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Selling Terroir: Case Studies

it’s 10 pm. do you know where your chocolate came from?

Compared to other popular luxury food products – wine, coffee, cheese – most consumers know little about the origin of the chocolate they eat. Often, chocolate is referred to by its place of production rather than its place of origin; there is an assumption of quality inherent in saying that a chocolate confection was made in Belgium, Switzerland, or France. Chocolate is different than wine and cheese in this way. Many vineyards bottle their own wines, using grapes that were grown, crushed, fermented, and aged at the same geographic location.

The team at Naggiar Vineyards in Grass Valley, CA, explain their vine-to-wine approach to winemaking. [i]

A bottle of wine has a self-contained sense of place, and that sense of place is typically featured prominently on the label for the consumer. This guide to reading a French wine label illustrates just how much information about origin and production is typically packed onto a wine label, made readily available for consumers [ii].


Few chocolate companies attempt to control the entire means of production, from cacao bean to chocolate bar, in the way that many vineyards follow their grapes from vine to bottle. Most cacao is grown in East African countries and in South and Latin America. These countries often lack a strong industrial tradition or the economic strength and stability to rapidly transform their trade patterns; thus, much of the cacao is shipped to the United States and several European nations, where it is turned into chocolate (Presilla). Regulations in the chocolate industry are lax or non-existent, and the geographic path that a particular chocolate bar has undertaken is rarely made clear to the consumer, if it is even clear to the manufacturer (Nesto). Thus a gap exists between the geographic origins and genetic history of a chocolate bar and the consumer; this creates a problem that Deshpandé refers to as the provenance paradox.

Cacao originates, genetically, from Latin America, and yet when most people think of chocolate and the makers of the best chocolate in the world, Europe is far more likely to spring to mind than Ecuador. Consumers believe that the best chocolate in the world comes from Europe, and they are generally willing to pay more for it. As a result, South American chocolate companies, even if they are using superior beans and producing superior chocolate, struggle to price their product competitively for a global market. These lower prices in turn lead consumers to believe that the product is less valuable, and the South American chocolate companies are unable to develop a reputation based on the quality of their chocolate (Deshpandé).

At odds with the overwhelming faith of consumers in European-made chocolate is the understanding among practically all chocolate makers that different genetic strands of cacao produce different quality beans. The light, delicate flavors of Criollo beans are generally favored over more hardy Amelonados and other Forasteros (Presilla). Just as different grape varietals produce different flavor notes in wine, the differing chemical profiles of varying cacao trees can create chocolate that is earthy, nutty, fruity, or creamy, with notes of honey, coffee, oak, or tobacco. The various flavor notes in cacao are determined by myriad factors that differ from growing region to growing region; the French term terroir describes this regional variation. Terroir encompasses and complicates “raw materials, their growing conditions, production processes, and the moment of product appreciation” (Nesto). All these factors – regional genetic variation, soil quality, growing environment and climate, different harvesting practices – contribute to the “sense of place” realized in the final product.

Fine chocolate makers have an incentive to produce chocolate with a taste that consumers will enjoy, and as such, have always paid attention to where their cacao originated. That information is not always communicated to consumers, though; it would be very unusual for the origin of the cacao beans used in a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, for example, to be published on the label – or anywhere. Several case studies will demonstrate different approaches by contemporary chocolate companies and institutions to emphasize terroir in their chocolate products, and will explore the ways that this focus can be constructive – or problematic.

A selection of chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier [iii].
case 1. chuao chocolatier & spicy maya chocolate

Cacao originates from Latin America, but few consumers are aware of this history. More believe, or assume, that chocolate is of European origin, as most chocolate available on the market is from European manufacturers. Chuao Chocolatier, based in Southern California, has taken multiple steps to attempt to strengthen the associations between chocolate and Latin America.

The company itself is named after the cacao-producing region of Chuao in central Venezuela. Chuao Chocolatier’s website reports that the founders’ decision in naming the company “was a reflection of their commitment to both high quality and their Venezuelan family heritage. Chocolate is part of their roots, as their ancestors once ran a small family farm that was an important part of the criollo cacao plantation industry” [iv]. The decision to name the company after this particular region is interestingly misleading: none of the cacao used in their chocolate bars is actually from Chuao. The Chuao region has an exclusive trade relationship with Amedei, an Italian chocolate company, under which no cacao from the Chuao cooperative can be sold to any other chocolatier [v]. Founder Michael Antonorsi asserts that Chuao’s chocolate “is a 60 percent mix of Latin American cacaos with the core hailing from Venezuela,” combining “a wide array of unique criollo, trinitario, and forastero beans” (Denis).

The use of Chuao in the company’s name – and marked in large letters on every chocolate bar – clearly implies that the chocolate is from Chuao, and while Antonorsi may indeed use some Venezuelan cacao in his creations, it is not Chuao cacao. The choice of name might have positive implications, such as emphasizing the associations between chocolate and Venezuela in the minds of consumers. It might also have negative implications: consumers cannot develop a sense of taste for a particular region’s cacao if they are incorrectly informed as to what they are tasting. This prevents the development of consumer understanding of terroir.

Image from Chuao’s Spicy Maya Bar packaging [vi].
A second notable decision made by Chuao Chocolatier is the naming and development of their Spicy Maya line of chocolate. The Chuao website describes the Spicy Maya flavor as “a modern twist on the Mayan’s [sic] ancient drinking chocolate recipe, infused with cinnamon, pasilla chile and cayenne pepper” [vii]. The Spicy Maya bar is very far from any substance that Mayan women would have prepared using cacao. Mayans typically consumed chocolate in liquid form; chocolate beverages were often gruel-like drinks prepared by dissolving a ground cacao-and-corn paste in warm water (Presilla). They did use chile and cayenne as flavoring, but also flavors such as honey, vanilla, ear flower, and allspice (Presilla). Does the name “Spicy Maya” mislead in the same way as the company’s name?

The founders of Chuao Chocolatier have made decisions in the way they named their company and their products that appropriate associations with Mayan and Latin American culture. These appropriative acts may not be harmful to the long-gone Ancient Maya, but they have the potential to mislead consumers into buying a product that is not quite what it appears.

case 2. república del cacao

Several chocolatiers have focused production on “single-origin” or “exclusive-derivation” chocolates, which are made entirely from cacao grown in the same region (Presilla). These chocolates typically still contain a blend of various genetic strains, as many types of cacao trees usually grow together; what distinguishes single-origin chocolates from one another “is a matter of the local soil and environment bringing out inherent genetic characteristics, as well as the way in which particular styles of drying and fermentation have distinct effects on overall flavor and aroma” (Presilla). The flavor and nuances brought out by a particular region’s climate and production practices will register in the taste of the chocolate.

República del Cacao is a chocolate company that grew out of the desire to protect a particular variety of cacao: Cacao Arriba, a Fine Aroma Cocoa from Ecuador [viii]. Their website explains that they are working to search for new and forgotten varieties of cacao from across South and Central America. The company also researches traditional production methods, and claims to “care for the traditions of Fine Aroma Cocoa, as well as its culture and inheritance” [ix]. Explicitly, República is concerned with retracing cacao to its origins:

“Cocoa was born in our continent and here is where chocolate should be at its best. We take pride in our local staff, their efforts and the place we have chosen to open our new factory, Quito-Ecuador, just a few miles away from the ancient birthplace of cocoa… República del Cacao is in fact the first major chocolatier to bring chocolate production back to where it rightfully belongs.” [x]

Unlike Chuao, República’s name does not refer to one particular cacao-producing village; instead, the name implies a republic made up of many united chocolate-producing regions, without losing the focus on chocolate’s Latin American origins.

A selection of several República del Cacao chocolate bars [xi].
República produces several single-origin chocolate bars from different cocoa provinces, primarily Ecuadorian and Peruvian. Each bar has the province from which the cacao was harvested clearly marked on the packaging, as well as a notice that it was harvested and produced in Ecuador. República manages, in its marketing and packaging, to emphasize terroir and the geographic origin of each particular bar of chocolate without hinging on cultural appropriation or untruthful associations with Ancient Mayan chocolate recipes. While Chuao Chocolatier references the Chuao region primarily as a marketing ploy, República uses single-origin denominations to reference particular flavor profiles, and allows consumers to develop their own understanding of terroir.

case 3. appellations of origin: chuao, venezuela

Appellations of origin recognize a product as being from a specific geographic location and directly connect the product to the terroir of that region and the “human factors of work, creativity, and specific knowledge that are to be found” there [xii]. Marking the products of a region with the appellation of origin of that region allows producers there to protect and acknowledge regional history and characteristics.

Appellations, or denominations, of origin are generally taken far more seriously for wine and cheese and a few other food items than for cacao. Though many contemporary chocolate companies label their products with the region of origin, it is uncommon for a region to be protected under copyright law from other companies wishing to sell cacao labeled with its name. Champagne, for example, can only legally be used in the packaging and marketing materials for sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region; Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese can only be labelled as such if it is indeed from the Province of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena, or Mantua (Olmsted).

The only region that has such protection for cacao is the Chuao region in Venezuela, mentioned earlier as the namesake of Southern California’s Chuao Chocolatier. After the growers’ cooperative in Chuao, Venezuela reached the agreement with Amedei Chocolatier wherein Amedei asserted “exclusive rights to use the Chuao name,” the cooperative also filed an application for recognition of Chuao as an appellation of origin under Venezuelan law (Presilla; WIPO). Recognition was granted, and the Chuao name became protected under Venzuelan law. The name “Chuao” is legally restricted to use only on cacao beans and cocoa products from that geographic region. This, in theory, would generate higher demand for Chuao cacao, allowing growers from Chuao to demand higher prices for their beans and allowing local buyers to benefit from their relationships to the plantation.

This further complicates the story of Chuao Chocolatier. The Chuao name is protected under intellectual property law; because their chocolate is not composed solely of cacao from the Chuao region, Chuao Chocolatier is in violation of this law. The legal recognition of Chuao as an appellation of origin, in theory, is meant to handle exactly this sort of situation. The growers’ cooperative at Chuao could take legal action toward Chuao Chocolatier, and therefore regain control of the associations consumers draw to the name Chuao.


case 4. heirloom cacao

The mission of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund is to “identify and preserve fine flavor (“heirloom”) cacao varieties for the conservation of biological diversity and the empowerment of farming communities” [xiii]. The goal of the HCP is to protect the natural varieties of Theobroma cacao that are diminishing in the wild in the face of environmental change, deforestation, and economic upheaval.

The recognition of the great genetic diversity of cacao is important, and serves a different goal than those discussed so far. Individual chocolate companies, however wholehearted their goals, are generally still working in their own best interests. The HCP was founded by a group of chocolate enthusiasts and scientists in order to serve the interests of the entire cacao-chocolate industry, and to preserve the genetic diversity of cacao for future generations of environmentalists – and chocolate consumers.

There are, perhaps, some unintended consequences to the denominations offered by the HCP, however. As with the denominations offered through Fair Trade or UTZ or Rainforest Alliance, the HCP denomination can be pricy. Having the denomination may allow growers to achieve higher market prices, but it only helps those growers who can afford the cost of application. Additionally, the denomination has resulted in a boom in American and European chocolate companies that offer wildly expensive “heirloom chocolate bars” [xiv].  The companies that benefit from the denomination are not the small chocolate companies who work locally near growers; instead, those companies become pushed out of the market by larger firms and European companies that can afford to pay a higher premium once a cacao variety is classified as “heirloom.”


Many contemporary chocolate companies are adopting new approaches to marketing that emphasizes terroir. If chocolate can reach a place like that of wine or cheese in our society’s culinary consciousness, where the origin of the product is of equal or greater importance than the way it is prepared, the benefits for growers and small buyers will be myriad. Ideally, more companies will model their marketing and advertising endeavors after companies like República del Cacao, with a focus on appellations of origin and elevating multiple regions to popularity. And the more efforts that can be taken by others in the cacao-to-chocolate industry to emphasize terroir, the better – but care must be taken to ensure those efforts benefit the growers and companies that need it most.

works cited

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2007[1996]). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson.

Denis, N. P. (2011). Chuao Chocolatier. Specialty Food. Web. Accessed 4 May 2016.

Deshpandé, R. (2010). Why you aren’t eating venezuelan chocolate. Harvard Business Review, 88(12), 25–28.

Nesto, B. (2010). Discovering terroir in the world of chocolate. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 10(1), 131–135.

Olmsted, L. (2012). Most Parmesan cheeses in America are fake, here’s why. Forbes. Web. Accessed 4 May 2016.

Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House LLC.

Wells, P. (2006). The World’s Best Chocolate. Food & Wine. Web. Accessed 4 May 2016.

World Intellectual Property Organization (N. D.). Branding matters: the success of Chuao cocoa bean. WIPO Case Studies. Web. Accessed 4 May 2o16.

media & references

















Lady Godiva, Naked


empowerment and objectification

For ninety years, Godiva Chocolatier has struggled to strike a balance between empowering women and objectifying them. Godiva was named after the legendary Lady Godiva, whose story, though set just after the turn of the 11th century, exemplifies the tension between female empowerment and objectification that we see in advertising in 2016.

Godiva Chocolatier Logo
[1] Even today, the image of Lady Godiva – eternally naked – appears on every box of Godiva chocolate.
Lady Godiva is generally remembered far better for her titillating nudity than for the circumstances that preceded her naked horseback ride. As the story goes, she argued with her husband (Lord Godiva, presumably) over his tax policy, which was hurting the people in their village. He agreed to change his policies if she rode naked through the village on horseback (French). According to the story, she took him at his word and rode naked through the town, and he changed his tax policy, and in theory everyone lived happily ever after (French).

Whether the story is true or not, it poses a difficult question regarding objectification. Lady Godiva took a bold action to stand up for the people of her village, but she was coerced into it by a male partner who did not take her opinions seriously. She chose her nudity, and yet it was not her choice at all. Is she an example of a woman taking her sexuality into her own hands, and using it to empower herself, or an example of a woman forced to expose herself as the lesser of two evils?

The question of female agency in sexualized media can be difficult to disentangle. Certainly female sexuality – and indeed nudity – in and of itself is not a problem. The problem arises when women are sexualized by others, for the benefit of others, and to the discomfort or even harm of the woman.

godiva ads, past and present

Godiva has historically produced advertisements that align with stereotypes, particularly the trope of the woman who is aroused by chocolate (Martin). Their recent DIVA advertising campaign features a series of women with dark eye makeup and lidded eyes, tousled hair, and clothing that appears to be slipping off. In the image below, the placement of the woman’s hands draw attention to her hair and her low neckline, and her horizontal position implies an arousal of something more than taste.


GoDIVA Joie de Diva
[2] The ‘woman aroused by chocolate’ appears frequently in chocolate advertising.

In an interview with AdWeek to herald Godiva’s 90th anniversary, head of marketing Michelle Chin offered that Godiva is looking to shift their target demographic to reach a younger consumer. “For us, what’s most important is pushing the emotional connection that consumers have with the brand,” Chin said. “Godiva means a lot of different things to people, but it really comes down to one thing—sparking joy and delight in consumers (Nudd)”. If their current marketing strategy can be successful at sparking joy and delight in that younger target demographic, they may be able to make this shift quite easily. If their advertisements are missing the mark, though, there may be more work for Godiva to do.

finally rewarded: a close read

The ad below is a still image of a woman in her late twenties or early thirties, leaning on a countertop, lifting a Godiva truffle from a gold box on the counter to her mouth. Behind her, out of focus, several men and at least one woman are standing or sitting, some drinking from glasses, with platters of food between them. This image does not immediately appear to be overly sexual; the woman’s shirt is high-necked, and she is leaning over the counter in a realistic, non-exhibitory pose. A gold panel at the right side of the image serves multiple functions: it reminds the viewer of the gold color of Godiva’s signature chocolate boxes, it generates an association between the ad and a marker of luxury, and it creates a space for text to be easily superimposed on the image.

[3] The advertisement in question.
Yet several aspects of her physical appearance match onto features that stereotypically mark a woman as a sex object: her lips are slightly parted; her eyes are closed, or at least heavily lidded; her hair is tousled and shiny; her skin looks smooth and golden. Her shirt folds in a way that draws attention to her chest and collarbones. In the language of print advertising, her body language is code for arousal – and in this ad, she is clearly being aroused by the chocolate. But this is fairly typical of chocolate ads.

A more interesting feature of her pose is her privacy from the rest of the party. The text accompanying the image indicates that she was the one to plan the party, yet she has withdrawn from it to eat this chocolate. She appears to be celebrating her successful party with a private reward: she is not being celebrated by anyone else, including and especially her male guests, blurry and silent at the back of the frame. The ad also doesn’t focus on any pleasure stemming from her successful party or from a feeling that the work she put into it was worthwhile. Her only pleasure comes from the chocolate.

The chocolate, then, is clearly a private pleasure. Women are frequently depicted in media eating chocolate “in various states of sensual arousal” and frequently alone, sneaking the chocolate “as a guilty pleasure or consolation prize” (Martin). Two things complicate this trope. First, the comparison of chocolate-eating pleasure to sexual orgasmic pleasure leaves the woman merely the object of some pleasuring force (chocolate). If the experience of eating chocolate is sensually arousing, then watching the woman in the advertisement eat chocolate is a form of accepted voyeurism, with all the problematic implications that brings.

Second, the concept of food being used in secret reward behavior is deeply connected to troubled eating patterns. Public schools have been trying to ban food as an in-school reward for good behavior for years; several studies have shown that teaching people that food is a reward means they crave it far more, and are at much higher risk for obesity (Healy). Women, in particular, are taught to conceal their eating habits from a young age, or told that men find it unattractive when women eat in public. The instinct to hide food and snacking behaviors, especially on unhealthy foods – like chocolate – can be an early indicator of eating disorders (Rainey). Encouraging the women who see this ad to mimic that behavior is likely to go poorly.

redesigning for a new demographic

Godiva’s head of marketing wants the main associations consumers make with Godiva to be joy and delight. The ad above primarily transmits a message of pleasure, and mostly sexual pleasure. To facilitate a shift toward less-sexual joy, and to broaden the ad campaign’s appeal to a wider audience, a redesign of the above print ad uses nearly the same framing and phrasing but incorporates a different woman and a different scene.


Finally Rewarded
A redesigned ad for Godiva’s new campaign.

In the redesigned ad, the phrase “Weeks AND WEEKS of planning” refers not to planning a party, but to Nicola Adams’ training and preparation for the 2012 London Olympics competition in boxing. Her preparation was presumably physically and emotionally taxing, and she is being rewarded with both a gold medal and a Godiva chocolate bar. This resolves several problematic aspects of the original ad.

Nicola is being rewarded not only with chocolate, but also with a gold medal. She is being celebrated for her success and performance, and her joy appears to stem from her abilities as well as from her chocolate-bar. The bright lights on her, compared to the dark background, also indicate that she is being lit or perhaps even photographed in front of a crowd of on-lookers. The public nature of the ad removes the problematic food-hiding behavior from the first ad.

From the Olympic medal around her neck, we are able to infer that she is being celebrated for her physical prowess. The gold stripe at the right side of the image is now more strongly associated with the gold medal – a symbol of overwhelming ability and success – than it is with luxury or classism.

Finally, the ad does not cast Nicola as a sex object. Her smile reaches her eyes; her hair is up, perhaps for comfort or ease of movement or perhaps just because she likes to wear it that way; she is wearing athletic clothing, and little or no makeup to accentuate her lips or darken her eyes.

suggestions for godiva

This redesigned advertisement is far from a solution to the stereotyped and sexualized images prevalent in chocolate advertisements and in all media today. By revising ad campaigns to erase stereotypes of sexism and classism and mental health (and we haven’t even discussed the racial undertones prevalent in chocolate imagery), Godiva can take a step toward reaching their target demographic with a message of delight and of joy.

works cited

French, Katherine. 1992. “The legend of Lady Godiva and the image of the female body.” Journal of Medieval History 18 (1): 3-19.

Healy, Melissa. 2014. “When food’s the reward, obese women’s judgment fails them.” Los Angeles Times, 17 July 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Women Alone with Chocolate in TV Commercials.” Bittersweet Notes. WordPress, 7 June 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Nudd, Tim. 2016. “At 90, Godiva Proudly Looks Back as It Charts a Path Forward: The Belgian chocolatier has a lauded history but needs to court younger buyers.” AdWeek. 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Puhl, R.M. and Schwartz, M.B. 2003. “If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors.” Eating Behaviors 4 (3): 283-93.

Rainey, Sarah. 2015. “Ever hidden food, or secretly disposed of wrappers? Then you need to read this.” The Telegraph. 14 Jan 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.






images used for redesigned ad



Gallery Walk: Chocolate, Gender, and Industrialization

Art is closely tied to the culture of a society. Studying changes and patterns in symbolism and representations over time can provide clues to shifting norms and cultural expectations in society. By studying the path of chocolate through art history, we can better understand the shifting associations between chocolate and gender.

Chocolate has been intimately tied to gender since its origins in ancient Mesoamerica. As chocolate spread to new cultures and new continents, practices surrounding the production, serving, and consumption of chocolate changed to reflect the sometimes strict, sometimes contradictory gender norms of these new cultures.

Ancient Mesoamerica: women and production

PrincetonVase   Woman prepares chocolate - Codex Tudela

The women above – on the left, from a Mayan vase ca. 750 CE, and on the right, from the Aztec Codex Tudela ca. 1500 CE – are each pouring chocolate from one vessel to another, a key step in the preparation of ancient Mesoamerican chocolate beverages. The images below illustrate the somewhat different relationship of deities to chocolate.

743_05_2 atztecs_scene_in_royal_palace_with_pod_filled_with_cocoa_mixture_lioa_651x468

On the left, from the Dresden Codex, the rain god holds a bowl of cacao in his hands, presumably for consumption; on the right, a high-ranking Mayan man seated on a platform is inspecting a pot containing a frothed cacao beverage – again, he appears to be preparing to drink the chocolate. Though we have access today to only a fraction of the images of chocolate created in the first several hundred years of its consumption, the images that we do have draw a compelling distinction between the relationship of men and women to chocolate.  Women produced chocolate, and men consumed it. Aztec and Maya texts, as well as the writings of the European colonists who settled in Mesoamerica, indicate that these earliest consumers of chocolate were well aware of its stimulating effect (Coe and Coe). In Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was expressly limited to nobles, merchants, and warriors – all, for the most part, male (Coe and Coe). The roles of women in Mesoamerican society were far more restricted – women were primarily involved in the domestic sphere – and far less physically active, meaning they lost the privilege of drinking chocolate.

Chocolate houses, European men, and chaos

By the early 17th century, cacao had officially arrived in Europe. It was first drunk only by royalty, but quickly spread – especially in England – to the masses, aided by the class-defying appeal of London’s coffeehouses (Calhoun). William Hogarth’s engraving, below, shows a raucous crowd of men at White’s Chocolate House, many gambling, smoking, or stabbing at the air with swords.


A somewhat tamer scene is depicted below; again, though, men have come together in great numbers to consume chocolate.


Coffee houses and chocolate houses were generally a space from which women were excluded. There is historical disagreement about whether women were forbidden from frequenting these spaces by decree, as Bramah claims, or merely made unwelcome, as Cowan argues; whatever the means of exclusion, the visual record confirms that chocolate houses were a gendered space. Women were only present in chocolate houses as owners or employees. (Calhoun). A deeper cultural gender divide is clear when we consider the conversations that generally took place in coffeehouses and chocolate houses: historians often acknowledge the role of these spaces in disseminating the intellectual ideals of the Age of Enlightenment to the public sphere (Calhoun). The absence of women from this important sphere where culture and politics were discussed, debated, and shaped reveals the lack of autonomy given to women to change their position in society.

Wealthy women, working women

European women may have been excluded from A Lady Pouring Chocolate by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744)chocolate houses, but they certainly were not excluded from consuming chocolate.

For the first time in our visual journey, female consumption is central. Men certainly continued to consume chocolate, but women appear far more frequently in paintings of domestic consumption. The paintings to the right and below are from the mid-18th century. All the women pictured are upper-class: their clothing and surroundings clearly demonstrate wealth, and the paintings appear to be posed – typical of portraiture in the period, but also an indicator of wealth, as only the elite could afford to commission portraits.


rev586551-oriWealthy men tend only to appear as consumers of chocolate when a woman is at the center of the painting, as in the Penthièvre family portrait above and Longhi’s painting to the left, where men literally surround a woman reclining in a tulle dress.

Women were painted with chocolate to demonstrate their wealth. Chocolate was a less powerful symbol of wealth for men: men had always been allowed to consume chocolate, and so a painting of a man drinking it was unsurprising.

While wealthy women began to be depicted as consumers, servants and lower-class women were still confined to the production and serving of chocolate. The painting below inspired advertising campaigns for both Droste and Baker’s chocolate.

jean-etienne_liotard_-_the_chocolate_girl_-_google_art_project  Droste  800px-BakersCocoa.JPG

For many middle-class women, the packaging on cocoa powder was the closest interaction they would have with chocolate and art.

Non-elite women did consume chocolate, and were often depicted consuming it, especially by the Impressionists. Renoir painted three portraits, each titled “The Cup of Chocolate,” in rapid succession around the turn of the 20th century.




Globalization and new gender roles

Though women of lower social status were now able to consume chocolate, they were also responsible for preparing it and serving it. The massive shifts in production that came with global industrialization meant that society became strictly stratified, and gender roles were not necessarily consistent across the strata.


In fact, images of men preparing and serving chocolate – traditionally a responsibility reserved 37-3761-9cvzf00zfor women – begin to appear around this time, especially in advertisements (such as the Fry’s chocolate advertisement above, where a man working at a drugstore is selling chocolate) and shop signs (the chocolatier sign depicts a man stirring a pot of chocolate).

Domestic food preparation was an almost entirely female arena in ancient Mesoamerica; surviving Mayan and Aztec art depicts women preparing chocolate and men preparing to consume it. Industrialization led to the increased stratification of European society, and brought new gender roles for the elite and for the working class. Wealthy women were no longer responsible for preparing food: they had servants to cook for them. The woman’s role in domestic management was displaced by the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Meanwhile, the globalization of food and food production meant that more men became responsible for food production somewhere along the supply line: harvesting cacao, grinding and conching and pressing chocolate, and handling the financial side of large chocolate businesses were all primarily male occupations.

Food production, for a large part of human history, took place almost exclusively within the home. Industrialization shifted production outside of the home, and created stratified gender roles. Art provides clues to the changing structure of human societies by giving us a glimpse of the prototypical figures of men and women over time. Continued consideration of how accurate a picture those glimpses paint is crucial – not all members of society are portrayed in art, and not all the images we see are accurate portrayals.


Peck, D. G. (1973) Drawing of a detail from the Princeton Vase. Published in Michael Coe’s The Maya Scribe and His World (1973). Image source:

The Princeton Vase: Artist unknown, of Late Classic Maya origins (A.D. 670-750). Princeton Vase. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum.

Image of Aztec woman pouring chocolate. Artist unknown (16th century). Codex Tudela. Madrid: Museo de América. Image source:

Image of Rain God and Opossum God: Artist unknown (ca. 12th century). Dresden Codex Maya Hieroglyphic Text of Almanac: 25-28. Image courtesy of The Maya Codices Database, Version 4.1. Source:

Image of Mayan inspecting chocolate beverage. Artist unknown (15th century). Image source:

William Hogarth (1697-1764). The Rake’s Progress, Plate VI “Gaming House Scene,” engraved by W. Radclyffe. Source: Complete Works, facing p. 98. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Image source:

Image of 17th-century London Chocolate House. Artist unknown (date unknown). Image source:

Liotard, J. E. (1744). A Lady Pouring Chocolate. London: National Gallery. Image source:

Charpentier, J. B. (1768). La famille du duc de Penthièvre (“La Tasse de Chocolat”). Versailles: Musée National du Château. Image source:

Longhi, P. (1774-1780). La cioccolata di mattino. Venice: Ca ‘Rezzonico. Image source:

Liotard, J. E. (1743-44). La Belle Chocolatière. Dresden: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Image source:

Musset, J. (ca. 1900). Droste cocoa packaging. Image source:

Baker’s Cocoa (1919). Baker’s Cocoa Advertisement in Overland Monthly, January 1919. Image source:

Renoir, P. A. (1878). The cup of chocolate. Private collection. Image source:

Renoir, P. A. (1912). Cup of chocolate (Femme prenant du chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source:

Renoir, P. A. (1914). Cup of chocolate (La tasse de chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source:

J.S. Fry & Sons, Ltd. (ca. 1900). Advertisement for Fry’s Chocolates. Image source:

Borrari, O. (Date unknown). Sign of Milanese Shop. Gallery unknown. Image source:

Caraud, J. (1872). Sharing the Chocolate [Painting]. Gallery unknown. Image source:

Works Cited

Bramah, E. (1972). Tea and Coffee: A Modern View of Three Hundred Years of Tradition. Tiptree, Essex: Hutchinson & Co, Ltd.

Calhoun, B. (2012). “Shaping the Public Sphere: English Coffeehouses and French Salons and the Age of the Enlightenment,” Colgate Academic Review 3: 7. Accessed:

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (1996). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Colmenero, A. (1652). Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke. First printing, London: J.G. for John Dakins. Wadsworth, J. (translator). Accessed:

Cowan, B. W. (2001). “What Was Masculine about the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post-Restoration England.” History Workshop Journal 51: 127–157.


Precious Thing: Chocolate as Currency and Delicacy in Ancient Mesoamerica

Though many people are aware of the origins of chocolate in ancient Mesoamerica, fewer know that it was valued for more than its flavor: cacao beans, from which chocolate is made, were used as currency across Mesoamerica. Today, the idea of paying for goods and services with food seems foreign to most in the Western world. The practice of eating things that we consider currency, though, is certainly not unheard of: a rising culinary trend has restaurants and companies topping everything from sushi to Kit Kat bars with gold.

Gold leaf on chocolate bar gold donut - forbes
Eating money ostentatiously marks the one eating as wealthy and elite. Though gold leaf is easily available from specialty grocers, eating gold is fairly unusual today, in contrast to the regular consumption of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica. Images: James Cronin/Flickr; Forbes. 

The use of cacao beans as money was unique, even in the context of the barter-based trade economy that spanned the Americas, and reflects the elite status cacao held in Mesoamerican society. Cacao’s role as currency may have had a more important role than previously considered in its transition from the New World to the Old World.

Cacao and the Maya

Cacao had a central place in Maya society, one that is often overshadowed by its importance in the later Aztec Empire. Chocolate was consumed at marriage negotiations and weddings and elaborate feasts of all kinds, and high-status Maya burial chambers often contained vessels filled with chocolate beverages – ostensibly to accompany the deceased on their journey to the afterlife (Coe & Coe 42).

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On the far right, a woman prepares a chocolate beverage. The preparation and consumption of cacao beverages was a part of many Mayan rites of passage, as well as Mayan daily life. Image: Francis Robicsek, The Maya Book of the Dead. 

Cacao was an important trade good for the Maya, and a strong cacao trade emerged in the Late Classic period. The use of cacao beans as a quasi-stable currency likely evolved from the regular exchange of cacao for other goods. By the 10th century, the Maya held an important mercantile position in Mesoamerica, exchanging goods between Maya states and with other peoples both north and south (Coe & Coe 53). The centrality of cacao to the Maya economy may have played a role in its emergence as currency.

The use of cacao beans as money, with a fixed rate of exchange with various other goods, may have begun just as early or earlier. It certainly appears in several European accounts from the Colonial period: Francisco Oviedo y Valdés, a chronicler from the 16th-century, did not identify the cacao beans as cacao but noted that about ten of the beans could be exchanged for a rabbit and about a hundred could be exchanged for a slave (Coe & Coe 59).  Cacao beans were in widespread use as currency by the Colonial Period.

Tenochtitlan and the Aztecs

The cacao trade was just as important for the Aztec as the Maya, if not more: the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan did not have a climate that would allow the Aztecs to cultivate cacao on their own (Presilla 17). Aztec merchants traveled far and wide to barter for cacao and bring it back to Tenochtitlan. Emperor Motecuhzoma’s royal coffers were said to contain nearly a billion beans (Coe & Coe 83); the Aztecs certainly worked hard to have access to a great deal of cacao. Like the Maya, the Aztecs used cacao beans to make purchases: Colonial documents report the prices of male and female turkeys (200 and 100 cacao beans, respectively), avocados (three beans), and other foods (Coe & Coe 99).

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Among the gifts brought from Xoconochco to the Aztec rulers  in tribute were nearly 24,000 cacao beans. The Aztecs prized cacao, and the royals at Tenochtitlan absorbed cacao from several smaller states through tribute. Image: Codex Mendoza, Wikipedia. 

But though the Aztec trade and currency systems surrounding cacao were similar to those of the Maya, the consumption of cacao (had different rules). The finest chocolate beverages were likely restricted to the Maya elite, but there is still reason to believe that cacao was consumed as well by Maya commoners. This was not the case with the Aztecs: chocolate was consumed only by Aztec royals, nobility, warriors, and merchants (Coe & Coe 95). This may have had roots in the stratified nature of Aztec society, or it may have been influenced more directly by the economic value of cacao. In a society that could not grow its own cacao at the capital, supply would need to be carefully maintained in order to continue to meet royal and noble demand.

European Interest

The early Spanish conquerers were first interested in cacao not for its flavor, but for its economic importance (Presilla 18). Ferdinand Columbus, traveling with his father, observed natives stooping to pick up spilled cacao beans and before even knowing that they were cacao beans, realized that they had value (Coe & Coe 109). If cacao beans hadn’t been used as currency, it is entirely possible that the elite stigma associated with chocolate consumption would have disappeared. Early European accounts did not praise the taste of chocolate: “It seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity,” Girolamo Benzoni wrote (Coe & Coe 110). Chocolate was first drunk in Europe when presented as a gift to the Spanish royal court by the Kekchi Maya in 1544 (Presilla 25). Without its place at the Maya royal banquets in the New World, it might never have been carried across the ocean at all. 

Without cacao’s dual role as beverage and currency, chocolate as we know it today might never have existed.


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate, Third Edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2013.

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

Studeman, Kristin T. “A 24-Karat Kit Kat Bar?: Why Edible Gold is Back in a Big Way.” Vogue. Condé Nast, 31 Dec. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.