Chocolate had always been popular since its introduction to Europe, but it really took off in the Industrial Revolution. It was doing this era that chocolate as we recognise it today was invented. Before this times, chocolate was enjoyed as a bitter drink.
Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chemist and chocolate fan, and his father, Casparus van Houten Senior, took the first steps towards producing modern sweet chocolate. In 1815, Coenraad invented the treatment of cocoa mass with alkaline salts to remove some of the bitterness. In 1828, Casparus patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cocoa beans. The centre of the bean, the nib, contains over half its weight in cocoa butter. The Casparus van Houten’s machine – a hydraulic press – reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a cake that could be pulverized into cocoa powder, and made it easier and cheaper to produce chocolate drinks. It also made it easier and for other innovators to experiment with this new cake once the patent ran out.
In 1838, the patent expired. A whole bunch of chocolatiers jumped at the chance to use the Dutch cocoa product. In 1847, English chocolate maker Joseph Fry produced the first chocolate bar by adding back melted cacao butter to make a mouldable chocolate. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. Daniel Peter was a Swiss chocolatier and he was one of the first chocolatiers to make milk chocolate, in 1875 or 1876, by adding powdered milk to the chocolate (Bless his cotton socks). It was Henri Nestlé who developed the condensed and powered milk used in Peter’s milk chocolate, as part of his development of an infant food formula; Nestlé the food company didn’t branch out into making chocolate until 1904.
In 1879, the texture of chocolate was improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. Before conching was invented, solid chocolate was gritty and not very popular as a confectionary. Lindt’s invention rapidly changed chocolate from being mainly a drink to being made into bars and other confections, because conching is a long mixing process that distributes the ingredients evenly in the chocolate. The longer the conching, the smoother the chocolate. It also improves the flavour by gently heating the chocolate and releasing the volatiles that add to the chocolate’s delicious aroma, while dissipating the less pleasant smelling volatiles.
In America, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and began producing chocolate-coated caramels in 1893. The first Hershey bar was produced in 1900 and Hershey’s Kisses were developed in 1907. Hershey went on to found a whole town dedicated to the manufacture of chocolate.
The Victorians were fond of chocolate in all its forms. As was the Victorian practice, they developed special implements for handling chocolate, and special rituals to accompany its consumption. The success of chocolate is due to the sudden interest in innovation that was a pillar of Victorian values. It was so beloved, they even used chocolate ornaments to decorate their trees (which wouldn’t work terrible well in Australia).
A love of chocolate would not be out of place for a Victorian character in a Steampunk narrative. Personally, I would steer away from giving a love of chocolate to an overweight character as that is a stereotype. Instead, you might use it as the ‘vice’ of a very proper character. Or you could have a chocolatier as a character, inventing new gadgets to make her chocolate even more delectable.