In a small town where life has been the same for 100 years, a war is about to break out between the tranquility of tradition and the fear of change. The shock of the new, the excitement of letting go, the dangers of denying people joy and the temptations of intolerance are aroused by a chocolaterie's delectable sweets in CHOCOLAT, a comic fable about the magical power of indulging in pleasure. Directed by Lasse Hallström, CHOCOLAT is itself a richly layered confection, the tale of several interconnected villagers whose comical confrontations and misbegotten dreams become a moving exploration of tolerance and personal liberation. The film features an all-star ensemble cast including Juliette Binoche, Dame Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, Peter Stormare and Victoire Thivisol.
At the center of CHOCOLAT is a woman charged with special powers: Vianne Rocher, a mysterious outsider who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet to open a chocolaterie featuring luscious candies that can, in addition to tantalizing the tongue, cure lost hopes and awaken unexpected emotions.
Vianne's effect is immediate and extraordinary: the elderly find themselves recalling young love, troubled couples regain their spark and sniping neighbors become happy friends. But Vianne's sumptuous candies also arouse something else: an escalating battle between passion and moral indignation. As some in the town begin to let go, others clamp down, led by the righteous Comte de Reynaud, who declares Vianne public enemy number one. Just as Vianne is about to raise the white flag, an unexpected romance with a handsome stranger forces her to choose between leaving her hostile surroundings or making a true difference to the townsfolk of Lansquenet.
The battles the free-spirited Vianne undertakes in the name of living life without denial first came to the fore in Joanne Harris's acclaimed, mouthwatering novel Chocolat. Critics and readers alike were swept up by the novel's dramatic use of chocolate as a metaphor for the liberating powers of pleasure. One of those drawn to Harris's tale was director Lasse Hallström, who most recently undertook the screen adaptation of John Irving's Cider House Rules, The (1999), garnering critical acclaim and multiple Oscar nominations, including two Academy Award wins. Hallström saw at the heart of Harris's unusual fable a quality he always looks for in his cinematic stories: a celebration of the funny, eccentric and wonderfully unpredictable ways human beings behave with one another.
Hallström also found himself enchanted by the story's exploration of life's most delectable moments - and how they arise from the bitter, the dark and the semi-sweet. Ultimately, he saw the fable's moral as a call for tolerance, not just tolerance for indulgent pleasures like chocolate but a deeper appreciation for the wide expanse of human foibles and quirks.
"To me, CHOCOLAT is a very funny fable about temptation and the importance of not denying oneself the good things in life," says Hallström. "It's about the constant conflict in life between tradition and change. And at its very center it is about intolerance and the consequences of not letting other people live out their own lives and beliefs."
Hallström was particularly intrigued by the story's multi-layered tone, which has the magical essence of a fairy-tale, yet presents a series of characters whose emotions and concerns - from marital mistakes to family dishonesties -- are palpably, often humorously, real. "I was interested in the broad range of elements in this story: the dramatic, comedic, at times farcical, the poetic, a comic fable that doesn't simplify its character portraits but is rooted in reality."
Hallström continues: "I think a noticeable common thread in all my movies is a fascination with depicting human irrationality in all its wondrous, endearing forms. CHOCOLAT offered the opportunity to explore yet another set of character eccentricities. In this story, the characters are full of contradictions and therefore come alive and enter our hearts. The heroine of the story is Vianne, a truly free spirit but at the same time a prisoner to her destiny. Her nemesis, the Comte de Reynaud, appears in control but is a prisoner to his sense of tradition. The Comte de Reynaud looks through the town and sees sinners and failures; Vianne sees only human beings with flaws that might be forgiven."
Everyone involved with CHOCOLAT saw the involvement of Lasse Hallström as a pitch-perfect match. Produder Kit Golden notes: "When David Brown and I first read the novel, we immediately thought of both Lasse as director and Juliette as Vianne Rocher. To actually get them was a dream come true!"
"It seemed to all of us that this was a great story for Lasse because he always has so much fun bringing rich characters to life," says executive producer Alan C. Blomquist. "And that's what this story is all about - a wonderful collection of characters who abandon themselves to temptation and emerge renewed."
Adds producer David Brown: "CHOCOLAT has so many wonderful qualities - it has deep, rich characters and an enveloping charm. It's unlike any other story. But most of all, it has the essence of a fable, and yet, it tells the truth."
Just One Taste: The Story Of Chocolat
Writer Robert Nelson Jacobs found himself descending deeper and deeper into a chocoholic haze as he worked on the adaptation of CHOCOLAT, for which he conducted intensive research into the history, mystical legacies and myths surrounding chocolate. (Despite his cardiologist brother's warnings, Jacobs felt that he had to sample the wide range of chocolate's exultant effects -- for authenticity's sake, of course.) But the more Jacobs savored the chocolate, the more he was drawn into the story's rich center and its insights into human desires and the destructive impulses of repression and bigotry.
Jacobs decided from the beginning that his priority would be to get the mix of CHOCOLAT's elements exactly right, blending comedy, sensuality and dramatic confrontation with a hint of something mysterious in the recipe as well. "I was very drawn to the charm and the magic in the story, to the mixture of wit and wisdom," says Jacobs. "I wanted to strike a real balance between the humor, the dramatic surprises and most of all the real emotional honesty of the characters."
He continues: "I felt that CHOCOLAT was, at its heart, the story of how Vianne gives people faith in themselves and how, in turn, they give that gift back to her. It's not just the story of how Vianne changes Lansquenet but how Lansquenet changes Vianne."
Jacobs also wanted to present each of the townsfolk of Lasquenet as real, flesh-and-blood human beings, each filled with strengths and foibles of their own - the heroes fallible, the villains compassionate. His vision of Lansquenet was of a fable-like town populated by very human troubles and triumphs.
Jacobs did make one major change from the novel, which places the town's priest at the center of the battle with Vianne. Jacobs instead turned Reynaud from a priest into a nobleman - and turned the town's priest into a mere pawn in Reynaud's machinations. Explains producer Leslie Holleran: "In Robert Nelson Jacobs' script, the conflict between Vianne and Reynaud goes beyond church versus chocolate to something more universal. It becomes a conflict between a woman who blows in on the wind and a man who believes in tradition, rigidity, control and piety. This was an inspired and surprising bit of writing that really resonates in a global way. It's a testament to Bob Jacobs' inventiveness that he took the ideas of the novel and gave them even more scope. And of course the humor and humanity of the Comte De Reynaud really appeals to Lasse Hallström's style."
"What's wonderful about the script is that it could translate into any society in the world at any time period," notes David Brown. "It is a written as a story that people of all ages can enjoy but it has a real cutting edge to it."
Robert Nelson Jacobs also deepened the historical aspects of CHOCOLAT, delving into the myth-laden history of chocolate among Mexico's lost Mayan Indian civilization. Comments Joanne Harris, author of the novel: "I loved Robert Nelson Jacobs' script, and I thought he did a very nice job of interpreting the essence of the book in a way that comes alive at the movies."
Sensualists And Nay-sayers: The Townsfolk Of Lansquenet
From the beginning, the only person Lasse Hallström could envision as the mystical, mysterious single mother Vianne Rocher was Juliette Binoche. "Juliette was always the first choice for us and it was an absolute treat to have this chance to work with her," he says. "Her character is the center of the story, and Vianne must stand for kindness, tolerance and the free-spiritedness of love. Juliette is able to capture this because her approach to her work is to always be emotionally present in the scene. She respects the camera and knows just how little you need to convey a deep emotion. I think she was really able to expand in this role, which is different from anything she's done before."
Juliette Binoche was drawn not only to the character of Vianne, but by the power of the unique mother/daughter relationship between Vianne and her imaginative daughter Anouk, who has grown weary of her mother's persistent travels. "Vianne is a wanderer, and she expects to always keep moving," observes Binoche. "But I don't think she necessarily wants this life. It is pattern inside her and she can't yet pull herself away from it. She has an enormous struggle inside her that many people face: between the way her life was as a child, and the way she wants to live now. It's something we all struggle with - to break from our parents and our past and live our own lives."
She continues: "Despite these conflicts, there is something very essential and pure to the relationship between Vianne and Anouk. It comes from the guts, from the inside and is based on love."
Binoche was also intrigued by Vianne's more magical side - to which she ascribes a rational explanation. "Vianne's magic actually comes from believing that people can change and be happy. Her magic is about liberating people and making them believe in who they are. That really interested me."
Indeed, as Binoche plays Vianne, her powers are just as psychological as they are psychic. But what Vianne doesn't see for a very long time is how the town works its own magic on her. "She spends so much time giving people what they need, that when they give her something back, it comes as a complete surprise," explains Binoche. "Vianne sells small dreams and small comforts that add up to transformation in people's live. But without knowing it, they are able to transform hers just as much."
One of the characters Vianne transforms most dramatically is Josephine, played by Lena Olin. Olin and Binoche previously worked together in Philip Kaufman's acclaimed "Unbearable Lightness of Being, The (1988)," and their acclaimed chemistry as complex female friends is captured again in CHOCOLAT. "'Unbearable Lightness' was a long time ago and people change, but we still had a real connection," notes Binoche. "It was a great pleasure to work together again."
Lena Olin also happens to be the wife of director Lasse Hallström, and CHOCOLAT marks the first time they have worked together on a major feature film. "It was dream-like to work with her," says Hallström. "I knew it would be easy and comfortable but I never expected it would be such a high. Seeing her at work and having the give-and-take of ideas was a real kick and an inspiration to us both."
Hallström adds: "The role of Josephine is wonderful for Lena because it is so multi-layered and she's great at portraying characters who have a range of qualities. Josephine is eccentric and sensitive but she's also very strong. Lena honors these contradictions and unites them."
The mortal enemy of Josephine's awakening becomes the Comte De Reynaud, who rules the small town of Lansquenet with an abiding sense of moral rigidity. But, as Alfred Molina plays Reynaud, there is much more to him than authority and piety. "Reynaud probably goes through the most cathartic experience in the whole story," says Molina. "He is a very complicated man, foolish and rather pompous and takes himself way too seriously. He sees Vianne as this wild creature who threatens his patriarchy. And yet, Vianne and her chocolate unlocks the possibility for change."
Molina particularly saw the humor at the core of Reynaud's humorless lifestyle - and the ways in which his true self comes to the fore. "I find him quite comical, especially because he chooses to go to war over chocolate," says the actor. "Reynaud can't stand that Vianne is happy and he is deeply suspicious of her. Something in her, the freedom and the joy she brings to people, really frightens him."
Says producer Leslie Holleran of the Comte de Reynaud: "It's a great part because it allows the actor to be at once comical and powerful. Reynaud is both the foil and the person who gets totally unraveled in the end. Alfred Molina worked wonderfully because he truly has the ability to be both frightening and funny at the same time. To watch him work is to see a color wheel of possibilities: sometimes dark and heavy, sometimes very comedic, covering the whole spectrum."
In the town of Lansquenet, the Comte de Reynaud's austerity is balanced out by the eccentricity of Armande, an elder town figure. Armande is one of the first of the townsfolk to be taken in by Vianne's charms, and becomes her champion. One of the most acclaimed actresses of today, Dame Judi Dench, gives another many-hued performance as Armande, playing her as a woman with a crusty sense of independence and a grand sense of humor.
Says Dench: "I think Armande is a bit of a witch who sees in Vianne a reflection of herself. Like everybody else in the story, Armande is caught up by Vianne's ability to create change. What I loved about the film is that it's about the lifting of spirits - not to mention that I got to eat and drink enormous amounts of chocolate!"
"Armande is one of true centers of the story," adds Holleran, "and Dame Judi Dench filled us with awe in her portrayal - she was so smooth, so effortless, so dead on emotionally. She can turn anything into a magical moment."
Another source of CHOCOLAT's magic comes from the romance Vianne has with the vagabond traveler Roux, played by Johnny Depp in a role he has rarely been seen in -- the film's romantic lead. Depp was drawn both to the film's iconoclastic love story and to a second chance to work with Lasse Hallström, with whom he previously collaborated on "What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)" "I would do just about anything Lasse asked of me," admits Depp, "but this was such a beautiful story, such a beautifully written script. And it fits so well with Lasse and his interest in telling stories that actually try to say something in an entertaining, funny and different way."
Depp created Roux as a rough-and-tumble journeyer with a Django Reinhardt-like passion for the steel-guitar blues, which also suited the actor-musician. "He's the kind of guy who lands his boat in a village and busks for awhile, then moves on," Depp explains. "I thought Roux would be really into old blues, and this is the first time I've actually played the guitar on film." (Depp notes that he mimed his guitar lines for "Cry-Baby (1990).") Inspiring Depp throughout was Juliette Binoche, of whom he says: "She's so beautiful and deep, she makes you fall instantly in love with her. She's an intensely committed actress and if art is possible in cinema, I think she comes as close as anyone can."
For Lasse Hallström, Depp brought "a wonderful presence and a true leading man quality." "I'm always impressed by what he does," says the director. "His choices are always very tasteful and very accurate and beyond that, he is a wonderful, kind man."
Roux's antithesis in Lansquenet can be found in Josephine's brutish husband Serge, whose crude and primitive impulses are brought to the fore in the battle against Vianne. Serge is played by Peter Stormare, best known for his unforgettable role as the cold-blooded killer in "Fargo (1996)," who had the unusual challenge of playing husband to the director's real-life wife, Lena Olin. "Thankfully, as a fellow Swede, Lena and I have a history together performing in plays at drama school, so it was all quite professional," laughs Stormare. Stormare was intrigued by the tragic part Serge plays in the town's reaction to Vianne. "I've never played anyone like Serge before," he says. "He's such a sad character. Not really evil, I think, but sad. Once, he had it all, but alcohol killed that."
Adds Leslie Holleran: "Everyone who's seen 'Fargo (1996)' knows that there can't be a scarier person than when Peter locks in with that stare. But people haven't seen the other side of Peter: his comic timing. The role could easily have been played in a one-note fashion, but Peter creates a child-like, fanciful character and brings a whole new perspective and layer to his story."
In addition to the complexities of his own character, Stormare was intrigued by the big picture of CHOCOLAT. "To me, it is a story about what happens whenever an exotic wind blows into a town," he explains. "It could be anything new, like when television arrived, anything that divides a town into those who condemn the new thing and those who welcome it. In this way, the story, which is so entertaining, is really a metaphor about life and society."
Equally drawn to that metaphor was Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Armande's estranged daughter Caroline, who also happens to be the Comte De Reynaud's ally in the war against the chocolate shop. "I just loved the mix of magic and truth in the story," says Moss. She describes her character as a woman who "lives a life of extreme control." "Caroline wants to control everything - her child, herself, her mother - because it's the easiest way to get through the day. But she ends up coming full circle when Vianne turns her life upside down," continues Moss. "She learns to let go for a minute and experience the freedom and lightness of that."
Perhaps the most innocent character in CHOCOLAT is Vianne's troubled young daughter Anouk, played by Victoire Thivisol who made history by winning the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival at the age of four, for her moving role in "Ponette (1996)."
"Victoire's a very Lasse kind of child in that there's something wise about her," notes Holleran. "Lasse's children are always old souls. They are jubilant, naïve, unmannered and unpretentious, yet you also know that they are about to change your perspective on the world. The camera loves Victoire, and reveals both a kind of wisdom and the giddy playfulness of a child."
Thivisol refers to Anouk as a "funny, tricky little girl just like me." She adds: "I loved working with Lasse. He's so sweet and nice and he listened to my ideas."
Another young actor who makes his feature film debut in CHOCOLAT is Aurelien Parent-Koenig, who plays the role of lonely Luc, Armande's tormented grandson. Says Dame Judi Dench of Koenig, "He brings a wonderful kind of boyish energy. He has a natural curiosity in every part of life that is always marvelous in an actor. He's terrific."
Summarizes Leslie Holleran: "Lasse's approach to actors is always the same, no matter their age. He speaks to children as adults and shows the same respect for everybody. In a sense, he sees the childishness in grown ups and the grown-up wisdom in children, both of which play a huge role in CHOCOLAT."
A Chocolate Initiation
Like the characters in CHOCOLAT, chocolate itself takes on many different characteristics as the tale deepens: it can be devilish in its allure, compel blissful joy or comfort harrowing sorrows. Throughout, it is a catalyst for change, and because of that it becomes a danger and a threat to the status quo. To better understand the ways in which chocolate has long been associated with both power and pleasure, Juliette Binoche literally became a student of the dark, bitter and semi-sweet, heading off to chocolate cooking school.
"I have always loved chocolate but in CHOCOLAT, chocolate becomes more than just a sweet taste. It becomes a gesture towards others or towards yourself, a sort of compassion. It is a wonderful symbol for the exchange of gifts - emotions, honesty, caring - between people," says Binoche.
Binoche journeyed to several highly regarded French chocolateries and studied with the chocolate specialist Walter Bienz in preparation for playing the chocolate magician Vianne. She also sampled confections from the four corners of the earth, and read about chocolate's Mayan origins as the "food of the gods."
"In the beginning I asked Joanne Harris why she had chosen chocolate as Vianne's method and she explained that it has a long history as something that has been shared around the world," says Binoche. "This interested me. There is chocolate in Asia, Africa and South America, yet I discovered each tastes a little different, and each seems to bring its own special energy."
Consultant Walter Bienz concurs. "I have always believed chocolate has power. It is certainly an aphrodisiac and it can bring emotions to the fore - after all, everyone goes a little mad for chocolate." Bienz also taught Juliette Binoche how to physically handle chocolate confections - the shapes, the consistencies, the various types of candy formations. "There are at least fifty different types of chocolate and what you create depends on what you use and at what temperature," notes Bienz. "There is a real art to it."
Binoche immediately took to stirring, heating and testing. "I so enjoyed working with the chocolate," she admits. "There's a fascination in seeing these dark, fluid rivers of chocolate and knowing how to turn them into all kinds of different delights."
"Walter Bienz gave us all a sense of how sensual the experience of chocolate can be," adds Leslie Holleran. "He quite literally swoons for the subject and is philosophical about it. You come away from talking with him thinking chocolate can change your life. You feel like popping this magical candy into your mouth is going to set you free."
A Magically Real Town: Forging Lansquenet
CHOCOLAT takes place in a fairy tale village where the patterns of people's lives were established long before they were born and have changed little from year-to-year, until Vianne Rocher arrives and shatters the tranquil veneer. To capture the essence of what Vianne finds in tiny, charmed Lansquenet, the filmmakers of CHOCOLAT wanted to create a village that would come off as "magically real" -- in other words, they wanted a fable-like town that actually exists, a place with outer charm yet viscerally dark corners within.
After searching the nooks and crannies of Europe's backroads, production designer David Gropman happened upon the medieval French town of Flavigny. Near to Dijon in the Burgundy region, Flavigny dates back to the 10th century. Here, Gropman found a picturesque village set atop a hill, with streams flowing down three sides. But that's not all he found. It turns out Flavigny's main industry is the manufacture of Anis de Flavigny candies, which are renowned around France.
"I liked Flavigny because it wasn't too sugar-coated and prettified, yet it had magic to it," says Gropman. "Wandering through it, I loved the geography the relationship of the buildings. It seemed to perfectly fit the design concept Lasse and I had discussed: emphasizing a simplicity of story-storytelling and the most honest expression."
Another unique aspect of Flavigny was its timelessnes. Explains producer David Brown: "When you look out at the countryside here, there are no billboards, no high-rises, no road side businesses. All you see are horses, cows, lambs and real people in an enchanted village. It's an extraordinary atmosphere in which to tell a story."
Given this simple slate upon which to draw, Gropman worked closely with Lasse Hallström putting together a notebook of photographs, drawings and illustrations that might capture the very special visual look and feel of the film. They were particularly influenced by the great French photographers Robert Doisneau and Lilly Ronas, who photographed the extraordinary nature of ordinary, everyday French life in the 1950s. "There are some great photos of village life in that period. We also had some photos of street festivals in small towns which we were able to completely recreate for the Festival Du Chocolat," says Gropman.
Hallström was particularly impressed with David Gropman's ability to bring a sense of the mystical to Vianne's chocolaterie. "David really brings to life the feeling of cocoa's ancient, Mayan legacy and its magical qualities through the design of Vianne's shop and even the look of the chocolates," says the director. "I really have to hand it to him. The coming to life of Lansquenet is his handiwork."
"You walk onto his sets and feel as if a storybook has been brought to life," summarizes Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays the Lansquenet villager Caroline. "They were so beautiful they almost seemed like they had been enchanted by a little of Vianne's magic."
Filming in Flavigny stirred up its own small-town controversies, including a group of monks who had fears about the film's theme of seeking pleasure in this world rather than waiting for the promise of a better one. "Luckily, the mayor and the local priest were both very incredibly supportive and mustered a lot of good will among the locals," notes Alan C. Blomquist. "The priest even wrote a very funny letter to the monks explaining to them that a film can't be judged just by the script but has to do with the casting, the editing and the execution. We were lucky to have such a cinephile priest!"
Later, when the production had temporarily renovated the town square of Flavigny to become Lansquenet, the cast and crew invited the townsfolk to a party, letting them wander through the fictionalized set. "It was a wonderful experience to see the community of Flavigny take their evening strolls through town with their cameras - looking at their home town in a new way. Several older residents said it recalled the feeling of their youth," notes Gropman. "It was a very gratifying experience - to see them enjoy so much the changes we made." Kit Golden adds: "We made it snow in Flavigny in May! All of the townspeople came out to watch. It was truly a magical moment."
In addition to Flavigny, scenes were shot in the West Country of England. A number of locations were used, including Bruton for Armande's farmhouse, the manor at Brympton D'Eversy for Reynaud's house and Fonthill Bishop for the river scenes.
The remainder of the shoot took place in Shepperton Studios in Twickenham, England, where the town square at Flavigny was rebuilt and most of the interiors were shot - including the chocolate shop, the shop kitchen and Vianne's apartment. David Gropman literally made a rubber cast of the fronts of Flavigny's buildings and carried it back to England in order to forge a perfect reproduction. "It was amazing," says producer Kit Golden. "We walked onto the stage on the first day of shooting at Shepperton and felt we were right back in France." Adds Lasse Hallström: "Every wrinkle in every stone is an exact replica of the real town. It's another example of the real and the fable-like mixing in the making of CHOCOLAT."
Throughout the shoot, Lasse Hallström attempted to blur the line between myth and emotion, fable and funny human truths. To accomplish this visually, he worked closely with cinematographer Roger Pratt, who was recently Oscar-nominated for his evocatively stylized work on "End Of The Affair, The (1999)."
"Roger Pratt supported the poetic tone of the film by creating images that have a sort of dreamy, nostalgic feeling to them without resorting to sepia tones," states Hallström. "He really has the ability to bring you back and put you in another time and place without any sentimentality or cuteness. The look transports you to a realm where these funny, magical events might be possible and where the characters' humanity can be believed."
A Brief History Of Chocolate
It seems that long before Vianne Rocher entered the picture, chocolate has been a factor in the battle between life's pleasures and those who would deny them. The real-life history of chocolate is filled with contradictory rumors and fairytales. There are those who have spoken of chocolate's mystical powers and healing qualities, and yet chocolate has also incited repression, moral judgements and even political banishment. Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs delved into this rich and pungent history in order to give the character of Vianne a legacy steeped in mystery - a legacy that goes all the way back to the Mayan Indians and a tree bearing a fruit known as "the food of the gods." Below are some highlights from this intricate history:
Chocolate literally grows on trees, appearing in its raw state as pods on the 40-60 foot tall trees known botanically as "Theobroma cacao," which means "food of the gods." This wide-branching tropical evergreen has grown wild in Central America since prehistoric times. It also grows in South America, Africa and part of Asia.
The Mayan Indians of Mexico began using a form of chocolate as early as 600 a.d., at which point they worshiped the cocoa bean as an idol, a literal gift from the heavens.
Cocoa beans were thought to have fearsome magical powers by the Maya and were carefully used in rituals, religious ceremonies and healings by priests. The Maya used cocoa medicinally as a treatment for fever, coughs and even discomfort during pregnancy.
The Maya had a God, Ykchaua, who served as the patron of cocoa merchants.
The Maya were the first to invent a cocoa drink, a hot, mostly bitter beverage made up ground cocoa pods and spices.
Later, the Aztec Indians improved upon the recipe, sweetening it with vanilla and honey. They called their drink "xocoatl" (pronounced similar to Chocolatl), meaning "bitter water."
In Aztec myth, the god of agriculture, Questzalcoatl, traveled to earth carrying the cocoa tree from Paradise, because it would bring humans wisdom and power.
Chocolate became so highly regarded by the Aztecs that it was used as a form of currency along with gold dust.
The Florentine Codex, one of the main historical sources describing Aztec life, calls chocolate "The drink of nobles," and notes that it must be prepared with the meticulous care due to its powerful nature.
Although Columbus returned to Europe with the first cocoa beans, no one knew what to do with them and they were dismissed in favor of other trade goods.
Europeans got their first real taste of chocolate when Emperor Moctezuma met the explorer Cortes and his army with a foaming hot-chocolate drink.
In 1528 when Cortes returned to Spain from the New World, he brought with him the Aztec's chocolate drink making equipment and the trend began to catch on. But due to the drink's powerful reputation, the beans were sequestered away in monasteries and the formula for the drink kept secret, to be enjoyed only by the wealthiest of nobility.
In the early 1600s Italian traveler Antonio Carletti carried the beans tot he rest of Europe and for the first time, chocolate came to the common people.
By the 1700s, so-called "Chocolate Houses" were all the rage, as popular as coffee houses. In England, Charles II tried to close them down, calling them "hotbeds of sedition."
When chocolate first made its way to France, in the 18th century, it was decried by authorities as a "dangerous drug."
The idea of mixing chocolate with milk did not come until the 18th century. Sir Hans Sloane, personal doctor to Queen Anne, invented the secret recipe and later sold it to the Cadbury brothers who made a fortune with new confections.
It was a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, who developed the modern cocoa process, inventing a hydraulic press that would produce a fine cocoa powder. Thus began the era mass-produced chocolate.