Five hundred years ago, when Christopher Columbus sailed into the port of Barcelona with a few sacks of cacao beans, Europeans had never seen or tasted anything quite like them. A drink made of the crushed beans, sugar, and spices became a favorite of the Spanish court, and two centuries later all of Europe had surrendered to the pleasures of chocolate mania.
For a while Spain was a major producer, opening one of the world’s first facilities for transforming liquid chocolate into solid. But by the 19th century, countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, England, and Holland had surpassed it with more sophisticated technologies and, ultimately, better distribution to the rest of the world. Spanish chocolate-making carried on, small and artisanal, but its reputation and international profile languished for almost two centuries. These days Spain is again emerging as an innovator in the industry it created, coinciding with its ascendancy in architecture, design, and gastronomy.