The history of chocolate’s movement from the New World of Mesoamerica to the Old World of Europe is as much about the drink itself as it is about the customs surrounding it. When European colonial powers brought chocolate back to their home county to be consumed by the elite, they took the preferred mode of consumption (liquid), the temperature (warm), and process of finishing (foaming). One thing they did innovate with, however, was the vessels that they consumed chocolate with.
In colonial Mexico and South America, chocolate was consumed as the people in Mesoamerica had done: with a jícara. However, the nobles of colonial Spain wouldn’t be drinking from the hollowed and dried squash vessels as the indigenous people would (Ionescu 41)—they instead updated the jicara to reflect their more elegant tastes. The European version of the jícara was to be made of clay in a Spanish method of potterymaking called mayólica (Gavin 254). These ceramic jícaras served a similar function, however, they still had the unfortunate side effects of being mildly clumsy to drink out of. This would require another innovation.
The mancerina had a distinctive shape and two parts – a handle-less silver cup, much like the jícara, and a saucer with a ring in the middle so that the jícara cup could be held in place. While initially the goal was simply to provide a wall on the saucer to “prevent [the cup] from tipping over” (Ionescu 41), eventually these elaborate and beautiful pieces of silver would grow to look like cups in a wide leaf or the seat of a seashell.
The evolution of this drinking vessel for Europeans, like many processes in the movement of chocolate throughout the 17th century, is convoluted. There isn’t just one true story of why it was created. The who of the matter is relatively agreed upon: the man that created it, the Marques of Mancera, gave the new cup its name. There are two versions of the reasons behind the invention of the mancerina that hint at the different places of esteem chocolate held in Baroque Europe.
The first story, as put forth by Sophie and Michael Coe, involves an elegant banquet that the Marques of Mancera held at his property in Peru, somewhere between 1639 and 1648 (Gavin 254). As was custom for the time, chocolate was served and consumed by all the nobles in attendance. To his horror, one of the ladies spilled chocolate all over dress from being unable to handle the jicara (Coe and Coe 135). In order to avoid similar mishaps in the future, the Marquez invented the mancerina.
This origin story points to the close associations between class and chocolate drinking in Baroque Europe and the colonies it spawned. These practices, most prevalent in Spain, France and Italy among royal courts and nobles, are detailed throughout Chapter 5 of Coe and Coe.
The second origin story of the mancerina, one which Coe and Coe do not touch on in The True History of Chocolate, involves the Marquez’s health. The Marquez of Mancera was said to suffer from palsy, or a tremor in his hands; that tremor often prevented him from holding the jicara without spilling any chocolate on himself. Thus, the mancerina may have been created to aid the elderly or ill in consuming chocolate for their health. Most of Europe was still subscribing to Galen’s Theory of Humors as healthcare (Coe and Coe 128) at the time chocolate was introduced in the 16th century. As all of their foods had to be classified according to this system of 4 characteristics, chocolate was naturally also brought into the regime. More important than the classification itself is the immediate intimate relationship chocolate and health had. Chocolate was “prescribed” to nobles and people of ill health across Europe; many ladies in French court began to cling to the positive effects so much that they couldn’t get out of bed without their daily dose of chocolate (Coe and Coe 136). The mancerina (or trembleuse in France) made this kind of dosage in bed easier to administer to high-born ladies as well as the invalid.
The history of the mancerina is an important part of the history of chocolate not only because it is a beautiful piece of European art history and innovation, but also because the confusion surrounding its very invention is indicative of the important role chocolate grew to play in Europe. These stories and their reflection on the involvement of chocolate not only in the noble rituals of the high courts of the continent but also the esteemed place it began to held in the European (albeit misguided) system of medicine. These relationships would shape many discussions about chocolate in the centuries to come.
Baird, Ileana Popa, and Christina Ionescu. Eighteenth-century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Print.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Gavin, Robin Farwell., Donna Pierce, and Alfonso Pleguezuelo Hernández. Cerámica Y Cultura: The Story of Spanish and Mexican Mayólica. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2003. Print.
Lange, Amanda. “Chocolate Preparation and Early Serving Vessels.” National Museum of American History. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.