In Europe, chocolate has always been a political drink, consumed by those in power. Chocolate appeared in Europe as tribute to the royalty who funded trips to the new world. It’s role, however, changed over time. From 16th and 17th century royalty in Spain, to French-revolutionary aristocrats, to the commoners of Britain discussing politics- chocolate gained popularity by increasingly accessible political groups. I argue that the role of chocolate in political crowds changed due to changes in the technology used to prepare it.
Chocolate likely began its journey to the Old World in Spain as a tribute to Prince Philip in 1544. By the second half of the 17th century it was in wide consumption by the Spanish court and provided as a refreshment at the Inquisition investigations (Coe 138). These elite drank “the same hot beverage that had taken shape among the Creole Spaniards of Mexico” (Coe 133). This beverage required intensive labor to craft, including drying the beans over a fire, removing the husks and hand-grinding beans on a metate (Coe 134). While the Spanish adopted the recipe with their own spices, they did not change the means of production from that of the Aztecs (who also saw chocolate as a drink for the few).
Later in 17th century France, chocolate remained a royal drink but the enormous size of Louis XIV’s court expanded its reach. Versailles retained “about 10,000 officials, noblemen and attendants” (Coe 160). For a long time, chocolate was served at all public functions. As the French revolution plotted outside the walls of Versaille, the giant elite consumed this beverage. While it still required substantial labor, the French invented the chocolatière “to stir and beat the heavy liquid” (Coe 162). This lead to economies of scale which made chocolate available to thousands of consumers. Advancements in French sugar production also fueled consumption. Haiti, the crown jewel of France, produced sugar that was increasingly competitive with that of other colonial powers, beating out French production in 1740 (Mintz 39).
The great changes in sugar technology and availability were yet to come. In England, capitalism made chocolate available to the masses. Newspapers advertised for general sale of chocolate as early as 1657, highlighting the role of shopkeepers and private business in England. In the words of Coe, “chocolate was becoming democratized” (170). It was sold in coffeehouses, alongside coffee and tea. At these clubs, the political parties of the Tories and the Whigs formed. Although King Charles banned these coffeehouses, they stayed open, owing to the increasingly democratic governance in Britain (Coe 172).
While these coffee houses were not open to anyone- women were barred and men needed sufficient money to afford the drinks- new preparation methods opened up chocolate to unprecedented numbers of people. Instead of the old, cumbersome, means of preparation, it was boiled in a method suitable for “men of business” (Coe 173). With this quick preparation, the powers of coffee opened up to a much wider audience.