The discovery of cocoa was only a first step in the direction of chocolate. The Mayas were the first to cultivate the cocoa bean for the fruits it yielded. They used the beans as an ingredient in their favorite chocolate drink 'xocotlatl'. Legend suggests that the first beans came out of Paradise and lent wisdom and power to the person that ate them. For obvious reasons, the use of cocoa was kept to a minimum by the emperors.
Before the Spanish explorers discovered the New World, chocolate and other "exotic" foods were totally unknown in Europe. Columbus was the first European to become acquainted with cocoa, but he wasn't exactly impressed. During one of his conquests in the New World he met the Aztecs. For many generations, they drank an infusion of grilled seeds and spices. This mixture tasted disgusting and it also contained cocoa beans. The Aztecs adopted the idea of cocoa consumption from the Mayas.
However the conquistadors Pizzaro and, in particular, Cortès did show interest in the bean. Fernando Cortès reached the east coast of Mexico in 1519. As an honored guest of Montezuma (Aztec emperor and inveterate chocolate fanatic!) he was offered xocotlatl -- a small portion of aromatic chocolate drink mixed with vanilla, pepper and other herbs.
For the Mayas, cocoa beans were very important, not only were they a popular means of exchange, they also had a religious value. The Mayas sacrificed cocoa beans at the funerals of the Upper Class.