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The Olmec and The Maya

The Olmec, one if the earliest Mesoamerican civilisations, occupied the tropical rainforests on the Gulf of Mexico around three thousand years ago.

The conditions here were hot, shady and humid which were perfect for the Theobroma Cocoa tree to grow. Linguists have managed to reconstruct the Olmec vocabulary, in which the word ‘cacao’ appears and many historians believe these early people pre-dated the Aztecs in their cultivation of the tree.

Around the fourth century AD, the Maya had established themselves just South of present day Mexico. The conditions here were humid and, again, the cacahuaquchtl ‘tree’, as they named it thrived. They believed that the tree belonged to the gods, and the pods where gods offering to man. 

The Maya were extremely artistic and intellectual, and along with constructing amazing temples with fabulous carvings, they recorded many images, including those depicting gods performing rituals with cocoa pods - for them the symbol of life and fertility.

The Maya were the first to create a luxurious, yet bitter drink. Sometimes described as thin with a froth, for drinking flavoured with various spices including chilli, and other descriptions are of a much thicker version, almost porridge like, containing maize meal.

Many elaborate painted vessels have been found at their ancient burial grounds, including one which even contains the residue of drinking chocolate inside!

So the ‘modern’ version of chilli and chocolate, which is definitely a love/hate thing, is most definitely not a new discovery!

Whether you love your hot chocolate unsweetened and dark, or sweet with added flavoured syrups or spices, the Maya certainly seem to have started a love affair which is definitely still with us today.