The Enlightenment marked a period of intellectual and scientific questioning, discovery and analysis. Academic discussion became more publicized and accessible, even amongst women and middle-class citizens. The development and rise of chocolate houses in London is parallel with the trends of this era and served as the public meeting place for discussion, socializing and enjoying the fashionable, exotic, new chocolate drink.
The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657 and attracted curious guests by advertising chocolate as “an excellent West India drink”, possessing “excellent qualities so esteemed in all places” and able to “cure and preserve the body of many diseases” (Coe and Coe 165). Chocolate itself was an exotic and unknown concept and with the arrival of coffee in London only five years earlier, hot beverages were not yet a solidified tradition (Choat). Affordable and accessible to Britain’s large population of middle-class shopkeepers and businessmen, the rise of the chocolate house “democratized” chocolate in Britain. Unlike Paris and Madrid, where chocolate was reserved for the socially elite, anyone with sufficient money could enjoy chocolate in the British houses. Described as a place “where one hears what is and what is believed to be new, be it true or false”, the reputation of chocolate-houses spread as an ideal gathering place for political and social interaction (Coe and Coe 167). Following this mold, White’s Chocolate House was opened in 1693 by Italian immigrant, Frances White. Originally known as Mrs.White’s Chocolate House, White’s became the most famous chocolate house in London (Warber).
The hot chocolate served in these British chocolate-houses was an “extravagant brew infused with citrus peel, jasmine, vanilla, musk and ambegris (Choat). However, chocolate was not the only option on the menu. Other beverages like coffee, tea, sherbert, cock ale, “ale with pieces of boiled fowl” and cider were also available “according to the season” (Coe and Coe 167). Adapted from the hot Mesoamerican chocolate drinks, the British adopted their own way of preparing chocolate “adjusting it to their own means by transforming the taste with spices and sugar as well as modifying traditional drinking vessels to fit their own preferences” (Scribner 474). British chocolate was made by boiling blocks of cocoa with water and “some to make it more dainty, though less wholesome, use therein Eggs and Milk” (Coe 169). Unsatisfied with this recipe, Philippe S. Dufour further developed the beverage, adding sugar (Coe and Coe169). “The British, furthermore, assimilated coffee, tea, and chocolate into the tavern and coffeehouse themselves products of Anglo-French relations and various other global impulses” (Scribner 474).
Chocolate consumption and White’s and other chocolate-houses was just as much valued as a social entity as it was for its taste. Chocolate was symbolic and represented class and sophistication. The exotic characteristics and flavors of chocolate combined with it’s accessibility gave the middle-class insight into a priorly unattainable lifestyle. Discussing the social value of taverns and coffeehouses, Vaughn Scribner discusses how
“aspiring cosmopolites could barricade themselves in private tavern rooms…to engage in sophisticated clubs, debate cosmopolitan matters with men from across the globe, sip exotic beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and wine, and above all distinguish themselves as separate, superior members of the world community (Scribner 469).
These institutions made the elite experience available and widespread; chocolate houses were a place where books were read, letters were written and ideas were discussed. Considering these chocolate establishments “hotbeds of sedition”, Charles II tried to ban the practice of chocolate houses and the subsequent political discussion they evoked with the “Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses” in 1675 (Coe 168). Public outcry ensued and Charles granted permission for coffee-houses to stay open for an additional six months. However, this law was unenforced and soon forgotten in the increasingly democratic England (Coe and Coe168).
The popularity of chocolate-houses declined in the 18th century and a few, including White’s, survive today as smart gentlemen’s clubs. However, given the modern trend of bean-to-bar chocolate production and an increasing appreciation for historic chocolate practices, modern day chocolate-houses have started popping up. In March 2015, Mutari became the first chocolate-house in Santa Cruz, California (Carnes). Owned by Adam Armstrong, Mutari specializes in European-styled “sipping chocolates” including a Himalayan pink salt hot chocolate and a bitter, nutty 100% cacao sipping chocolate as well as unique cacao fruit smoothies (Carnes). Similarly, Mörk Chocolate, Australia’s “brew house dedicated to liquid chocolate”, focuses on small-batch, authentic, high-quality drinking chocolates (Clancey). Founders, Kiril Shaginov and Josefin Zernell consider themselves “cacao artisans” and serve exquisite concoctions in their converted 1950s bakery warehouse, including a Breakfast chocolate blended with “house-made oat milk, dark chocolate and cinnamon”(Clancey).