The European History of Chocolate

In modern society, everyone has either tasted or heard of chocolate. Although chocolate has a very long and rich history starting in Mesoamerica, and was believed to have first been consumed by a tribe called the Olmecs who flourished from between 1500 to 400 BCE (Thames and Hudson, 34) As with many natural resources in history, when Europeans got hold of this natural resource, history was shaped to create a new identity for this resource, one free of the rich cultural and religious aspects that gives chocolate true meaning. Astonishingly enough, chocolate was most likely first picked as a fruit and consumed for it’s sweet white pulp rather than the beans we enjoy today. (Persil, 8) Although people like the Olmecs and early Mesoamericans used chocolate in a variety of ways, whether it was pressed into a patty and traded, or if it were mixed with corn known as Maize in a frothy beverage, or the whole beans being traded for other goods, when adopted by the Europeans, chocolate was turned into a coveted and exclusive item for the upper class to enjoy with peers. The early European chocolate recipes differed greatly from traditional chocolate recipes, while traditional recipes usually offered some sort of flavor profile or sustenance, the European recipes were usually quite decadent and sweet.


A Chocolate pot made in Boston in 1700 by a silversmith named Edward Winslow

Chocolate, in it’s earlier days, was consumed almost solely as a beverage. Essentially, the beans are roasted, the nibs are extracted then ground, and the resulting paste is mixed with hot water and frothed to form a drink. Chocolate was first recorded being consumed in Europe in Spain, and the Spanish’s recipe for a chocolate drink still was relatively similar to a Mesoamerican chocolate recipe, but as chocolate spread to parts of Europe like Britain and France, the recipe changed even further. The Europeans, having just acquired a taste for sugar, chose to enjoy Chocolate as a sweetened beverage. Another new addition to the chocolate beverage introduced by Europeans was the addition of milk. Early European preparations of chocolate was usually a grand event in itself. In addition to having pots dedicated solely to chocolate beverages, oftentimes there were special cups and saucers that were created just for the enjoyment of chocolate, indicating its popularity and its resonance among the Europeans who enjoyed it.

An early European chocolate house, a man is pictured pouring a beverage from a chocolate pot

Chocolate, similarly to it’s roots in Mesoamerica, had a habit of causing camaraderie  among those who enjoyed it. In Europe and in early America, there existed spaces referred to as chocolate houses, where people of notable status would congregate to enjoy chocolate beverages and converse. Chocolate, being a new resource being enjoyed more and more in society, also had to be identified into certain categories. At the time, society was still using the idea of the four temperaments in regards to their health. Early Europeans couldn’t quite realize into which of the four temperaments chocolate fell into, and just as with many natural resources introduced to Europe, Europeans believed chocolate to hold medicinal properties.

The four temperaments, each quadrant is linked to a season, time of day, astrological sign, and organ in the body.

Works Cited –

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Presilla, Marciel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Images –

Chocolate Pot –

*Other Photos from Media Library in WordPress

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