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The True History of Chocolate

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,190 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Cultivated by slaves, consumed by the elite, paid out as a tribute to conquerors, this tale of one of the world's favourite foods draws upon botany, archaeology, socio-economics and culinary history to provide a complete history of chocolate, beginning 3000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico. The book also includes quotations and old recipes,
Paperback, 280 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Thames and Hudson (first published 1996)
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 ·  1,190 ratings  ·  111 reviews

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May 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Lets talk chocolate :)

This book as been on the shelf for ages so I am glad I finally got round to it. My expectations were a bit too high I'm afraid (unsurprising since chocolate is serious business in my country.)

At times I was a bit distracted by all that marvellous research put into to the book and just wanted to return to chocolate itself. Which is why it took me longer to finish then I had expected.

Anyway its done now and I am glad I read it.

Probably the best book I’ve read yet on the history of a particular substance. Thoroughly researched and referenced, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the history of chocolate. In addition, the authors correct misconceptions and myths, and coming from authors with a speciality on ancient Mesoamerica, they are able to go into extensive detail about the pre-Columbian uses of chocolate which most other books on the subject simply skim over. Easy read, nice flowing style too.

7 out of 10
Jul 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with the only other Coe book I've read so far, I give this book 5 stars for the information, 3 stars for the writing (hence, 4 star average).

Learning about chocolate is the next best thing to actually eating chocolate, and this book certainly gives the reader many tasty tidbits on which to nibble. Starting with a basic description of the trees themselves (how and where they grow, the different types) and what happens to the beans to get a usable product (fermentation, roasting, etc.), the
Jun 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very well written and researched exploration of the history of chocolate focusing on its early roots in Mesoamerica and its takeover of Europe. Unfortunately, as the authors point out, many of the original documents, recipes, and information about chocolate from Nahuatl, Maya, Aztec, etc users was destroyed or lost so much of the information is only available second hand from people who didn't speak the language, didn't care to learn about the culture, or were missionaries or apologists for ...more
Chesapeake Bae
Oh, divine chocolate! They grind thee kneeling, beat thee with hands praying, and drink thee with eyes to heaven. -Marco Antonio Orellana

This sometimes fun history of chocolate begins with the Maya, who drank chocolate warm and spiced, and ends in the ironic tale of Maya Gold, Green & Black's chocolate bar found in stores today with the cacao from Mayan farmers. The first few chapters are slow going. But this modern world history teacher couldn't put the book down once the manner which
Karen Brooks
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fascinating exploration of the history of chocolate, from its Mayan "origins" to pre-conquest Aztecs, through to its co-opting by Spain and other European powers as a consumable delicacy for the wealthy and powerful alone. How it was consumed and why, how it was as much as status symbol as a medicinal is also covered. Over time, the consumption of chocolate and its marketing and production changed until its "dark" origins and the involvement of slaves and now child labour on ...more
Feb 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was chalk full of facts and information, but Coe's writing style left something to be desired. It was too academic; often lacking clarity and coherence. In his introduction Coe indicates that he wrote this book based on the research and notes of his late wife, Sophia, who passed away unexpectedly from cancer. Thus, he's writing this book as a sort of tribute to his wife. I think that's sweet (no pun intended).

The first two chapters about chocolate in the Mayan and Aztec culture were
Laura Crockett
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is not only a history of chocolate, but a slice of history of the area from which it originated (Mesoamerica) the Aztecs and then the history of how chocolate came to Europe, North America and so forth. There are recipes for hot chocolate from the 18th century included. I have tried a couple. Let me tell you! This is not your powdered chocolate mix that you buy in the supermarket or at Trader Joe's. Those powders are milk/sugar based. And I will not go back to drinking a cup of that stuff ...more
Jera Em
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an excellent book that gives a very clear idea of how chocolate has developed into it's familiar form today. I thought it was interesting that chocolate used to exclusively be a drink and that when the Spanish were first introduced to it they hated the stuff. When it did finally become popular in Europe it was unfortunately linked with the slave trade (and there are quite a few issues with it today as well). Definitely an informative book!

I love how learning about one specific food will
Bob Newman
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
from the Mayas to Mars bars

Starting off with a "chemical kaleidescope" of chocolate itself, we read progressively about the distant origins of the cacao tree in South America and then in Mesoamerica. Cacao became one of the most important crops among the Maya, Toltec, Aztec and other Indian peoples, used as a drink (without sugar) by the elites. Cacao beans were used as money, a practice which continued after the Spanish conquest. In a most readable, interesting style, Coe takes us through the
Nov 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: chocolate lovers
This book is a comprehensive study of the history of chocolate. The authors are academics and the book reads as such. It can be a bit dry, but if you are keen, there is much to learn about the cultural and political importance of chocolate from the Aztecs and Mayans to the elite of Boroque Europe, the slave trade and the spread of the drink around the globe to the post-industrial revolution inventions by Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey, etc. ..even Green & Blacks. If you are a chocoholic or a ...more
Kim C
May 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: chocoholics, history buffs
This book is a monster (transcribing it into braille was, anyhow). The Coes did a great job at harvesting all existing knowledge about chocolate (ancient past, recent past, and present) into one volume. I believe this is a vast reliable resource on the subject if you are looking for this kind of thing. As this book was assigned for me to transcribe, it wasn't anywhere near my first pick of books, but I must say I enjoyed the read! I learned a lot of semi-useless information albeit interesting. I ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The True History of Chocolate, now in it's 3rd edition, gives a very full history of the cacao tree and it's fruit seeds which we use today to make all the chocolate items desired by the masses. Drs. Coe have written an entertaining, accessible, history book which begins with discussion of cacao from its early days as a form of money for the natives of Central and South America.
The way that cacao is particularly intertwined with the author's expertise in Mesoamerican history makes this a must
Kevin Kasowski
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was taught history in the most boring fashion possible as if all people ever did was fight wars and build and lose empires. So I love reading these kinds of histories that actually give you a sense of what life was really like for the people themselves at various ages.

I give this 3 stars for content but 2 for writing. It is an interesting story but it is written by two anthropologists and isn't as accessible as others I've read in this genre. Lots of "we shall return to this subject later" and
Jul 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like cultural anthropology and you like chocolate, then you will like this book.

It reads like a thesis on chocolate, but this is not a bad thing. In fact, it makes it all the more valid and interesting. Included are several pages of references so you, too, can continue your knowledge of this wonderful plant product.

I would say this book is more geared for those scientifically inclined, but the history of chocolate's spread throughout the world is still a good read for anyone.
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really thorough history of chocolate. It had more of an anthropological perspective which I really enjoyed. I definitely feel like I have learned a lot more about the history of chocolate and the history of the Mayans too.
Misty Galbraith
Read for February book club- theme: chocolate! This was a serious history book, and a little above my pay grade in parts, but still an intriguing, new genre for me to read. One of my favorite parts of the book was the possible etymology of the word chocolate. Traditionally, the Aztec word cacahuatl was very close to the Spanish word caca (meaning feces). Quote: “It is hard to believe that the Spanish were NOT thoroughly uncomfortable with a noun beginning with caca to describe a thick, ...more
The style may be academic but the info is fascinating and the primary source research is impressive. Would make a great documentary.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For many years this book was in my shelve to be read. But I am glad to have finally read it

An amazing book, really well researched with tons of info that really surprised me.

Also the story behind of it writing it is so sweet; with Michael Coe finishing the book and putting his wife as main author after all the years spent building the text. That is true love!

Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
written by a husband and wife whose last name is Coe. yes, Coe-Coe wrote this history about cocoa. the story of this book is bittersweet because the wife, who was the original author, died before she could complete it and her husband took over and finished it.

fantastic history. history the way it should be done always with lots of facts couched in self-aware acknowledgment of where those facts came from mixed with a wry sense of humor. too often, historians tend to write dryly from some sense of
Dec 04, 2010 rated it liked it
Before I read this book I didn't know much about the origin of one of my most favorite treats: chocolate.

The authors spend a very large portion of the book talking about chocolate's very early history in Central America. Contrary to popular belief, the Aztecs didn't invent chocolate, although the drank lots of it. Earlier civilizations, like the Mayans and Olmecs can be credited with the invention of chocolate, although not in a form we would probably recognize today. All the early Central
Denise Louise
Apr 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
It's a pity this book had such a stilted and old-fashioned style, because it could have been a very good book otherwise. Probably two thirds of the book is detailed, scholarly history of chocolate in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and its slow introduction into Europe after discovery (that is, conquest) of the New World. The story of development of chocolate from drink to food was not nearly so richly explained, and the end of the book feels quite rushed. Unfortunately, the book's tone in straight ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, food
Some of the Maya and Aztec info is in her earlier book on Mesoamerican cuisine, but there is enough extra material that I didn't feel like I was just rereading something previously published. The first third of the book focuses on the history of chocolate in America, up to the Conquest. Then the focus shifts to Europe and how chocolate was introduced there. Finally, the last chapter focuses on modern chocolate manufacture as well as the recent rise in gourmet chocolate. The Coes include a quick ...more
Karen Bales
Feb 26, 2010 rated it liked it
In the forward to this book. the author lets us know that he wrote this book at the request of his wife who tragically became ill with cancer and died after having done extensive research for it.
It explains to us the new world origins of chocolate and how the Maya and Aztecs enjoyed it(always in drink form and never with sugar). We learn how the Spaniards brought it to Europe and how it traveled from there. We are also told how chocolate use fit into the medical and religious theories of the
Kevin Sedota
Feb 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read that covers "the bean" from it's original use by mesoamericans to today's high end and fair trade producers. This book gives a fascinating look at how cocoa has been used and viewed through out history. Originally viewed as a delicacy for the affluent, them viewed as a medical tool and finally as an everyman's treat. I would have liked a little more on the business of chocolate and the science of how a lowly not particularly good tasting bean (we all tried tasting that baking ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was much more fascinating than I had anticipated. Really good history of how chocolate was named, made, and used through history, and how really recent our concept of "chocolate" is. We always thing of it as sweet, but that is recent. Through more of history, it was a non-sweet drink, combined with a hundred different additives like maize, flowers, and chilies. Europe originally thought of it as medicinal. IT had quite a history in the Catholic church (the Jesuits traded heavily in it) and ...more
Jun 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
A great history of my favorite food -- chocolate. I love it that so much of the history centers in the part of the world in which I am currently living. I have great interests in foods that are found throughout the world but expressed in different ways: chocolate, coffee, tea, wine, rice, etc. Learning their histories is a way of learning about cultures and values throughout the world. This book was well written and included a bit of the authors personalities which is always a welcome element in ...more
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
A thoroughly intriguing and accurate portrayal of chocolate's usage throughout the ages, from ancient Mayan cities to the courts of Europe and beyond. I liked the inclusion of old recipes but was always much more fascinated by the beliefs surrounding chocolate, which ranged from hysterical blame for it being responsible for disease or babies being born black (hint: someone must have used this as an excuse at some point when the father was not exactly Caucasian) to it being a cure all for disease ...more
Dec 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
An excellent and very readable look at the early history of chocolate consumption with attention paid to the evolution of words associated with the famous drink and a host of other details.

The Coes clearly focus on their own field of interest (the Maya, as both were anthropologists). I was disappointed by the thinness of the later chapters, those dealing with chocolate after it went global.
Revisiting the new edition of this book. Knowing the background of both authors is anthropology, it is not unexpected that this history is heavily skewed to the very early history of chocolate in society. There is a good general chapter on chocolate and its biology, many chapters on the Mesoamerican history, a few on European history and almost nothing on the last 100yrs or so. Overall an excellent summary.
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Sophie D. Coe, in full Sophie Dobzhansky Coe (1933-1994) was an anthropologist, food historian and author, primarily known for her work on the history of chocolate.

She graduated in 1955, majoring in anthropology, from Radcliffe College, where she was apparently known for her linguistic prowess (speaking Russian and Portuguese). She continued her postgraduate studies at Harvard and received her PhD