Chocolate and Africa

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A white man beating an enslaved African man in Brazil

A white man beating an enslaved African man in Brazil

As more and more people wanted chocolate, farmers had to grow more and more cocoa beans. By 1677, Spanish land-owners were buying West African people to farm cocoa beans as slaves, first in Brazil, and then in Venezuela.

Gradually during the 1600s Europeans began to let kids drink chocolate too. Traders slowly convinced people further and further east to try chocolate: in 1643, people drank chocolate in France; by 1704 in Germany, by 1711 in Vienna, and before 1750 people in Russiawere trying chocolate too. European traders brought chocolate-drinking back west to North America in 1755. By 1834 British traders were trying to get people to drink chocolate in India, and soon after that in China, but chocolate didn’t really become popular in India or China – most people drank tea instead.

Tetteh Quarsie: a black man's head with a hat on, drawing

Tetteh Quarsie

More and more people wanted chocolate, but the American Revolutionary War in 1776, and the War of 1812 after that, made it hard to ship cocoa beans from South America to Europe – there was too much fighting going on among ships in the Atlantic Ocean. By 1819, Christian missionaries brought cocoa beans to West Africa to grow there, because West Africa had the same Central America, and there weren’t any wars there. But cocoa trees did not really grow very well in Africa until a 28 year old Ghanaian man, Tetteh Quarshie, went to South America himself and learned how to grow cocoa trees in 1870. After that a lot of chocolate came from Africa.

Ghirardelli machine crushes cocoa beans (1850s)

Ghirardelli machine crushes cocoa beans (1850s)

In 1830, British chocolate makers invented a way to make solid pieces of chocolate, instead of just hot chocolate drinks. People began to give chocolate candy in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day. By 1875, Swiss chocolate makers invented milk chocolate bars. As people began to use machines to make things instead of making everything by hand, they also began to use machines to make chocolate candies.

Children open cocoa pods (Ivory Coast, 2011)

Children open cocoa pods (Ivory Coast, 2011)

Thanks to the use of slave labor in West Africa to grow cocoa beans, and the use of machines in Europe and the United States to make the beans into chocolate, chocolate became much cheaper than before. By 1900, chocolate bars were an ordinary treat for most people in Europe and North America. In Central America, people began to eat chocolate bars, but they continued to make their traditional bitter chocolate drinks as well.

This chocolate’s fair trade, organic, vegan, and gluten free!


By 1910, progressives in the United States convinced Congress to pass a law that no chocolate grown by slaves could be sold in the United States. But most people who picked cocoa beans were still very poor and overworked, and many of these people were children. By 2000, a few small chocolate producers in the United States began to produce chocolate from Fair Trade farms, but 99% of the chocolate sold in the world today is still picked and processed by very poor people, and hundreds of thousands of those people are enslaved children.

Chocolate and Aztecs
Chocolate and Sugar
Learn by Doing – Chocolate Mousse Project

Bibliography and further reading about chocolate:

Chocolate Mousse Recipe
Or a chocolate strawberries recipe
Chocolate Cake Recipe
More Latin American food
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By | 2017-06-21T01:09:55+00:00 June 21st, 2017|Africa, Economy, Food|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Chocolate and Africa. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 21, 2017. Web. February 24, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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