By the mid-to-late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing around the world. New methods of production were being invented across a variety of industries. Goods could now be shipped quickly over long distances via steam engines, and textiles were being mass produced via machinery. One industry that continued to lag behind during this era, on the other hand, was chocolate. To this point, chocolate remained a labor intensive drink reserved for the elite, and the beverages were still being masterfully hand-crafted in coffee and chocolate houses across Europe. A turning point was just around the corner, however, as several inventions, including those of Coenraad Johannes van Houten, Joseph Storrs Fry, and Rodolphe Lindt, were to join the revolution over the next few decades and change the face of chocolate forever.
The late 1820s brought the first of three great changes to the chocolate industry. By this time, chocolate makers were in search of a new, cheaper way to produce chocolate, so they could expand their consumer bases and earn a greater profit. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes van Houten “took out a patent on a process for the manufacture of a new kind of powdered chocolate with a very low fat content” (Coe and Coe 234). His development led to the production of a hydraulic press which was able to reduce the fat content – or cocoa butter – in chocolate liquor from about 53 percent to 27-28 percent and produced a cake that could be crumbled into a fine dust that is known today as cocoa powder (Coe and Coe 234). Dutching, or adding alkaline salts to this powder, allowed for better mixing in water and produced a drink that was “easily prepared, [and] more easily digestible” (Coe and Coe 234-235) than the standard cocoa drink of that time. As the dutched cocoa powder was easily mixed with water in a quick process, far less labor was required to craft each beverage. In addition, the van Houten ad depicted below explains that this new powder was very potent and a very small amount could be used to craft a desirable cup of cocoa. These two changes produced a shift from limited consumption by the elite, to widespread enjoyment among the masses.
While van Houten was responsible for the first great change to the chocolate industry in 1828, a few decades later in 1847, Joseph Storrs Fry was responsible for perhaps the greatest change to the industry. Using cocoa powder, sugar, and melted cacao butter, Fry was able to produce a “less viscous [chocolate] paste which could be cast into a mold” (Coe and Coe 241). These molded chocolate bars became the first true eating chocolate. Early demand for the new confection drove the price of cacao butter up, and relegated the treat to a new form of chocolate that was reserved for the elite (Coe and Coe 241). Van Houten’s cocoa powder remained the chocolate of choice for the masses through this time, thanks to its low cost (Coe and Coe 241). The shift from drinking chocolate to eating chocolate opened a new market for chocolate makers of this era. The treat was quickly targeted by mass producers who saw the possibility of greater marketability of the more portable confection. Eventually, new technologies and changes to the production process allowed chocolate manufacturers to once again target the masses with their marketing, as exemplified in the following ad for Fry’s Five Boys milk chocolate bars.
As more producers entered the ring of chocolate bar crafting, each strove to make their chocolate bar better than the competition. As a result of this competitive stance, consumers were treated to the third great change to face the chocolate industry during this time: the conching process developed by Rodolphe Lindt. Lindt built on Fry’s notion of eating chocolate, but desired to move away from the inherent graininess of the current process (Presilla 40). In 1879, he developed a “sloshing-and-kneading apparatus called a ‘conche’” (Presilla 40). The liquid chocolate was mechanically pressed between a granite roller and base, pieces which are illustrated below, in an enclosed basin for twenty-four or more hours until the cocoa and sugar particles had been broken (Presilla 40-41). The resulting chocolate was silkier than its predecessors and became the preferred chocolate of the time. To this day, consumers often judge chocolate on its smooth quality in addition to its flavors.
While chocolate has undergone many changes since its first introduction to Europe in the 16th century, these three changes to the chocolate production process provided the greatest changes the industry has seen. Once, a difficult to craft beverage for the elite, chocolate has shifted to become a commodity enjoyed by all classes of people. Thanks to the changes that occurred during this era, cheap hot cocoa made from powder and smooth, mass-produced chocolate confections are the norm across much of the industry today. Without the ingenuity and inventiveness of van Houten, Fry, and Lindt, the chocolate industry could have continued to lag behind others and chocolate may not have become the consumer staple it is.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.
Frys five boys milk chocolate. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2015. Web. 9 March 2016.
Granite Roller and Granite Base of a Conche. 1 February 2014. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons, 2014. Web. 9 March 2016.
Van Houten, C. J. and Zoon. Van Houten’s Cocoa, heard in the train. ‘Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten’s Cocoa. It is so sustaining.’ [back]. 1870-1900. Digital image. Boston Public Library. Flickr, 2012. 9 March 2016.
Van Houten, C. J. and Zoon. Van Houten’s Cocoa, heard in the train. ‘Yes, Miss, when travelling I always drink Van Houten’s Cocoa. It is so sustaining.’ [front]. 1870-1900. Digital image. Boston Public Library. Flickr, 2012. 9 March 2016.