In 1753 the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, considered by many to be the father of biological taxonomy, officially identified a tree as the food of the gods: theobroma cacao. The tree’s fruit, which grows in the shade of tropical rainforests, is known simply as cacao: a football-shaped pod that changes from green to yellow to red as it ripens. Inside a cacao is a good deal of white goop, and inside that goop are the fatty, almond-sized seeds (commonly called beans) that chocolate is made from.
“Xocoatl,” the word we get chocolate from, comes from a bitter Aztec cacao drink—probably similar to the drinking chocolate that (legend says) King Montezuma shared with the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes in the 16th century. By the 1700s, a sweetened version of the drink swept Spain—and the rest of the world soon after, with the help of companies such as Cadbury, Nestle, and Hershey’s.
Which brings us to the chocolate drinks we know today: usually sweet, milky beverages laden with sugar and lactose—and lacking in the complex flavors that chocolate fanatics crave. (At the other end of the spectrum are the heavy, hot, melted chocolate drinks served at establishments such as New York’s City Bakery.)