoa in Europe at the present time is about 225,000,000 pounds.
The United States uses about 140,000,000 pounds of cocoa in a normal year; being the largest cocoa-consuming country in the world.
How the cocoa beans grow. The cocoa beans or seeds grow in large pods, of varying shapes and sizes, averaging about nine inches in length and four inches in diameter at the thickest part. These pods somewhat resemble one of our long, deeply ribbed cantaloupes. They have hard, leathery rinds of a dark yellow or yellowish-brown color, which inclose a mass of pink pulp in which the beans are embedded. Each pod contains from twenty-five to fifty beans. The beans are about the size of an ordinary almond. When fresh they are white and have a decidedly bitter and disagreeable flavor. After the beans are dried they turn a reddish brown.
The cacao tree bears its fruit in an odd and interesting way. The pods grow directly out of the bare trunk and larger branches of the tree, and not on the younger branches among the foliage, as do other fruits.
The cacao pickers or gatherers are armed with long bamboo poles, at the end of which are fastened big, odd-shaped blades. Only the ripe pods are cut, and as their stems are very tough, it requires a strong, well-aimed blow to sever them. The gatherers must have more than ordinary physical strength and endurance, for the knife poles are sometimes thirty feet long and are extremely awkward to handle.
As fast as the pods are brought down by the knife-men, they are piled in heaps. The following day, usually, the pods are cut open with a very sharp knife, a process which requires great care to avoid injuring the beans. After the beans are hulled they are carried in baskets to the curing station. Here the acid juice is drained off and the beans placed in fermenting boxes, where they are allowed to remain for some time. Another method of fermentation, known as "claying," is extremely interesting.The beans are put into holes in the ground and covered with clay. Under this method however, there is always danger that the beans will ferment too rapidly. Only experts are able to handle them by this process without great loss. The beans are fermented in order to enable them to absorb certain properties of the pulp. If fermentation is not successful the bean are considered improperly cured and are sold as a second-grade product. Well-fermented beans are of a rich, reddish-brown color.
Drying the beans. Following fermentation the beans are placed on broad cement or bamboo floors and allowed to dry in the sun. In some parts of South America, in the cleared center of a plantation, which is really a tropical forest, one may see immense floors of this sort, evenly strewn with drying beans. After the beans are dried they are put into bags and sent to the various markets as crude cocoa.
At the cocoa factory. At the cocoa and chocolate manufacturing plants the beans are first cleaned and sorted and then roasted. As with coffee, the roasting of the cocoa bean has much to do with its flavor. Too little roasting leaves the beans heavy and flavorless, while too much roasting turns them bitter. The roasting machine keeps the beans in constant motion while they are being fired. This operation usually requires about thirty-five minutes.
After they have been roasted the beans are passed to a machine that cracks the shells and breaks the beans into small fragments. These are next put through a fanner which separates the hull from the broken bean. Then comes the grinder in which the cracked beans are ground to a soft, oily mass, from which part of the oil is pressed in the making of powdered cocoa. Monster steel mills have replaced the shallow stones that were used to crush the cocoa bean at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Cocoa, like coffee, is blended and for the same reason: to obtain a combination which will give the finest flavor and aroma.
Cocoa beans as money. In the early days in the tropics cocoa beans were used, to some extent, as a standard of value in place of money. We are told that this primitive kind of coin is still current in an isolated part of Southern Mexico. A common expression for cheap articles in the market is that so many sell for a "cinco." This, it is said, originally meant five cocoa beans; but in order to allow for the fluctuating value of the bean, a "cinco" usually consists of from two to five cocoa beans. The money value of a "cinco" is about one half cent, Mexican.
Food value of cocoa. Scientists and medical writers have much to say regarding the food value of cocoa. They tell us it is highly nourishing and easily digested; that it repairs wasted strength quickly; and that it is uncommonly wholesome. In Central America, when expeditions are organized to traverse the forest and swamps and follow rivers into the heart of the jungles, it is usual to include in their. rather scanty commissary a generous supply of chocolate, consisting of about 80 per cent cocoa and 20 per cent coarse sugar. The food value of this is about as follows:
Sugar-20 per cent
Cocoa in some of its forms is used by several South American nations as a solid food much as we use bread and meat, and not at all as a dainty or a confection.
Other beverages. Although the people of the United States consume about 1,000,000,000 pounds of coffee a year, 140,000,000 pounds. of cocoa, and 100,000,000 pounds of tea, that immense total is not enough, either in volume or in variety, to meet the American demand for a breakfast beverage.
In addition to the products of the tea gardens of the Far East and the coffee and cocoa plantations of the tropics, we must look to our own grain fields to furnish still further variety in the way of table drinks.
Practically all our grains are used for this purpose. In varying quantities we find wheat, rye, rice, barley, corn, and malt used in this way. With some of these grains molasses, coffee, chicory, peas, and peanuts are. combined in order to obtain the desired flavor. The value of these various substitute drinks depends, of course, upon theopercentage of the grains or other substances used. It is true that they do not contain the stimulative properties of tea, coffee, and cocoa, but they have an aroma and a pleasant flavor of their own and are agreeable and wholesome. For these reasons they are acceptable to a considerable number of American people and the number of their users is undoubtedly increasing.
Grape juice is another drink that has won popular favor in this country. It is pure fruit juice, extracted from ripe grapes and sterilized to prevent fermentation. The people of the United States drink about 5,000,000 gallons of grape juice a year.