The introduction of chocolate to Europe plays a significant role in the transformation of customs and beliefs that are currently associated with it. As chocolate expands into European countries, it has major implications on matters of class and politics. The development of these beliefs is best viewed through a historical narrative of chocolate’s evolving role in European society.
Until the 16th century, drinking chocolate was an unknown custom to Europeans. Although Christopher Columbus allegedly encountered cacao beans on one of his missions to the Americas, it was Hernan Cortes who was the first European to taste chocolate (Presilla, 2009). Initially, he found the drink “more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 110). However, through their relations with the Aztecs, the Spanish became aware of the value of cacao beans (Presilla, 2009).
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported into Europe and quickly became popular among the elite. While it was still served as a beverage, the Spanish altered its taste by adding honey or sugar to reduce the bitterness (Presilla, 2009). This “Hispanicized chocolate” expanded into England, Italy and France quickly after its discovery (Presilla, 2009, p. 25).
Although the taste of the chocolate was slightly altered, Europeans continued to associate drinking chocolate with high social standing (Presilla, 2009). Drinking chocolate was still considered a luxury and was primarily consumed by the elite. This is mainly because it took a great deal of effort to produce the beverage. Furthermore, it was custom to drink chocolate from luxurious utensils, such as the Spanish mancerina and French trembleuse cups and saucers (Presilla, 2009).
These images symbolize the integration of drinking chocolate into elite customs as well as the formal nature by which chocolate was consumed. Thus, the consumption of chocolate in Europe was historically associated with matters of wealth and class that provides meaningful insight into the customs that developed as a result.
While chocolate consumption is Europe became a custom tradition among the elite class, it was also associated with political issues (Coe & Coe, 2013). This is particularly prevalent in England as the chocolate beverage became popular during a time of “political and social upheaval” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 161-162). There were tensions that existed between the king and parliament that were exacerbated by regular meetings that would take place at English coffee-houses. These coffee-houses hold political significance as their popularity threatened the King’s authority and he tried multiple times to have them shut down.
Along with coffee and tea, chocolate beverages were sold at these coffee-houses and all three items were highly valued among the customers. Since chocolate beverages were frequently consumed during political meetings at the coffee-houses, it became symbolic of a democratized England.
In conclusion, a historical analysis of chocolate’s consumption in Europe highlights associations with matters of class and politics. Along the way, its consumption was specified to the elite classes and held certain political affiliations, particularly in England. As a result, certain customs and beliefs became tradition among European societies that have played an integral role in shaping our current fascination with chocolate.
1. Coe, S., & Coe, M. (2013). Chocolate conquers Europe. In The true history of chocolate (Third ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson.
2. Presilla, M. (2009). A natural and cultural history of chocolate. In The new taste of chocolate: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.