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Chocolate and Class in the Twenty-First Century: An Analysis and Tasting/Conversation

From its origins, chocolate has been linked to notions of class, and, in particular, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. Elites, from Mesoamerica to Baroque Europe, have been principal consumers of chocolate, devoted to perfecting the preparation and consumption of the commodity. For example, the European nobility built a complex material and social culture around chocolate, crafting specialized objects and recipes to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. (Coe and Coe, 125) However, as the historiography contends, from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, with mass production technologies and the rise of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars, chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege to a cheap commodity consumed widely throughout society, and sold at every corner store in America and throughout much of the world.

In my project, I seek to examine the extent to which chocolate remains linked to class, and re-evaluate the narrative that chocolate was transformed from an elite privilege into a universally consumed staple food, and today exists simply as a symbol of our universal sweet tooth. While the industrialization of food enabled chocolate to be consumed by the whole of society, I contend that recent trends in the chocolate industry, specifically the growth in fine chocolate producers and the increasing differentiations between different brands and products, particularly the new emphasis on Fair Trade, organic, single origin, and artisan, have cemented distinctions in food consumption as indicators of class and identity. By further analyzing the contemporary link between chocolate and class, we can learn more about food as a social differentiator, and individual consumption preferences.

The industrialization of food, and particularly the developments of preservation, mechanization, retailing and transportation, were central to democratizing access to food (Goody). Indeed, these innovations and “culinary modernism” generally  “has provided…the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (Laudan, 40).  However, the growing distinctions between different chocolate producers and types of chocolate, as I explored with a tasting and interviews with Harvard students, indicate the extent to which chocolate functions as a differentiator of class and consumers’ preferences for particular chocolates, show social identity.

“Taste has come to play a role in defining social ranking and identity… Taste as an aesthetic has become a sign of privilege” – Julie Guthman, Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” p. 497

Pierre Bordieu, French sociologist, anthropologist and author of Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, contended that “cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bordieu, 7). In this vein of thought, Julie Guthman argues that the growth of the organic industry was driven by “gentrification and the class differentiation that necessarily entailed” (Guthman, 497). The growth of the artisan chocolate industry, including organic chocolate, has been driven by similar factors, as producers recognize the opportunity to earn a devoted customer base by catering to an upper-class clientele who are inclined to consume distinctly “high-end” foods that separate them from, as one survey/tasting participant put it, “the Hershey’s consuming public.” For American producers, the craft business can be lucrative and satisfying, and allow them to compete in the international economy as they turn to gourmet shops, specialty stores, and community gatherings to target the bourgeois market and capitalize on the eagerness of more affluent Americans to buy specialized food (Eber, 155).

As Jim Eber notes in Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate, there has been a recent explosion in the number of small manufacturers and chocolatiers (Eber, 144) and at the time of the book’s publication (2012), nearly fifty American fine flavor chocolate brands had been established in the past seven years (Eber, 155). Consumers are buying more fine cacao; premium chocolate accounted for $2.9 billion of the $20 billion in US chocolate sales in 2013, with an expected annual growth of 10% (Eber, 167). Author and philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer argues in Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy that “the pursuit of taste for pleasure alone…seems a frivolous pursuit permitted only to a leisured few” (Korsmeyer, 1). Bordieu, too, argues that it is uniquely the “upper classes, who are more interested in treating food as an art form” (Korsmeyer, 89). The fine chocolate market is driven by the keenness of the wealthiest consumers to “indulge” in a distinctly gourmet treat, and one that is healthier from its mass-market, chemical-filled alternatives.

“Food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say — social class” – Adam Drewnowski, What Food Says About Class in America

To look further into this issue of chocolate preferences as related to social class and lifestyle, I conducted individual sampling/tastings with twenty Harvard College students. I selected six chocolate bars, and presented all six to each person that I spoke to, carefully explaining the details of each bar, before asking each student to answer a few questions. I asked the students to consider: 1) Are all of these chocolates appealing to you? 2) Which of these chocolates is most appealing to you and why? 3) Which of these chocolates is least appealing to you and why? 4) When choosing a chocolate to consume, what factors determine your preference? before sampling. Students were given the option to sample all six chocolate, but many declined to taste all. Here is a list of the chocolates I used, and the elements about each that I pointed out or read:

  • Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, note the large company logo emblazoned across the front.
  • Divine Dark Chocolate with Mint: Fair Trade label, Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Cocoa, vanilla, and sugar in chocolate: traded in compliance with Fairtrade Standards, total 94% of the product’s ingredients,” “Divine chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of small-holder farmers in Ghana. The cocoa is grown in the shade of the tropical rainforest, and slowly fermented and dried in the sun by the farmers, who take great pride in the chocolate company they co-own.”
  • Mast Goat Milk Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,“Goat Milk Chocolate: Made in New York,” “60% Cacao, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Goat Milk Powder”
  • Taza 70% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate: Purchased at Cardullo’s,USDA Organic label, Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao label, Non GMO Project Verified label, Certified Gluten-Free label, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Vegan Label, “Dominican Republic Single Origin,” “Organic,” “We keep the bean in the bar. We make stone ground, organic chocolate, Cacao is so complex in flavor that we want to let it shout loud and proud. That is why we do less to bring you more. We stone grind cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture, unlike anything you have ever tasted.”
  • Dolfin 38% Cacao: Purchased at Cardullo’s, “Made in Belgium,” “The Art of Blending, Natural & Tasty, Tradition & Quality,”
  • Dove Dark Chocolate: Purchased at CVS, Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa label, “Our special patented and proprietary Cocoapro process helps retain much of the naturally occurring cocoa flavanols.”

Fast food and organic/slow food are posed as class binaries (Guthman, 506). Likewise, as articulated through readings and demonstrated by my tastings and conversations with Harvard students, mass-market chocolates, such as Hershey’s and Dove, are perceived in opposition to “fine chocolate.” While the Harvard students I spoke with were not necessarily clear about the specific differences between different types of chocolate, they unanimously preferred the more expensive Mast, Divine, Dolfin, and Taza bars — I did not disclose exact price to my student subjects, although the different presentations of the bars serve as an indication of price —  to the CVS-distributed Hershey’s and Dove varieties. When discussing the difference between these two groups, in relation to the chocolates we tasted, students used descriptors like “organic,” “better quality,” “artisanal,” “healthier,” “better for the environment and the world,” and “fair trade” to articulate why they preferred the above. “I prefer chocolate with a high quality reputation, whatever that means,” one student remarked when asked about his consumption preferences. “If someone offered me Hershey’s for free, like you are doing right now, I would never take it,” another added.

Most students selected their preferred chocolate on the basis of packaging, labeling, and/or percentage of cacao. Commentary included: “Either the Dolfin or Mast chocolate. Cute wrappers,” “I definitely prefer the pink one because it looks the best from the packaging,” and “I think I will like the Mast chocolate because the design is simplistic and modern.”

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Student holds up her preferred chocolates, selected on the basis that they “seem the most natural.”

Angelo Agostoni, President of Italian chocolate producer ICAM, notes a recent “purist trend,” in which consumers have a preference for a “single origin, a bean type or a percentage of cacao” (Eber, 161). Many participants that I spoke to claimed that the main, or only, factor they considered when purchasing or consuming chocolate was the percentage of cacao. “I like to buy dark chocolate, at least 60 percent cacao,” one remarked. Participants did not seem as concerned with the origin of the cacao. “Other than the percentage, I don’t care about specific factors of the chocolate, like what country it comes from,” said another.

Curtis Vreeland of Vreeland & Associates, confectionary industry leader in market research and analysis, notes that premium chocolate is considered to be “chocolate selling for greater than $8.00 a pound… qualitative factors: better quality ingredients, better execution, upscale packaging etc” (Eber, 168). Are these distinctions significant beyond the price differential and their appeal to the high-end consumer? While fine cacao or fine chocolate is indeed sold at a higher price based on perceived quality (Martin, “Popular sweet tooths or scandal”),  as we discussed in lecture, Fairtrade, Direct Trade, and organic certifications do not necessarily indicate a higher quality product. During my chocolate tasting, a participant recognized that her partiality for so-called natural or healthier products was likely grounded in rhetorical appeal, rather than objective quality distinction. After expressing her preference for the Taza bar, she noted the effectiveness of the slogan “Stone ground chocolate.” “Stone ground chocolate makes me think that the Taza chocolate is natural and artisanal, even though for all I know, all chocolate could be stone ground, or the stone grinding could have absolutely no effect on the taste of the chocolate,” she admitted.

As the commentary of my sample population of the Harvard student body indicates, the presentation of chocolate, including the retail channel, brand name, package design, information included on the packaging, phrasing of the information, and any included labels signal to the consumer whether or not the chocolate bar is one that they would want to consume, without any awareness of the taste of the actual product, or, in fact, perhaps despite the taste. A participant, who initially expressed her preference for the Divine bar, remarked that although she had not tried the brand before, “I like the Fair Trade aspect and not all the processed junk in it.” Upon sampling the Divine chocolate, she did not like the taste of the mint as much as she expected. However, she still asserted that she would prefer to eat the Divine bar over the Hershey’s bar, despite the fact that she preferred the taste of the Hershey’s. “I don’t want to eat a chocolate that I can’t imagine being sold at Whole Foods, such as Hershey’s. And even if I prefer the taste, I also assume that there are a ton of unhealthy chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body.” One student cited the relative difficulty of reading the list of ingredients in a Hershey’s bar as a concern: “You have to really fold back the flap and open the wrapper to read the list.”

For higher-income, highly educated consumers concerned with the consumption of socially conscious, healthy, or natural products, of which I will classify the population of Harvard students that I sampled as generally falling under, presentation and labeling are paramount. However, according to fine flavor industry experts, “up to 90% of what you read on the average chocolate package is “marketing” (or “lies” or “propaganda”)” (Eber, 169). Additionally, there are several major issues with certification labels specifically: certification is very costly for many farmers (who must bear a significant portion of the costs themselves) to obtain, and furthermore, there is little evidence of impact or higher quality associated with certification (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).

 

Looking to the future, it is important that we recognize the extent to which chocolate preferences, as representative of a larger trend in consumer behavior, are dictated by personal identity, social class, and lifestyle motivations, and the degree to which chocolate, like many other foods, is, often falsely, perceived as existing in dichotomy (e.g. mass market vs. fine). For the consumer who can afford to spend over $8 on a chocolate bar, likely in search of a product that is delicious, high quality, natural, healthier, and artisanal, as supported by research and personal inquiry, the presentation of the good is significant. Producers and consumers alike should evaluate the factors that draw an individual to a particular chocolate product to reflect on the influence of social milieu and the realities of the commodity.

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack. Fast Food/Organic Food: Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 72-88. Print.

Guthman, Julie. Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 496-509. Print.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell UP, 2014. Print.

Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastroeconomics: the Journal of Food and Culture 1.1 (2001): 36-44. Web.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “The Rise of Big Chocolate and Race for the Global Market.” AAAS 119x Lecture. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. 9 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Miller, Lisa. “What Food Says About Class in America.” Newsweek 22 Nov. 2010. Web.

Trigg, Andrew B. “Veblen, Bourdieu, and Conspicuous Consumption.” Journal of Economic Issues 35.1 (2001): 99-115. Web.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver: Wilmor Pub., 2012. Print.

 

 

 

The False Narrative of Chocolate & Female Sexuality, and the Importance of Promoting Chocolate to Women Without Degradation

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Advertisement for Dove’s Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate bar from the “My Moment. My Dove.” campaign (2008).

Historically, chocolate has been considered an aphrodisiac, associated with love and sex, and perceived in highly gendered ways, with evidence of this in the Aztec culture and Victorian Era, for example (Martin). Modern advertising narratives, such as the Cadbury Flake ad featuring a woman in a bath, continue these traditional themes associated with chocolate by selling the candy with highly sexualized, erotic images and messages. Chocolate advertisers frequently depict the experience of consuming chocolate as “identical to the pleasure of sex or redeemable for the pleasure of sex” (Anderson). I will examine the Dove ad for their Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate bar, pictured to the right, and consider how the image, and other chocolate ads, create a harmful narrative around chocolate and female sexuality. Too often, they promote a notion of women as weak objects, who, once exposed to the influence of chocolate, which serves as an alternative to men, are completely powerless.

The Dove ad is not true to the actual product: the cranberry almond bar is not a substitute for sex and it will not incapacitate the woman by providing her with irresistible physical satisfaction. By obscuring the reality of the product and depicting women as easily, irrationally entranced by chocolate, and by extension, as helpless, I contend that ads like this Dove ad are promoting an injurious characterization of women as objects without agency, and without interests beyond satisfying their own pleasure. It is important to consider the effects of these messages on female self-perception, and work to create ads that instead more accurately celebrate chocolate as a tasty sweet, rather than a “sexual surrogate” (Kawash), and women as real people with depth and personality.

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This ad for Magnum Chocolate is one example of the preponderance of ads suggesting that women share sexual experience with chocolate.

Samira Kawash, author of Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, notes the “overt sexuality” of the Dove ad, which she describes as featuring a “lithe woman caressed by brown silk, writhing in pleasure” (Kawash). Upon first glance, the viewer notices a woman wrapped up in a silky brown material with an expression of pure bliss. Her eyes are closed, her features are soft, and her expression is one of peaceful ecstasy. She is certainly in rapture, but her face has been molded in a way so as to not create a dramatic appearance, so she does not appear too powerful. The ad focuses on the comprehensive sum of the different elements of the image: the woman’s euphoric expression, the silky folds of the fabric, the soft lighting, and the suggestive overlaying words.

Noticeably, the whole advertisement is tinted brown and it is difficult to discern sharp boundaries between the woman’s face, her hair, and the silky cloth that is wrapped around her. Dove has carefully crafted and edited the image so as to make the woman in bed resemble creamy chocolate in hue and texture. It is if chocolate is literally taking over the woman because of its overpowering effect on her. She is a remarkably flat figure and resembles a painted face, rather than an individual with a personality, sense of self, and means of influence.

The words at the bottom of the advertisement further reinforce the overt sexual connotations of the image and characterize the woman as easily seduced and without agency: “Now it can last longer than you can resist. Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat.”

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My re-designed Dove ad, working to promote a more realistic characterization of chocolate and a positive depiction of women.

My re-designed ad celebrates women as strong, dynamic beings, and markets Dove chocolate for what it is — a sweet. The new ad focuses on the women’s actions, namely, their decision to go for a bike ride together, rather than their sexual satisfaction. It shows that women are strong and in control; they enjoy adventures, represented through biking, and sweets, presumably chocolate, and will not be manipulated or lulled into an euphoric slumber by a mere candy. Furthermore, I incorporated three women into the advertisement to suggest the social nature of chocolate as a food to be shared among friends, rather than an erotic object or substitute for sex that is enjoyed alone in one’s bed, as the initial advertisement suggests with the shrouded woman. The new slogan, “Now life can be full of adventures and sweets,” promotes chocolate as a delicious addition to an active life, rather than an instrument to prod female sexuality.

Considering that most chocolate, and certainly the “My Dove, My Moment” ad, is targeted at women, the implicit messages of female degradation have a negative effect on self-perception. The re-designed ad takes the opportunity to reach so many female consumers to convey a positive, uplifting message by featuring women who are engaged with the world around them and with one another. Dove chocolate will provide women with “sweet” support in their active lives.

 

Works Cited:

Anderson, L.V. “Cuckoo for Chocolate.” Slate Magazine. Slate.com, 13 Feb 2012. Web.

Cadbury’s Flake: Deliciously Terrifying. Video. YouTube. N.p., 2 Mar 2010. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM4rfqcHtNo&gt;.>.

Cranberry Almond Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate. Digital image. Calorie Count. N.p., 2016. Web. <https://www.caloriecount.com/calories-dove-cranberry-almond-silky-smooth-i132158&gt;.

Dove Ad. Digital image. The Society Pages. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2010/11/dove.jpg&gt;.

Magnum Chocolate Ad in Beautiful HD. Digital image. YouTube. N.p., 9 May 2011. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM4rfqcHtNo&gt;.

Kawash, Samira. “Sex and Candy.” The New York Times. The New York Times Online,, 13 Feb 2014. Web.

 
Martin, Carla, PhD. “Chocolate expansion.” AFAM 199X. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge. 10 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Cacao and Slavery: Examining Responses to Cadbury’s Involvement with Slavery on São Tomé and Príncipe to Understand the Evolution of Public and Commercial Attitudes About Labor Ethics

The long-established relationship between cacao and slavery began as soon as the Europeans and indigenous American populations first interacted around cacao (Martin). For years, slave labor was accepted as an economic necessity for the labor-intensive crop. The public reaction to the discovery of slave labor in the Cadbury Brothers company supply chain illustrates that mainstream public opinion in England had changed by the first decade of the twentieth century, as British individuals overwhelmingly rejected slavery as unjustifiable on all grounds. However, the Cadbury company’s slow response — the company’s boycott of Portuguese cacao began a whole eight years after William Cadbury first heard reports confirming slave labor —  proves that corporations continued to prioritize business efficiency over ethical practice. Without public pressures, it is, I argue, uncertain that Cadbury and other companies would have taken actions to curb exploitive labor practices.

Girls-On-Cocoa-Plantation-Trinidad-British-West-Indies
Image shows girls on a cocoa plantation in the British West Indies in the nineteenth century. Forced labor continued even after the 1834 British Slavery Abolition Act.

While a certain amount of opposition to slavery always existed, for centuries, abolition was inconceivable to many as government officials, producers, and consumers alike viewed forced labor as a necessary, albeit morally reprehensible, practice. Indeed, enslaved labor persisted in the industry following the 1834 British Slavery Abolition Act. However, by 1901-1909, the public sentiment had changed, and English citizens revealed their strong disapproval of slavery. Investigative journalists, such as Henry Nevinson, whose articles in Harper’s Magazine first made the existence of slavery on the chocolate islands widely known, and humanitarian organizations, such as the Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines’ Protection Society, led the public condemnation of the institution (Higgs 133-134).

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Slaves in Portuguese West Africa, as photographed for Nevinson’s report “The Slave-Trade of To-day,” published in Harper’s Magazine (1905).

 

The reactions of consumers and journalists to the allegations of slavery on São Tomé and Príncipe illustrates that the general public opinion strongly opposed coercive labor practices. Nevinson’s accounts roused widespread public discontent, and newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian, the Standard, and the Evening Standard published articles criticizing Cadbury for continuing to purchase Sao Toméan cocoa (Higgs 143). The outcome of the case between Cadbury and the Standard further indicates the extent to which the public, and legal system, disapproved of Cadbury’s purchase of Sao Toméan cocoa. While the jury agreed that Cadbury Brothers had been libeled, it expressed its condemnation of the firm’s practices by awarding only a single farthing (equivalent to one quarter of a penny) in reparations (Higgs 152).

Although the Cadbury company prized its Quaker values and prided itself on having concern for its workers, the company failed to take strong or timely actions in the face of slavery allegations. Satre notes the strikingly late response of the company in the face of substantiated evidence, remarking that, “Given this extensive evidence, it is surprising that the Cadburys had not recognized this slavery early on…” (Satre 21). It took William Cadbury over four years after he first heard allegations of slave labor and received reports which “graphically confirmed” those allegations to take action (Satre 16). And even then, his actions were weak. Cadbury sent a company agent, Joseph Burtt, to travel to Portuguese West Africa as a “friend” to the planters, and urged him to take his time with this “gentlemanly inquiry” (Martin). Revealing his desire to quash public interest in the situation, Cadbury did not allow Burtt’s report confirming the existence of slavery to be published until October 1908, a year after its final publication in Portuguese (Satre 93).

Given Cadbury’s deliberately slow and mild reaction to the evidence of slave labor in São Tomé and Príncipe in the face of widespread outrage, it is difficult to imagine that the company would have taken action had public outcry not demanded it. Considering the controversy in historical context demonstrates the extent to which popular attitudes had evolved by the early twentieth century to condemn slavery on all grounds, and in spite of any perceived benefits for business. Nonetheless, the Quaker company’s weak, I contend, inadequate, response to reports of slavery reveals that corporate greed and commercial interest would remain a challenge to free labor, despite the public’s overwhelmingly anti-slavery sentiments. Indeed, even today, some of the world’s largest chocolate makers are allegedly knowingly using child slaves.

Works Cited:

“British Colonial Apprenticeship: Slavery by Another Name?” Web blog post. US Slave. Blogpost, 5 Jan. 2012. Web.

Haglage, Abby. “Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 15 Sept. 2015. Web.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2012. 133-65. Print.

Martin, Carla, PhD. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor:.” AFAM 119X. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium, Cambridge. 9 Mar. 2016. Lecture.

Nevinson, Henry W. “The Slave-Trade of To-Day.” Harper’s Magazine. Google Play, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 1905.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2005. 1-99. Print.

The Elite World of Chocolate: Cultural Significance in Early Europe

Across time and space, from the Aztec Empire to Baroque Europe, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. While chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century as a medicine with strong curative powers, it evolved into an elite drink during the grandiose Baroque Age. Chocolate was popularized throughout Europe and came to occupy a distinctive place within upper class society because of the complex material and social culture that the aristocracy and nobility created around it.

“It was during the Baroque Age that the beverage [chocolate] made its major journeys, and it was in the Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed.” – The True History of Chocolate (Coe and Coe 125)

Europeans crafted specialized objects to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. By creating intricate paraphernalia and drinking processes, they elevated the consumption of chocolate to elite ritual ceremony. The development of objects including chocolate pots, cups, and saucers for the preparation and serving of chocolate in Baroque Europe indicate the extent to which the consumption of chocolate was a show of extravagance. The Spanish, Italians, and French developed their own varieties of specialty chocolate-pots in copper, gold, and silver, such as the one in the image below, (Coe and Coe 156) for the stirring, frothing, and serving of chocolate.

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Chocolatiére (1774), made of silver and amarath wood

Particularly in France, these chocolatières were prized by the nobility, and the Dauphin Louis XIV himself received chocolatières as gifts from foreign guests, such as the King Narai of Siam in 1686. A body of literature surrounding the correct usage of chocolatières and other objects involved in the chocolate consumption process emerged, and the French debated chocolatière design in cookbooks and culinary treatises. For example, an issue of contention was whether there should be a hole in the chocolatière lid, to allow for the passing of the handle of the moulinet, used to stir the liquid chocolate, or if the lid should not be pierced, as with a caffetière, to avoid the “cumbersome” opening and closing of the pot with a moulinet passing through it (Grivetti and Shapiro 91).

With an elaborate material culture surrounding it, chocolate emerged as a fundamental element of royal and high society across countries including Italy, France, England, and Spain. Chocolate was served at public functions and levees at royal courts across Europe, such as Versailles (Coe and Coe 156).

Social gatherings offered individuals the opportunity to display their collection of objects relating to chocolate as well as their innovative methods of chocolate preparation. Esteemed recipes came to be associated with particular places, such as Francesco Redi’s jasmine chocolate at the Tuscan Court (Coe and Coe 143). These recipes were time-consuming and complex, requiring ingredients unavailable to most individuals. Redi’s chocolate, for example, required ten days to prepare and 250 jasmine flowers per kilogram of cocoa nibs a day for each of these ten days.

 

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The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate (1768) shows a noble family drinking chocolate in a salon, illustrating the type of individuals who consumed chocolate in Baroque Europe.

The upper bourgeoisie class also consumed chocolate in increasing amounts. In England, chocolate was served in traditional coffee-houses, which functioned as important social institutions within English society, by the mid seventeenth century (Coe and Coe, 167).

Chocolate consumption flourished in Baroque Europe because of the extensive material and social culture that developed around it. The luxury item grew in popularity not simply because of its taste or perceived medicinal qualities, but because it offered the European upper class an opportunity to construct a set of customs and social practices around its consumption. Indeed, chocolate became a symbol of wealth, and a vehicle by which one could exhibit his or her privilege. Chocolate was expensive to begin with, and the construction of an extravagant world around chocolate made it even more inaccessible to the lower classes.

 

Ultimately, mass production technologies transformed chocolate from an elite privilege into a European staple food. However, even today, chocolate remains linked to notions of opulence and luxury.

 

Works Cited

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. Digital image. PBS Learning Media. Web.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009. Print.

Van Cauwenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Mar. 2012. Web.