In 1660, King Louis XIV secured a lasting peace with Spain through his marriage to Maria Teresa, the Spanish Infanta. She brought with her to Paris a curious little bean. Once fermented, dried, roasted, and ground into a fine powder, this bean produced the most delicious hot drink when combined with sugar and spices – such as vanilla and cinnamon – and even a bit of milk.
The bean, called cacao, had been used by the Mayan and Aztec people of the Americas for centuries. With it, they made xocoatl (cho-co-at-l), meaning bitter (xoco) water (atl): a sacred drink used for ritual and ceremonial purposes. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived on the South American continent in the 1500’s, they quickly became addicted to xocoatl. It was said to provide them with a heightened sense of energy. They brought the cacao bean to Europe in the holds of their Galleons, alongside their treasures of silver and gold – that’s how highly they valued their discovery. In Spain, the drink was transformed into a sweeter confection, more suitable to European tastes. Its name was transformed as well into “chocolate”.
The 22-year old Spanish princess loved her daily hot chocolate so much that she also brought to Paris a servant to prepare it. La Molina, or the whisk, was renowned for her ability to whip hot chocolate into a light froth. Soon, the drink became all the rage with the ladies of the French Court. La Molina was tasked with instructing others in its preparation.
One day, a clever young apprentice thought to serve the whipped chocolate cooled and molded into pretty bite-sized morsels. These were so delicious that the Court ladies dubbed them not merely bon, meaning ‘good’, but bonbon, meaning ‘doubly good’. This is the origin of the moniker “bonbon” to refer to a sweet treat.
Thus, a new artisanal profession was born at the Court of Louis XIV: the Chocolatier. In no time the Ladies of the Louvre Palace were enjoying their chocolate bonbons served and stored in decorative boxes. They offered their bonbons to others as a sign of courtesy and a gesture of distinction and good taste. One knew if they had fallen out of favor with the King, however, if they were not treated to bonbon by a Lady.
Museu de la Xocolata, Barcelona
The Chocolate Girl, Jean-Étienne Liotard, Swiss-French painter (1702 – 1789).