Chocolate: The Luxury of an Elitist


Spread of chocolate popularity from elite Europeans to broader audiences (e.g. non-elite Europe and North America, East Asia)

When we think of the word “elite” we think of royalty, wealth, beauty, and indulgence. Throughout history we tend to develop an interest towards elite individuals turning them into role model figures. In the 21st century the word chocolate doesn’t characterize one individual from another. However, during the early colonization period chocolate was a status symbol that determined if you were among the elite or not. Chocolate was considered a luxury in the 17th century Europe serving as a healing/medicinal drink, nutritious, and even an aphrodisiac.

Quick Recap of the Origin of Cacao Beans

Cacao cultivated around 1250 B.C., according to various archeologists. Mayans grew cacao and used the seeds to brew ceremonial drinks. They preferred their chocolate drink warm, frothed, and bitter. Aztecs consumed cacao somewhere around the 5th century. Drinking chocolate for similar reasons as the Mayans, they however, drank their chocolate cold rather than hot. To the Mayans and Aztecs, cacao beans were a gift from god. They were so highly praised, “cacao beans had taken on the status of legal money.” (Presilla, 17) Chocolate was then introduced in Europe, in particular Spain in 1528, during the Baroque Age. Chocolate drinking became a trend in 17th century only after having hesitations about the drink, since it tasted extremely bitter and sour until the “European assimilation of chocolate was one of the earliest versions of the myth that suffuses modern scholarship: the notion that because Spaniards found the Indian form of chocolate unappetizing, they “procured to correct the bad flavor” by eliminating strange New World spices and adding sugar” (Norton) It wasn’t until well after that time period when other parts of Europe discovered chocolate, due to the fact that the Spanish had been keeping it a secret for nearly a century prior. The demand for chocolate doubled in Mesoamerica due to the addition of the European market. This demand for cacao sparked the Indian population in the New World to grow exponentially, which in turn grew to forced labor.


Expansion of Chocolate in Europe from Elite to Non-Elite Individuals

 We can ask ourselves why chocolate was introduced in Europe to only the wealthy nobility and not to any one else. Like any other good/product being introduced into a new environment, cacao was scarce among the European markets. There was not an easy way of getting your hands on cacao as it may have been finding wheat, sugar, corn, etc. When something is scarce the only people able and willing to buy up the scarce products are those wealthy individuals who have the means to pay top dollar for them. Since chocolate was handmade this delicacy was very time consuming and expensive to make, which explains why it only became available to the wealthy when it reached Europe. Royal families in Europe were the ones consuming chocolate, because they had the money and resources to be able to buy the already prepared chocolate or to buy the cacao beans, pay to have the beans processed into chocolate, and enjoy the tastes of the luxury. When introduced to Europe the one thing that didn’t change between Mesoamericans and Europeans was “the association of drinking chocolate with high social standing. Chocolate arrived in Europe with the aura of an exotic luxury for the cognoscenti.” (Presilla, 25) Those elite individuals used chocolate for medicinal, nutritional, and fashionable purposes. By way of fashionable, I mean that they would gather at chocolate houses and mingle amongst each other discussing important topics, such as politics etc., over chocolate. (Similar to what we do at coffee houses in modern day)


Chocolate was introduced in the form of a drink when it arrived in Europe. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe during the 19th century that chocolate took on other forms of consumption. With the development of new machines and processes, major changes resulted in mass production of the supply of chocolate. Quickly new ways of making chocolate were developing, for instance, “in Germany the Steinhund chocolate factory was founded in 1765; and even earlier, in 1728, Fry and Sons of Bristol was producing chocolate for the English market.” (Coe, 226-7) With the invention of M. Doret’s hydraulic machine, which performed in grinding chocolate to transform it into a paste, followed by the steam engine in the late 1700s, chocolate was becoming a revolution all over. This indication allows us to understanding that chocolate was capable of being consumed by a non-elite individual in Europe largely because supply was abundant after the invention of new machines and factory openings. Not only was the use of the new machinery a plus for Europeans who became “chocoholics,” (having to consume numerous amounts of chocolate on occasion) but it was also great for those workers who slaved day after day working long laborious hours on plantations and other grueling environments; fermenting, drying, storing and transporting, and grinding cacao. These developments relieved those workers a great deal, and allowed consumers to indulge in luxurious chocolate whenever they so desired due to higher supply of chocolate.

Attached you will find a video link showing you the history of cacao and how it was introduced to Europe to give you a better understanding in a visual effect.



 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames

and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Norton, Marcy; Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of

Mesoamerican Aesthetics. Am Hist Rev 2006; 111 (3): 660-691. doi:


Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of

            Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

The History of Chocolate in 120 Seconds. BuzzFeed Video, n.d. Web.










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