Chocolate. We love it, you love it and every day, millions of people enjoy it in all its delicious forms. But where does it come from and how did it get to be so popular? In this short history of chocolate, we’ll look at how a simple, rather bitter-tasting little bean was transformed into one of the best loved foods in the world.
Now, if you’re sitting comfortably, preferably with a big bag of your favourite Thorntons, we’ll begin...
The amazing Aztecs…
Our journey starts around 4,000 years ago in the Americas. Ancient tribes like the Aztecs and Mayans revered cacao (or cocoa) beans, eating them before going into battle because they were thought to give strength. The Aztecs also believed that cacao actually came from paradise itself and whoever ate the beans would be blessed with wisdom, energy and, ahem, enhanced sexual powers.
Hang on, we’ve got an idea!
The Aztecs are thought to have been the first people to turn the cacao beans into a more edible form. They roasted the beans, ground them into a paste and dissolved the paste in water with a few spices and chillies. It might not sound particularly yummy, but there it was, the very first drinking chocolate. They called it chocolate, which means bitter drink, and it was lapped up in sacred rituals and quaffed by elite tribesmen for the next few hundred years, until...
In the 1500s the Europeans decided to go exploring and stick their noses in. We’re all familiar with Chris Columbus, the Spanish conquistadors’ ‘discovery’ of America and just how badly that turned out for the native people. But at first the Spanish didn’t realise the potential for cacao, preferring other wonders like gold.
Welcome to Spain
In 1519, the Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma in Mexico, where he was presented with a golden goblet of chocolate. Realising he’d stumbled across something pretty amazing, Cortez took some cacao beans back to Spain, where monks perfected a technique for roasting and grinding them. They also had the brilliant idea of replacing the chilli with cane sugar to improve the taste.
Just for posh people?
With the Aztecs conquered, the Spanish were able to establish their own huge plantations and export large amounts of cacao back to Europe. By the 17th century, chocolate had become something of a luxury item among Europe’s aristocracy.
In the 17th century, diarist Samuel Pepys swore by chocolate’s energising properties and Napoleon carried it with him into battle to give him a quick boost. Parisians were using it to treat problems like indigestion and nervous conditions.
But with the advent of the industrial revolution and mass production in the late 18th and early 19th century, delicious chocolate, now in a solid form, began to take off in a big way.
We love chocolate!
Today, chocolate has become one of the most versatile and beloved foods in the world. And yet it’s become so much more – we have an emotional, sensual connection with chocolate that we have with few other foods. It comforts us, delights us, draws us in and gives us a taste experience unlike any other. Simply put, we love it. And the humble beans it comes from have had a heck of a journey over the past 4,000 years.
The craft of making chocolate begins with the humble cocoa bean. But how does a simple little bean become wonderful chocolate in all its amazing forms? Let’s see...
Harvesting the beans
Cocoa beans come from the tropical cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao – “food of the gods”). Its fruit appears in bright red, green, purple or yellow pods, which change colour as they ripen. The pods are cut from the trees between May and December, when the beans are popped straight out and covered in banana leaves to help them ferment. After around three to nine days, they go dark brown and start to give off a nice cocoa-y aroma.
Roasting and winnowing
Once the beans are ready, they're roasted, which helps bring out their colour, flavours and aromas. They are then passed through a machine which cracks them open and separates the husks from the precious centres, or nibs.
Grinding and mixing
Now the nibs are free, they are ground, squishing them into a pulpy mass (the solid) and butter. These are then mixed with sugar and milk powder. More grinding then makes the cocoa bits even finer.
So the chocolate goes all lovely and melty in your mouth, a high percentage of cocoa butter is used.
Conching and tempering
Funny word, conching. It’s basically a refining process that gets rid of any unwanted flavours or smells by heating, constantly stirring and adding in flavours. By the end of this process, the chocolate has developed its full flavour and is all smooth and gloopy.
At this point, we cool the chocolate from 45ºc to about 28ºc, then raise it again to 30ºc. Why? This critical stage crystallises the butter, giving the chocolate a perfectly firm structure and glossy finish.
Then all we have to do is turn it into chocolates and all you have to do is enjoy them!
Thorntons has been making people smile for over 100 years with our chocolates, and our cafes have been created with the same ideas in mind; to bring people together, through a special moment in an otherwise ordinary day. If you love our chocolate (and why wouldn't you?) you'll love Thorntons cafes.
Take a little time out to, enjoy a tea, coffee or a hot chocolate, made from our own delicious Thorntons chocolate recipe. Indulge in one of our cakes or pastries, or try something from our savoury menu - whatever your tastes, you’ll find something in our selection to enjoy! Plus we refresh our menus seasonally, so there’s always something for everyone!
Being one of Britain's best loved brands takes a team of people who are dedicated, passionate, diligent, cheerful, thoughtful, resilient, ambitious and most of all consumed by the desire to make all of our customers (and colleagues) smile everyday.
This doesn't happen overnight and here at Thorntons we take the time to ensure the people we recruit are as important as the yummy chocolates we make. On this site we have pulled together all the reasons why Thorntons is a such a fantastic place to work. You'll find everything from how we started, to where we are going, stories from people who work at Thorntons, information about what makes us tick plus a whole host of handy bits of information to help you decide if you want to come and join the best sweetshop in town.
Our company vision is to be Britain’s best loved chocolate brand, making every customer smile. This is something that we all work towards every day across our business and this vision is underpinned by our three values: Creativity, Excellence and Bringing People Together.
Being creative at Thorntons is about identifying opportunities to do things better and there is the chance for everyone in every role across the business to do this. Working with chocolate also gives us lots of opportunities to be creative.
We love to turn our great ideas into reality and we aim to put that touch of creativity into everything we do, from our products right the way through to our stores and service. We want to make all our customers smile after all!
We hope that excellence shines through. This value is one where we really get to blow our own trumpet! From our factories through to our stores, we set high standards and lead in our field. We are really proud of some of the fantastic awards that we’ve won for our excellent work over the years.
Bringing People Together
We recognise that part of what makes working at Thorntons so great is the sense of teamwork. We are all working together to achieve great things not only within our own teams but as a wider team across the business. We also want to bring all of our customers together by making sure that, through our chocolate and our people, we help our customers say important things to those they care about.
I worked at Thorntons (UK) full-time
Free to self manage. Buy out by Ferrero means the cons will lessen.
Lacked staff training and guidance
I applied in-person. I interviewed at Thorntons (UK).
Really nice group interview process, employees were friendly and encouraging. They gave us some group tasks to do for example 2 truths 1 lie. I was called a few days later to confirm that I had the job and started a week after. All in all a positive experience.