In the early 16th Century, after the conquest of Mexico, Aztec Emperor Montezuma offered the explorer Hernan Cortez fifty jars of chocolate (a valued currency of the Aztecs). Spanish explorers soon returned to Spain with cocoa beans and told of their use in the distant continent. Drinking chocolate, mixed with sugar cane and spices such as cinnamon, became popular in Spain and chocolatiers soon discovered how versatile this small bean could be.
Cocoa can only be found in equatorial climates which provide the right conditions for the tree to grow. Similar to the olive tree, it can take 5 or 6 years before the tree reaches maturity and yields bean pods. After harvesting, the beans need to be clean and roasted. The husks are then removed and the beans ground to small pieces called nibs. The nibs are then ground to a fine paste and added to sugar and cocoa butter, which is also extracted from the beans. Finally the chocolate is moulded into bars and individual chocolates with various fillings.
In 1881 Valeriano Lopez Lloret founded a small family business making chocolate and Valor has been producing chocolate in Spain ever since, first as hand-made chocolates and now in a large factory on the outskirts of Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca coast. Here it is possible to visit the museum to learn about the history of the industry before touring the factory itself and eventually tasting the final product – the best part of the tour. It is amazing just how many versions of chocolate they produce from drinking powder, huge bars and individual handcrafted chocolates. This year’s Christmas offering is a box of chocolates with cocktail-based centres such as cosmopolitan and pina colada.