Category Archives: College

Why Hasn’t Chocolate Taken Off in China?

This video is a Chinese advertisement of Dove chocolates, focusing on the smooth and sweet taste of chocolate.  Among the Big Five, Dove has been one of the leading chocolate products in China. Since the 1980s, the Big Five have invested massive resources into trying to sell chocolate, with hopes of a lucrative return as China’s consumer class grows. Although some companies such as Ferrero and Mars have had some success, the dream of reaching all Chinese consumers has yet to be fully realized. Why these companies have struggled to successfully penetrate the Chinese market is a question worthy of exploration. Although some literature sources address this puzzle, none of them offer fully convincing arguments for why this might be. Building on Mintz’s consideration of how “sweetness” fits into the cuisine of different cultures, I argue that we must understand how people understand flavors and food in China to fully understand why chocolate may not be as popular.

The Big Five have made concerted efforts to market chocolate to Chinese people, using different concepts to attract the attention of consumers. For example, some have focused on the cultural practice of “gift-giving”–finding that more people may choose to give chocolate rather than buy it for the sake of self-indulgence. To some extent, these efforts seem to be working. This next video is a news report that reports how chocolate in China is becoming more popular. However, as the video points out, the consumption of chocolate in China remains extremely low, and a person in China only eats about 100 grams of chocolate annually.

Interestingly, one of the points made in this video and other news reports also comment on the short history of chocolate in China. Many point to China’s recent industrialization as the start of the country’s interaction with chocolate. As Allen writes in the opening paragraph of his book “Chocolate Fortunes : The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers,”

Until twenty-five years ago, almost none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate. They were, to coin a phrase, ‘‘chocolate virgins,’’ their taste for chocolate ready to be shaped by whichever chocolate company came roaring into the country with a winning combination of quality, marketing savvy, and manufacturing and distribution acumen.

Here, Allen’s analyzes China through a highly orientalist and capitalist lens, describing Chinese people as “chocolate virgins” to be “conquered in a war” between chocolate corporations. Allen’s description is highly problematic in the way that it views Chinese people as simply “consumers” who can fulfill the wild dreams of one of the big five chocolate companies. By saying that before 25 years ago, “none of them had ever eaten a piece of chocolate” is a gross exaggeration, and would suggest that chocolate has had a very recent entry into China.  On the contrary, there is evidence that shows chocolate has long been in China, and some sources say its presence dates as far back as the 1600s (Grivetti and Shapiro 2011; Gordon, 2011).  These scholars point to several opportunities in which chocolate could have been introduced into China, including its close proximity to European countries (like Turkey) where chocolate and coffee were extremely popular; England’s colonization of Hong Kong in the mid 1800s, and the outsourcing of Chinese laborers to the Philippines where both cane sugar and chocolate were popular (Clarence-Smith 2003; Grivetti and Shapiro 2011). In searching through a database of Chinese trade and business documents, I also found a journal entry from 1883 where missionaries documented their consumption of chocolate, suggesting that it was not a foreign substance or food to the Chinese (See Picture 1 & 2).

Given that the data suggests chocolate has had a much longer history in China, this makes the puzzle of why chocolate has not been fully taken off even more interesting. Allen posits that many of the challenges that explain why chocolate has not taken off in China are logistical barriers that have gotten in the way. For example, he cites the difficulty in finding places that can keep chocolate at an appropriate temperature to avoid melting. Additionally, Allen even talks about how China is not as developed as the west, therefore their stores simply do not fully expose consumers to chocolate. Although Allen talks briefly about the importance of understanding how food is understood in China (citing the yin and yang concept), he ultimately criticizes China for being too close-minded to chocolate. He writes,

Ironically, in spite of such a wide variety of tastes and textures, chocolate was so foreign to the Chinese palate that the only culinary gateway into the diets of Chinese consumers was as a foreign and exotic curiosity. Therefore, to make their chocolates appealing to Chinese consumers, the Big Five’s marketing approaches and products had to be consistent with this prevailing view.

Despite acknowledging China’s diverse and rich culinary culture, Allen still believes that through thoughtful marketing, the Big Five can make chocolate popular in China. I argue that this is a problematic and limiting understanding of chocolate in the Chinese context. Even if companies face no logistical supply-chain barriers or have perfect marketing campaigns, there are cultural factors to account for that explain why chocolate has not, in its history, been fully accepted into Chinese culture.  In order to understand this, I believe we need to take a more nuanced look at the food system in China. Although there are certain regions, such as eastern China, that may prefer sweet foods, most of the country is not accustomed to eating solely sweets; there is a cultural system in China that dictates what what foods are better than others dependent on the season, weather, or condition of one’s body. To indulge in a sweet confectionary, or many pounds of it, is fundamentally oppositional to the balance of foods that one should consume.

In discussing the minimal role of sugar in French cuisine, Mintz’ cultural explanation provides a compelling framework that can help us understand why something sweet like chocolate may not be as popular in places like China. He writes,  

Sweetness does not seem to ever have been enshrined as a taste to be contrasted with all others in the French taste spectrum–bitter, sour, salt, hot–as it has in England and America.  Though dessert has a firm place in french meals, the position of cheese is even sturdier, often as if it were a spice. This is rather like the Chinese usage, where sweetness occurs somewhat unexpectedly, and also not always as the climax to the meal.

As Mintz points out, both French and Chinese cuisine are different from American and English cuisines in that they do not necessarily treat sweetness as a main or core component of dishes.  Given sweetness’ smaller role in the cuisine of China, confections such as chocolates may therefore not be as attractive to consumers. Acknowledging the way that food is understood culturally is essential to understanding why chocolate companies may find resistance in China; if the Big Five truly want to take a stab at China, then they need to understand that the cuisine and cultural food systems are more important than consumers’ purchasing power or logistical barriers.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and

Wallets of China’s Consumers. pp. 1-39, 201-224

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. 2003. Cocoa and Chocolate.

Gordon, Bertram M. 2011. Chapter 44: Chinese Chocolate in the book Chocolate: history, culture, and heritage edited by Grivetti and Shapiro.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern

History. New York: Penguin Books

Multimedia Sources:

Picture 1&2:

The Chinese Recorder: Missionary Journal. 1883. Volume 14, Issue 1. China: Trade, Politics & Culture.

Video 1: Dove Chocolate Advertisement. Extracted from Youtube.

Video 2: Chinese news report on chocolate. Extracted from Youtube.

From Cadbury to Nestlé: Big Chocolate & Forced Labor

While chocolate is a sweet delicacy enjoyed by millions around the world, the underlying forces of cacao production often leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. After Europeans “discovered” chocolate in Mesoamerica, its dissemination in Europe relied on the forced labor of indigenous populations and later African slaves on cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished on paper in England in 1833. Yet, it persisted under new names from serviçal in Sao Tome e Principe to “worst forms of child labor” in Côte d’Ivoire. I will compare the response of two influential companies in the cocoa industry–Cadbury and Nestlé–when faced with evidence of forced labor  in their cacao supply chain. While both companies’ actions are ultimately profit-driven, Cadbury took more legitimate actions to divest from forced labor than Nestlé, as the latter has yet to fully invest in ethically-sourced cacao.


William Cadbury’s awareness of forced labor in cacao plantations started with rumors of horrible work conditions in Sao Tome and Príncipe in 1901. At the time, Cadbury obtained 55% of its cacao from the area (Higgs 2012:9). He met with Portuguese authorities who assured him that new labour legislation addressed concerns of minimum wage (Satre 2005:23). Still, Cadbury commissioned Joseph Burtt in 1905 to investigate the work conditions in Sao Tome e Principe. Prior to Burtt’s return, Henry Nevinson published his investigative journalism in Harper’s Magazine in 1905.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 07.27.43
Cadbury's_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885Nevinson shed light on the forced labor of indentured servants (serviçal) in Sao Tome e Principe (Martin 2017). It was indistinguishable from slavery. Burtt returns in 1907, and his report supports Nevinson’s research. Yet, British authorities request Burtt revise his findings to assuage Portuguese authorities because Portuguese authorities were instrumental to British colonial interests in South Africa (Satre 2005: 76, 24). Up to then, Cadbury’s actions were behind the public eye. While the company researched forced labor and attempted to negotiate with both British and Portuguese authorities with no divestment in sight, their consumers continued purchasing their “guaranteed pure and soluble” cacao. 

Nevinson persevered with his reporting and published “The Angola Slave Trade” in The Fornightly Review, which garnered a lot of publicity. Forced labor alarmed British consumers because although England had abolished slavery in 1833, they were still complicit to it. Slavery did not align itself with the Quaker values of the time. As consumers started demanding Cadbury take action, Cadbury takes a final trip to Sao Tome and Principe.

Upon his return, he convinces J.S. Fry and Rowntree, other British chocolatemakers to join him as Cadbury boycotts cacao production in Sao Tome and Principe. Presumably, Cadbury divests because of the continuous failed promises by the Portuguese government to ameliorate working conditions in both islands. While the Portuguese government was not intent on ending slavery in cacao production, Cadbury did not suddenly reach enlightenment in 1909. At the time of initial evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury had no other sustainable source of cacao if it wanted to maintain its leading status amongst British consumers. A viable option was needed as the British confectionners turned to mainland West Africa. Hence, the boycott from its main source of cacao did not hurt Cadbury because during his backdoor negotiations with various stakeholders, cacao trees were being planted in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). From his visit to the Gold Coast in 1906 to the official boycott from Sao Tome’s cacao in 1909, cocoa harvest in the Gold Coast increased from 9004 to 20,534 metric tons (Grant 2005: 175). Therefore, in addition to being ethically sound, the move to the Gold Coast in 1909 was also business-proof.


A century later, big chocolate makers are still guilty of profiting from the fruits of forced labor in their supply chain. In 1998, A Taste of Slavery: How Your Chocolate May be Tainted was published. The UNICEF  report was one of the first to highlight evidence of child labor in West Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire. Young people were often worked almost under horrible conditions: “the [Malian] boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked at night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Off 2008: 121). Child labor in cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire involves familial and contracted labor, often including human trafficking of children from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. Such labor conditions violate the International Labor Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and the ILO Forced Labour Convention (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 101-102).

Increasing media attention to such reports of child slavery pushed the cocoa industry to stop dawdling and take action because “the mistreatment of children posed a clear threat to corporate reputation and sales” (Schrage and Ewing 2005: 104). As the United States Congress began the legislative process of banning Ivorian cacao, the industry proposed a protocol to address the reports. In September 2001, the Chocolate Manufacters Association (CMA) and the World Cocoa Foundation signed the Protocol for the Growing and Processing of Cocoa Beans and their Derivative Products in a Manner that Complies with ILO Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Chila Labor also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Ever since its inception, the protocol has continuously been extended as chocolate companies fail to eradicate the worst form of child labor from their supply chain by their own deadlines. Many have critiqued the protocol as too lenient because a voluntary plan does not ensure the industry will be accountable.

Nestlé has undertook actions to adhere to the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The company joined the Global Issues Group (GIG), “an ad-hoc, pre-competitive association of cocoa industry participants formed in response to the agreements as spelled out in the Harkin-Engil Protocol” (Tulane research). Furthermore, Nestlé contracted UTZ Certified, a product certification organization, to be held accountable for its cacao consumption. Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.27.24In 2009, Nestlé established the Cocoa Plan. The hyperlinked video highlights the work of the Cocoa Plan in Côte d’Ivoire. Through the International Cocoa Initiative, the Cocoa Plan has built schools throughout Côte d’Ivoire in order to provide alternatives for children who were previously child laborers or could potentially be involved in cacao production.This iniative, among others, empowers local communities and seeks to reduce the prevalence of the “worst forms of child labor” in cacao production.In addition, Nestlé has supported further investigation into their cacao sourcing. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted a thorough investigation of the company’s cacao supply chain, making it the first chocolate-maker to undertake such a process (CNN 2012). The FLA has continued these investigations, which attest to Nestlé’s investment in an ethical supply chain. Nestlé’s actions were in response to growing criticism. The company had to handle lawsuits and respond to documentaries about the persistence of forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire in order to appease its consumer base, who was demanding more accountability in the cacao supply chain.


Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 16.28.53Consumer demand for and consumption of ethically produced chocolate is highest in the United Kingdom. This trend explains why Kit Kat chocolate bars in the UK bear the Faitrade mark and Kit Kat chocolate bars in Germany do not. While both bars have the Cocoa Plan logo, Nestlé reveals that it only purchases 14.5% of its cocoa through the Plan, of which 75% is either UTZ or Fairtrade-certified (Nestle 2013: 160). While Nestlé has taken steps to ethically source its cacao, this has only been for consumers who actively demand it.

Similar to Cadbury, Nestlé is acting in a profit-maximizing way. Ethics are secondary because the investment in the Cocoa Plan for all of its chocolate would not be be as profitable beyond the UK. Unlike Cadbury, Nestlé has unfortunately not significantly addressed the Protocol because shared responsibility with other big chocolatemakers and lack of significant consumer demand diffuse the pressure to immediately conform.


Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons

CNN,. 2012. “Nestleé Advances Child Labor Battle Plan”. Retrieved March 23, 2017 (

Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926.  London: Routledge, 2005.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Nestlé,. 2013. Nestlé In Society: Creating Shared Value And Meeting Our Commitments 2013. Nestlé. Retrieved March 21, 2017 (

Nevinson, Henry Woodd. “The Slave-Trade of to-Day. Conclusion–the Islands of Doom.” Harper’s Monthly, 1906, 327-37.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. 1st ed. New York [u.a.]: The New Press.

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business.  Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.

Schrage, Elliot, and Anthony Ewing. 2005. The Cocoa Industry And Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (

Containing Chocolate and Culture

The instruments used to hold chocolate reveal more about the history and culture of the time period than one might first assume. Chocolate consumption began with the Olmecs, a civilization who lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between 1500 BC and 400 BC (Presilla, 46). Around 500 AD, the Mayan people also embraced chocolate as a drink and as part of traditional rituals like marriage, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Over 1000 years later, chocolate had made its way to Europe as a luxury enjoyed by the elite members of society (Coe and Coe, 158). The transformation of chocolate from a religious food to an indulgence for the wealthy is reflected through the vessels used to contain cacao. The culture and beliefs surrounding chocolate are reflected by a vessel found in a Mayan tomb discovery and the French silver chocolatière.



In 1984, archeologists uncovered a Mayan tomb from the late 5th century containing 14 decorated vessels. This tomb was found at Rio Azul, a Maya city located in Guatemala (Presilla, 46). Specifically, one artifact found in this tomb helped researchers to discover Cacao’s importance in Mayan funeral traditions. In their book, Michael D. Coe and Sophie D. Coe describe the artifact:


“There was a single example of an extremely rare form, a stirrup-handled pot with a screw-on lid. This strange object had been surfaced with stucco and brilliantly painted with six large hieroglyphs, including two which read ‘cacao.’” (Coe and Coe, 46)

Kakaw_(Mayan_word).pngFigure 1:  A close up of the glyph that helped identify this vessel. This symbol meant “cacao” in the Classic Maya period. 

Figure 2 (on left): The pot found at Rio Azul that Coe describes.


For the Mayans, chocolate was more than just a substance to consume. Chocolate held spiritual power. This connection between religion and chocolate is clear when we take into consideration the location of this pot. This artifact was found in a tomb, surrounding the body of the deceased ruler. When tested in a lab, this screw-top jar had traces of caffeine and theobromine—the two trace compounds found together only in chocolate (Martin.) This discovery confirmed that the ruler was buried with chocolate. For further proof that the vessel contained chocolate, researcher David Stuart decoded the glyphs along the outside to read “a drinking vessel for witik cacao, for kox caco” (Coe and Coe, 46).

Funerals and chocolate were also linked in Mayan scripture.  The Mayans believed that chocolate eased the journey to the underworld. Chocolate is mentioned in conjunction with different religious rituals in the Dresden Codex, a Maya text that still exists today (Martin).

Not only does the Rio Azul discovery reveal the connection between religion and chocolate, it also clues us into the consumption process. Some of the other vases are tall and narrow. They were picked up and poured into other pots to increase the foam.
Figure 3: This image is found on the Princeton Vase, and it depicts the process in which people made the chocolate drink. The chocolate was poured from one jug to the other to add froth, as the foam was considered the most important part. 



Luxury in the 18th century France

In France in the 17th and 18th centuries, the vessels used to contain chocolate also reflect the attitudes towards chocolate and the way it was imbibed. Chocolate was heralded as a beneficial delicacy with many health benefits. The French “are usually credited with the invention of the chocolatière, the chocolate pot ”(Coe and Coe, 156). Many of the elite took chocolate daily to cure a number of ailments (Coe and Coe, 156). The vessels from which hot chocolate was poured reflect the extravagance of the segment of society who embraced chocolate.


Figure 4 and 5: This chocolatière, currently on display in the Metropolitan museum of art, was made in the 1760s and  is typical for the time period.





“The French innovation seems to have been fix a straight wooden handle to the metal pot at right angles to the spout; this handle was usually unscrewed clockwise so that it would remain tight while pouring from the pot in a counter-clockwise motion. At the top was a hinged lid, with a central hole under the swiveling (or hinged) finial to take the handle of the moussoir (“froth maker”), as they called the molinillo.… Of course, this would have been in silver, as would the chocolatiers of all the nobility.” – Coe 


The extravagance of this pot highlights how only the wealthy had access to chocolate at the time. The average citizen would have never been able to afford such an intricate piece of silverware (Righthand). Chocolatières were also used as gifts between royalty. Coe cites the first appearance of a silver chocolatières in France as a gift from a Siamese mission. “It was not that the Thai had suddenly turned into chocolate drinkers (they never did so), but [the minister to the King of Siam] had obviously instructed the royal metalsmiths to turn out something that would appeal to the French court.” And the metalsmith’s idea of what would appeal to the French court was an extravagant set of chocolatières. The chocolatières given to the French court incuded “two chocolatières in silver, one with golden flowers and the other Japenned” as well as another “entirely in gold” (Coe and Coe, 158). Chocolatières were brought as a gift and to signify diplomacy. This incident establishes the way chocolate was viewed in society—something for only the elite to enjoy for pleasure.



Figure 6:  “La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768” a painting by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier illustrates how chocolate was for the wealthy.


Same food, different cultures

For the Europeans of the 17th century, chocolate was a status symbol. As the price was still expensive, only the wealthy could afford to take chocolate. The intricacies of the chocolatières highlight their function in society. For the most part, chocolate no longer held any spiritual affiliation. While the Mayan pots were decorated with glyphs and drawings depicting what was inside and religious rituals, the chocolatières were ornately decorated illustrating the wealth and class of those who used them. Although both pots hold chocolate, their uses and sociological function were very different, illustrating the adaptation of chocolate as it spread to Europe as a secular delicacy, rather than a religious artifact.


Works cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” February 13, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009 Print.


Cadbury: The Canary in an Unethical Coal Mine

Any company that can admit to contaminating a food product, and supporting forced labor and still retain the leading market share must understand its customers. For this reason, Cadbury’s advertisements may offer a unique perspective into European consumer culture during the late 1980s and early 1900s. Advertisements candidly portray the desires of their consumer base. For this reason Cadbury’s advertisements are a window into English consumer values. I argue that the Cadbury Company’s advertisements capture nineteenth century consumer culture as one that conflated personal purity with ethical behavior. Additionally these values inadvertently supported forced labor long after the official abolition of slavery.

Victorian era consumers were highly concerned with the idea of purity. As lower economic classes attained access to previously unattainable foods such as chocolate and tea, producers contaminated the foods with filler ingredients to maximize profits. In 1850, England’s newly created Health Commission found that, 39 of 70 chocolate samples contained red ocher, a color obtained from ground bricks. While most samples revealed the addition of starches from potatoes and various grains. The passage of the “British Food and Drug Act of 1860 and the Adulteration of food act of 1872, suggests that the British public were highly concerned with the purity of their foods (Coe, 2013).

Cadbury became England’s chocolate in the in the late 1800s and early 1900s through an aggressive advertising campaign that emphasized purity. Cadbury, though also implicated in starch contamination, understood customer concerns and adeptly rebranded as the only company that could guarantee purity (Coe, 2013).

Cadbury's_Cocoa_advert_with_rower_1885 (1)
An 1885 advertisement for cadbury cocoa

The above advertisement captures the ideals and aspirations of the English consumer in the late 1800s. The strapping rower, an icon of English vitality enjoys a day of leisure watching boat races. He holds his cup of Cadbury cocoa at the center of the image. By framing the cocoa, on two sides with the rower’s spotless white pants and shirt, and on the third side with the woman’s impossibly pale face, the artist emphasizes the purity associated with the beverage. The advertisement’s sub header, “Guaranteed Pure and Soluble,” explicitly restates the focus on purity. Because Cadbury captured consumer’s interest in purity, they were able to out compete Fry’s, an older company that dominated the market in the early 1800s.

Fry’s 1910, milk chocolate advertisement

The above advertisement demonstrates a different understanding of English consumer values during the time. Fry’s, one of the first English chocolate companies sold 2.5 times more chocolate than Cadbury in 1870. However Cadbury won the hearts of English men and women, largely through advertising, and out sold Fry’s at the turn of the century (Fitzgerald, 2006). Fry’s emphasized nostalgia for childhood in their advertisement. A small girl holds a box with five portraits describing the emotions associated with chocolate consumption. Cadbury’s market success suggests that, English consumers preferred assurances about purity to a trip down memory lane.

Consumers conflated product purity with ethical behavior. Cadbury and Fry, both Quaker chocolate makers, were lauded for their ethical behavior. Temperance campaigns swept over the UK during the Victorian era. As per capita beer consumption decreased, consumers turned to chocolate for comestible indulgence. One strategy of the temperance movement was to tie ethical and spiritual purity to the purity of a diet. The messaging was of course focused on reducing alcohol consumption, but this rhetoric likely spilled over into other food consumption behaviors. Therefore, Cadbury’s Quaker image as evidenced by their “ideal,” and importantly ,dry village, Bournvile appealed to consumers of the day (Fitzgerald 2006; Johnson and Pochmara 2016).

However as consumers and companies focused on purity standards, horrific human rights abuses went over looked. Both advertisements focus on the consumer and the ritual of consumption. In a way these advertisements capture what the English population wanted to see in their consumer products. However even more informative are the ideas consumers did not want to portrayed in their advertisements. Any reference to location of origin, or producers is glaringly absent in advertisements of the day.

A prison cell used to hold enslaved people before their journey to Sao Tome or Principe

The above picture is of a prison in Elmina Castle, used to hold enslaved people before their forced voyage to a life of forced labor. Elmina was often the last place an enslaved person, captured in Angola, would set foot on the mainland (Finley 2004). Cadbury, Fry’s and other English chocolate makers bought cacao from Portuguese cacao plantations that depended on forced labor on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. Though the Portuguese called this system, indentured servitude or “Servical,” a report by journalist Henry Nevinson, made it clear that Servical was indistinguishable from slavery. Though England outlawed slavery in 1833, Cadbury, the supposed icon of Victorian business ethics had been providing the English people chocolate made from cacao farmed by enslaved people as late as 1907. After an attempt at reparations, Cadbury and other English chocolate makers boycotted the islands of Sao Tome and Principe (Martin, 2017). However little changed on the islands, as the Hershey Company filled the consumer void left by the English companies. I contend that consumer interest focused so heavily on ideas of purity that consumers associated purity with ethical process and were therefore slow to examine the supply chain of their favorite chocolate.

Today chocolate companies often differentiate their products by advertising their location of origin. Additionally, fair trade products often command price premiums for ensuring ethical process. This expansion of consumer options suggests that consumers value ethical process as much as they value nutritional quality or taste. However, modern consumers we cannot forget the lessons of Victorian era chocolate makers. We must constantly investigate the supply chains of our favorite products to reduce our contribution to forced labor. Follow the below link to learn how many enslaved people are involved in producing your favorite products.

Find out how your consumption connects you to slavery.



Cadbury’s Advert with Rower 1885. 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Finley, Cheryl. 2004. “Authenticating Dungeons, Whitewashing Castles: The Former Sites of the Slave Trade on the Ghanaian Coast.” Architecture and Tourism.

Fitzgerald, Robert. 2006. “Products , Firms and Consumption : Cadbury and the Development of Marketing , 1900 – 1939 Products , Firms and Consumption : Cadbury and the” 6791 (May). doi:10.1080/00076790500132977.

Fry’s Five Boys . 2005. Wikimedia Commons.

Ghana Elmina Castle Slave Holding Cell. Wikimedia, Wikimedia Commons

Johnson, Amelia E, and Anna Pochmara. 2016. “Tropes of Temperance , Specters of Naturalism : Tropología de La Abstinencia Y Fantasmas Del Naturalismo En Clarence and Corinne de Amelia E . Johnson” 2: 45–62.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

From Elite to Everyday – How Chocolate Became Affordable For All

Chocolate has been consumed for over 4,000 years. Yet, it was consumed much differently at the beginning of its History, when it was actually drank as a bitter liquid beverage. Today, most of the chocolate available on the market takes a solid, edible form. The change through chocolate’s History did not only take place from a form of consumption perspective. Indeed, chocolate, in Mesoamerica and throughout most of its History was consumed as a beverage reserved only for the elite because of its exorbitant price. Globalization and mass production of chocolate products led to the spread of chocolate’s popularity; from being only available for society’s elites to becoming an affordable good accessible to members of all social classes.

(Maya God Grinding Coco –

From its beginnings to the recent centuries, chocolate was reserved for each community’s elites. Klein writes: “The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.” Simultaneously, during the 16th Century, drinking chocolate remained a Spanish secret. Indeed, through its decades and centuries of colonization, Spain was able to bring cacao and chocolate recipes back to the homeland without raising much interest from its neighboring countries. The high cost of transportation and production made it remain a drink for the wealthy. “Although the Spanish sweetened the bitter drink with cane sugar and cinnamon, one thing remained unchanged: chocolate was still a delectable symbol of luxury, wealth and power. Chocolate was sipped by royal lips, and only Spanish elites could afford the expensive import” (Klein). In 1606, the chocolate craze spread out of Spain, and the beverage made primarily of cacao was first introduced in Italy. The craze within the elite community was instantaneous, as chocolate spread among Europe’s nobility in 1615 when the daughter of Spanish King Philip III married French King Louis XIII.


(King Louis XIII – NNDB)

In 1657, the first ever English chocolate house opened its doors to the public. Much like today’s elite café’s throughout Europe, chocolate houses provided with the community’s elites with an opportunity to enjoy a hot drink, discuss political issues, participate in betting games, and socialize. “Chocolate houses in Florence and Venice gained notoriety in the early 1700s. Europeans preferred to drink their chocolate from ornate dishes made out of precious materials and crafted by artisans. Like the elaborate ceramic vessels of ancient Maya and Aztec rulers, these dishes were more than serving pieces: they were also symbols of wealth.” [1]

chocolate house

(English Chocolate House –

The second Industrial Revolution started at the beginning of the 19th Century. Through it, much like most industries in Europe and America, the chocolate business was forever changed. Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented in 1828 what is, in a quite original manner, called the Van Houten press. “[He] invented the cacao press, which squeezed out cocoa butter from the cocoa mass. It allowed for the improvement of the chocolate’s consistency and also permitted the separate sale of cacao powder”[2]. Following Van Houten’s invention, many revolutionaries came together for improving the chocolate industry and making the products more accessible to all. Rodolphe Lindt furthered the ease of availability of chocolate products through his invention of the conching machine in 1879. It allowed for a more velvety texture and superior taste in the final product. Through the use of these developments and their implementation within factory assembly lines, chocolate was made more affordable, consistent in its production, and accessible internationally.

(Van Houten Press & Chocolate Factory –



Works Cited:

Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” A&E Television Networks, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

“Louis XIII.” NNDB. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

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

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

“History of Chocolate.” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.


Sacred Cenotes: Cacao in the Yucatán

There is no doubt that cacao was highly valued in Mayan culture, intertwined with economics, culture, religion, and ritual.  Cacao was abundant and valuable, and the numerous cacao-producing regions on the coast were hubs for trade.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, does not have an environment suitable for cacao trees.  Yet despite this, the Yucatec Maya revered cacao so much that they found a way to overcome their climate’s cacao-growing challenges and cultivate it in sinkholes called cenotes (Coe and Coe 46).   These sinkholes could sustain a small number of trees, but not nearly as many as the large plantations to the south, which suggests that profit was not a motivating factor.  The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.

There were a number of rich cacao growing region in the pre-Conquest era, including the Chontalpa, the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas and Guatemala, and Boca Costa (Coe and Coe 45).  The regions had sufficient rainfall and nutrient rich soil, enabling them to sustain significant cacao plantations.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, has a dry climate and rocky soils, and as a limestone plain with virtually no rivers, it has typically not been deemed suitable for cacao cultivation (Gomez-Pompa 250).  However, scattered in this region are humid cenotes which the Maya put to their chocolate-growing benefit.  Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water and soil, which create a humid ecosystem where cacao can grow naturally.  Because they are saturated, the typical challenges of the lack of rainfall and the dry season can be overcome (Gomez-Pompa 250-251).  Though these cenotes had the right environment, they were not on the size scale to run plantations.  To put things in perspective, a Kuyul sinkhole where cacao was found has a depth of 40m and a diameter of 240m, which can be visualized in the image below (Gomez-Pompa 251-252).  According to Spanish sources, they were the private property of wealthy lineages (Coe and Coe 46).  Cultivation of these small groves of cacao only produced a little fruit, unlike large plantations, so monetary gain was likely not the motivating factor for this small-scale cultivation.

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The cultivation of cacao in cenotes was motivated by the its representation as a status symbol for the wealthy class.  Cacao had a long history of ties to economics and high social status, given its use as a currency, a noble drink, and a ritualistic offering.  Cacao has been discovered in the tombs of prominent rulers, accompanying other luxurious items in funerary tradition (Coe and Coe 35).  The cacao tree was also used to depict a Mayan ruler’s mother, Lady Zac-Kuk, at the ruler’s burial site, associating the royal lineage with the cacao tree (Lecture 2/1).  Given this history, it makes sense that cacao itself was an important indicator of wealth and power for the Maya.  For the families that owned the cenotes, the cultivation of cacao in their groves represented their upper socioeconomic status.  The prestige that is associated with cacao justifies its use in the cenotes of the Yucatán.

Lady Zac-Kuk depicted with a tree with cacao pods (Lecture 2/1)

Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also evidences the spiritual importance of cacao.  A painted capstone from the Temple of the Owls in Chichen Itza, which is shown below, depicts the spiritual significance of cacao and the cenote.  In this artifact, the Maya god Kauil, who is the lord of sustenance and of royal descent (Coe and Coe 46), stands on the mouth of a serpent while carrying a plate with offerings.  The presence of the god Kauil, given his connection to royal descent, points to the association between the cacao and cenote and the noble and powerful lineages (Gomez-Pompa 253), supporting the notion that the cenotes were a symbol of wealth and power.  In the capstone, as Simon Martin describes, Kauil emerges from the underworld, which is depicted as a cenote, in pursuit of the heavens above (174).  Cacao pods hang as if naturally growing from both the heavens and the underworld.  The god’s expression of “rescuing” the seeds from the cenote and their “gifting to heaven and earth” in this scene depict the significance of the spiritual value of cacao (Martin 175).  Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also indicates the spiritual importance of cacao, which is demonstrated by the capstone from the Temple of the Owls.

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The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.  Cacao is deeply intertwined with wealth and social status in Maya culture, and the use of cenotes is no exception.  Despite the dry and rocky conditions in the Yucatán, the Maya discovered and practiced a cultivation of cacao in cenotes to demonstrate their wealth and to uphold the sacred importance of cacao.  The effects of these practices are still with us today, as wild cacao trees continue to grow in cenotes, and chocolate beverages are consumed during contemporary celebrations.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Gómez-Pompa, Arturo, José Salvador Flores, and Mario Aliphat Fernández. “The sacred cacao groves of the Maya.” Latin american antiquity (1990): 247-257.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 2/1: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 February 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in ancient Maya religion: first fruit from the maize tree and other tales from the underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao (2006): 154-183.

The Bitter Truth about Chocolate: A Long History of Forced Labor

The hands that consume chocolate sadly know very little about the hands, stricken by poverty and coercion, that tirelessly work to produce the coveted product (Contrasts: Things Kids Like). Today, over 70% of the world’s supply of cacao is produced in Africa, largely in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, two West African countries that depend heavily on child labor to meet the growing demands of the international chocolate industry (“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”). Of the 1,203,473 child laborers involved in the cocoa sector in Cote d’Ivoire, approximately 95.7% of those children were performing hazardous work involved in cocoa production (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor-Côte d’Ivoire”). Similarly, this alarming proportion of child laborers engaged in risky labors for cocoa production was also reported in Ghana (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor-Ghana”). While reports exposing the extent of child trafficking and labor in the chocolate industry shocked Western consumers, the reliance on forced labor is hardly a recent addition to the production of cocoa.

 “Labor rights issues in cocoa production are nothing new. They are tradition.” Professor Carla Martin, Harvard University

Over the past few centuries, forced labor in cocoa and sugar production has adapted to fulfill economic incentives as well as resist pressures of abolition. From the Encomienda system established by Spanish colonizers to the chattel slavery that manifested in the triangular trade, and now to the child labor that plagues cacao-producing regions, coerced labor has modified its form but has remained a major component of production. The systems of labor inequality that persist in cocoa and sugar production reflect the checkered history of slavery and elucidate the role of economic factors in perpetuating forced labor to drive the commodities to massive consumption.

Human Interventions in Cacao Production

Young boy struggling to transport cacao pods through the forest.

Understanding the nature of cacao helps to elucidate why human labor particularly was so essential to sustain its procurement and how forced labor systems developed to maximize the profit of this cash crop. The cultivation and retrieval of cacao itself is a delicate process, thereby necessitating the precision and tender care of human labor that cannot be easily replaced by a mechanical substitute.  A fragile plant, the cacao tree must be kept carefully unharmed during recovery of the cacao pods. This requires human labor to precisely and skillfully use a cutlass, knife, or long-handled tool to remove the cacao pods from the tree (Martin, Lecture 4). The pods are then transferred to a sack, totaling more than 100 pounds in weight that must be carried back (“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”). The photo above captures the difficulty of this task, among others that are also extremely laborious and dangerous and continue to be so for child slaves in West Africa. The careful and gentle treatment required in the initial steps of cacao production partly explains why despite immense mechanization of our industries, technological alternatives have not satisfied the need for labor in the stage of cultivation and crop retrieval.

The Encomienda System

While the characteristics of the cacao plant help explain the demand for human labor, economic factors better demonstrate why the labor systems implemented over the centuries were steeped in inequality and disparity. One of the first major labor systems imposed on indigenous people was the encomienda system introduced to the Americas in the sixteenth century by the Spanish. The Spanish were granted the right to exact tribute, whether in the form of gold or forced labor, from the indigenous people (“Encomienda system established”). This system was intended to Christianize and care for inhabitants but quickly morphed into a means of usurping indigenous land and exploiting indigenous people, as portrayed in the image below. The economic incentive underlying this system of forced labor was clear: the Spanish aimed to extract cacao coinage in order to maximize the profit of this lucrative commodity (Martin, Lecture 6). The indigenous people were not protected or paid, and worked in harsh conditions; even though they were not technically owned, they were required to produce cacao for the Spanish. Though the encomienda system eventually ended due to protest from clergy, it was quickly replaced by the repartimiento, another exploitative means of further wealth extraction (Martin, Lecture 6). This account serves to demonstrate how one form of forced labor merely transitioned into another abusive form in response to pressures of abolition; this theme of modification in the face of abolition is recurrent, leading to the persistence of forced labor. Therefore, the economic motive of resource extraction made the encomienda system an abusive burden for indigenous people.

The stark differences between the goals of the encomienda and the abusive, exploitative system that resulted.

The Triangular Trade

This early form of an economically incentivized labor system set the precedent for more egregious forms in the following decades. In the sixteenth century, chattel slavery emerged as one of the largest systems of forced labor, as evidenced by the Triangular Trade. As the demand for sugar, cocoa, cotton, and other products began to escalate, the need for human labor also drastically increased. The triangular trade, a trading system involving Britain, West Africa, and the Americas, was implemented to accommodate the growing demand for labor. By the nineteenth century, nearly 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the New World as “chattel” (Martin, Lecture 6). Chattel slaves refers humans that are treated as personal property that can be owned and sold as a commodity. Interestingly, African slaves were “false commodities” rather than actual commodities (Mintz 1986). In the complex triangular exchange, slaves were being traded for goods but they themselves were not objects, despite being treated as such. These slaves suffered a very long and harsh voyage, a significant proportion of them dying, and endured many more hardships upon arrival. While a common misconception holds that slaves were doing unskilled, menial tasks, they were actually involved in many labor intensive responsibilities that severely diminished their quality of life (Martin, Lecture 6).

The Triangular Trade highlights the exchange of commodities between Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Much like the encomienda system, this system of slavery was fueled by economic considerations. Firstly, the exchange was designed to maximize wealth and prospects for the colonizers; secondly, the origin of Negro slavery can be traced back to the economic decision to capitalize off the cheapest form of labor, rather than back to any racial explanation (Martin, Lecture 6). This form of forced labor was also met with substantial opposition, slowly leading to abolition by the late nineteenth century. Abolition, however, did not eliminate all forms of forced labor. The permissive attitudes towards labor inequality bred throughout centuries of slavery has led to the exploitation of other vulnerable populations by industry giants.

Addressing Practices of Child Labor in the Twenty-first Century

Tracing the incentives and nature of major systems of coerced labor demonstrates how in response to pressures of opposition and abolition, forms of forced slavery transitioned into a form that exploited a different susceptible population. Today, as we grapple with the challenges of child trafficking and labor within the chocolate industry, it is important to similarly examine the economic precursors that contributed to this problem. While lack of education and enforcement contribute to the child labor problem, a significant factor is an economic driver, as was the case in many other previous forms of forced labor. The immense poverty experienced by cacao-growing farmers prevents them from being able to manage their business or pay their adult employees, they are forced to recruit their children rather than educating them (“International Labor Rights Forum”). Addressing this problem requires counteracting the consequences of poverty with measures that economically empower these communities. As consumers, it is our responsibility  to expect fair treatment of workers and to demand accountability from the major players in the chocolate industry.

Therefore, examining the role of economic incentives in driving different forced labor forms in the past has informed us about why these coercive systems persist, and how economic considerations continue to hinder complete abolition of forms of inequality in labor.

Works Cited

“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry | Food Empowerment Project. Food Empowerment Project, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

“Encomienda system established.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Côte d’Ivoire.” United States Department of Labor. United States Department of Labor, 07 Dec. 2016. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Ghana.” United States Department of Labor. United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

“International Labor Rights Forum.” Cocoa | International Labor Rights Forum. International Labor Rights Forum, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 4: Sugar and cacao.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” Harvard University, Cambridge. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, Penguin Books, 1986.

Images and Video Links

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2017. <;.

Ph Balanced Films. “Contrasts: Things Kids Like.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube,27 March 2013. Web. 8 March 2017. <;.


Early European Chocolate Customs

From frothy Mesoamerican ceremonial beverage to widespread currency system to sugary candy bars consumed by millions daily, chocolate has taken many forms since its discovery thousands of years ago. Its current uses and perception by Western society have been largely influenced by the first Europeans to encounter chocolate in the late 16th century. The use of chocolate as a medicinal and luxury item by the early Europeans is largely the reason why chocolate is still viewed as an insubstantial food item linked with holidays and romance in Western society today.

Europeans were first introduced to cacao sometime in the decade following Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, and began paying attention to it after noticing how highly the native Mesoamericans regarded the beans. Explorer Ferdinand Columbus says of the Mayans, “They seemed to hold those almonds [cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship with their goods, I observed that whenever any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe 109). Explorer Hernán Cortez planted a vast plantation of twenty thousand cacao trees, recognizing their value as currency (Presilla 23-24). The colonizing Spanish who settled in the New World first scoffed at the odd, bitter-tasting beverage that the natives held so dear, but soon grew fonder of the substance. They altered the traditional Mesoamerican recipe of cold, frothy chocolate powder mixed with water and spices by adding sugar and drinking it hot rather than cold (Coe 114-115).  This Europeanized form of the beverage was introduced to the Spanish court, where it became a fashionable drink among nobility. Due to cacao’s exoticness and to the high labor intensity required to prepare the cacao for consumption, chocolate remained a beverage for the upper classes only. Intricate porcelain teacups and saucers were specifically designed for the consumption of chocolate so that ladies of the Spanish court would be able to drink the beverage without spilling on themselves (Coe 131). A new cooking utensil, the molinillo, was invented for the sole purpose of frothing chocolate beverages, and special chocolate pots were crafted (Presilla 26). An aura of luxury and exclusivity was built up around the consumption of chocolate among the first Europeans to experience it (Presilla 25). This exclusivity was in stark contrast to chocolate consumption among several Mesoamerican cultures that came before them, or to the South Americans of the same time period, who often mixed chocolate with ground maize, water, and spices, and drank it as a nutrient-providing meal (Presilla 28-30). The Europeans largely ignored this use of chocolate and regarded it only as a sweet treat. Thus, when chocolate was finally introduced to the European working class, it did not occur to European chocolate companies to serve it as anything other than a sugary beverage.

Since modern Western culture is largely influenced by early Europe, chocolate has continued to be regarded as a dessert and not as something of nutritional value. An example of this is in Dove chocolate advertising.

The inside of the chocolate wrappers contain often contain messages telling consumers to indulge in the delicious chocolate and give themselves a treat, such as in this image. This chocolate wrapper conveys the message to consumers that Dove recognizes the frivolousness of chocolate consumption, but endorses it anyway because it brings joy. Dove does not even try to make chocolate sound healthy, but instead capitalizes on its deliciousness. This current perception of chocolate is very close to and stems from the early European perception of chocolate as a tempting luxury item that should be eaten sparingly.

Chocolate had a second purpose in its early days of discovery by the Europeans. Not only was it viewed as an elite product, but it was also praised for its medicinal properties. The Spanish colonists noticed the stimulant properties of chocolate and believed it to be an aphrodisiac (Coe 29). The Spanish physician Francisco Hernandez was sent to the New World by the Spanish king Phillip II to study undiscovered plants in Mesoamerica and document them. He classified chocolate according to the traditional Galenic medicinal method and called it “cold and dry,” thus making chocolate suitable for treating illnesses such as fevers, stomachaches, dysentery, and constipation (Dillinger et al). The medicinal properties of chocolate were touted across Europe, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, “medical complaints treated with chocolate/cacao have included anemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue, poor breast milk production, consumption/ tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stones, reduced longevity and poor sexual appetite/ low virility” (Dillinger et al). As such, chocolate was carefully consumed in small quantities; one seventeenth-century noblewoman remarks, “I observe my chocolate diet, to which I believe I owe my health. I do not use it crazily or without precaution” (Coe 136). Physicians often recommended that chocolate be drunk in small quantities with precaution (Coe 123-172). Chocolate was treated almost like a miracle drug in early Europe.

The early European view that chocolate has medicinal properties has also continued to have influence on Western perception of chocolate. Coe points out that it is fairly common for products to start out as medicinal items and then eventually be used recreationally. The most famous example of this is Coca-Cola, which was initially used medicinally but became a wildly popular beverage (Coe 126). Chocolate underwent a similar transformation.  It was believed to be healthy in small doses, as we can see from this 1935 Hershey’s advertisement.

Here, Hershey is telling us that eating chocolate makes one healthy.  Although chocolate started to be consumed more for its taste than for its health benefits, the rumor that chocolate was an aphrodisiac stuck around and furthered its recreational usage. This has caused Western society to link certain types of chocolate with romance and sex. Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversaries are often celebrated with a box of chocolates. The message that chocolate is sexually stimulating still makes its way into our advertising. For example, the advertisement below for Aero chocolate features an attractive half-dressed man who talks about chocolate in terms of sexual puns, such as when he remarks, “And that, ladies, makes the pleasure even more intense.”

Another advertisement for 1848 chocolate features a woman closing her eyes and making excited noises interspersed with footage of cacao being processed into chocolate.

In both advertisements, the companies are pushing the idea that eating chocolate is linked with sexual arousal and that making chocolate can make one sexier. Clearly, chocolate and sex are still linked in popular culture, and this stems from early European optimism that chocolate was a medicine and aphrodisiac.

In conclusion, chocolate has had many roles in many different cultures, but its current usage in Western society is largely influenced by early European chocolate customs. These customs will continue to influence Western chocolate consumption for years to come.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Digital Image. More of the Chocolate, Less of the Sexuality. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Dillinger, Teresa L., Patricia Barriga, Sylvia Escarcega, Martha Jimenez, Diana Salazar Lowe, and Louis E. Grivetti. “Food of the gods: cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate.” Journal of Nutrition 130, no. 8 (August 2000): 057S-2072S. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Hershey Company. Digital Image. The History of Hershey Advertising. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Kmclan80. “Jason Lewis Looking HOT in new Aero Bubbles ad”. Filmed [April 2007]. YouTube video, 00:31. Posted [April 2007].

Models TV Commercials 3. “SEXY CHOCOLATE Commercial”. Filmed [April 2009]. YouTube video, 00:48. Posted [April 2009].

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




Battle of Beans: Why Coffee Houses Flourished While Chocolate Houses Died Off

The middle of the 17th century marked the introduction of three caffeinated “exotic” beverages to England: coffee, tea, and chocolate. The first coffeehouse was founded in 1652 by Pasqua Rosée and quickly gained popularity among the British populace (Green, 2013). Five years later in 1657, the first tea house and the first chocolate house both opened (Knapp, 1920; Green, 2017). By the early 18th century, thousands of coffee, tea, and chocolate houses lined the streets of London (Green, 2013). Since then, coffee and tea houses have both flourished, while chocolate houses, despite a recent resurgence spurred by bean-to-bar chocolate makers, remain few and far between.

Although it is tempting to ascribe the decline in popularity of chocolate houses solely to industrial innovations that allowed for the mass production of solid chocolate, the Survey of London research project, which details the architectural history of London, shows that most major chocolate houses closed well before the first solid chocolate bar was produced in 1847 (Coe & Coe, 2013). The reasons for the decline in the number of chocolate houses before this date are threefold: (1) the cost of buying and making chocolate was significantly more than that of coffee or tea, (2) the associations of chocolate houses with idleness, decadence, and venery were often mocked by cartoonists and satirists, while coffee houses were associated with politics, news, and knowledge, and (3) the 1724 excise act banned the importation of finished chocolate product, allowing only the importation of cacao and increasing the labor cost of preparing chocolate within British homes. All three reasons led to the preference of tea and coffee beverages over that of chocolate beverages.

Although coffee, tea, and chocolate made their debut in London within five years of each other, chocolate quickly established its role as a luxury good. “Chocolate-drinking was more expensive; chocolate made less liquid per pound that tea or coffee; and chocolate was more complex to prepare than the other drinks,” (Loveman, 2013).

Chocolate Preparation in the 17th Century

In addition to chocolate houses, chocolate drinks were found in coffee houses, though their higher cost and the lower levels of caffeine made them less popular than coffee (Green, 2017). Although chocolate beverages in coffee and chocolate houses were out of the price range of most Brits, many were preparing the drinks for a lower cost by mixing cocoa paste or tablets with water in their own kitchens, but even this homemade chocolate was not as cost effective as coffee or tea (Loveman, 2013). The higher cost of chocolate compared to tea and coffee made it less available to the average Brit at the time, contributing to its role as a luxury good. This, in turn, fed into the belief that chocolate houses were social spaces of the idle rich.

While initially, coffee houses and chocolate houses both provided forums for political discussion, the high cost of chocolate and the concentration of chocolate houses around St. James’s Square led to them being bought almost exclusively by aristocrats (Green, 2017). Additionally, chocolate houses, including White’s and Chaves’s, often featured looking glasses as part of their decor, and by the end of the 17th century, much of the conversations here revolved around fashion, gambling, and love affairs, the latter of which both fueled and was fueled by beliefs in the aphrodisiac properties of chocolate (Loveman, 2013; Green, 2017). In contrast, conversations in coffee houses included topics in literature, politics, and revolution (Green, 2013). “Roger North felt the need to differentiate between the vices of the coffee-houses (irreligion, sedition, and treason) and those propagated by ‘a new Invention called Chocolate-Houses, for the Benefit of Rooks and Cullies of Quality, where Gaming is added to all the rest, and the Summons of Whores seldom fails; as if the Devil had erected a new University,’” (Loveman, 2013). This is exemplified in Richard Steele’s publication, The Tatler. Published three times a week under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff, the magazine purported to obtain its contents from the first-hand accounts of reporters placed in White’s Chocolate house to collect gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment, Will’s Coffee House to gather poetry, The Grecian Coffee House to collect knowledge, and St. James’s Coffee House to gather foreign and domestic news (Aitken, 2004). The associations of chocolate houses with debauchery and coffee houses with more serious topics is also exemplified in the cartoons of the time. Below are two cartoons by Thomas Rowlandson, depicting a chocolate house and a coffee house.

Chocolate House
Coffee House

The negative associations of chocolate houses and their increasing exclusivity quickened their decline and conversions to gentlemen’s clubs.

In 1724, the British government, hoping to increase chocolate manufacture within England, instituted an excise tax on chocolate “made or sold in Great Britain” and banned the importation of chocolate or cocoa paste (Loveman, 2013). By limiting imports to cacao nuts only, the British government increased the labor cost of producing chocolate to sell, which in turn lowered the incentive to sell chocolate in chocolate houses. The Survey of London research project notes that three of the most popular chocolate houses closed before the invention of the first chocolate bar. The Cocoa Tree had been converted into a gentlemen’s club sometime between 1752 and 1762, while White’s was converted to a gentlemen’s club as early as 1736 (“St. James’s Street”, 1960). The owner of Ozinda’s sold the coffee house to his brother in 1724, and the building was demolished in 1748 (“Pall Mall”, 1960).

Industrial innovations reduced the production cost of chocolate and allowed for the mass production of solid chocolate, but by this time, chocolate sales in England had already fallen to less than half of tea and coffee sales (Loveman, 2013). Chocolate beverages were still being prepared in homes, but marketing focused heavily on solid chocolate, leading to the rise in popularity of solid chocolate over liquid chocolate. Although the cost of chocolate was less of an issue after industrialization, the domination of solid chocolate on the market and the associations of chocolate as a luxury item precluded the resurgence of chocolate houses until recently with the bean-to-bar movement.

Works Cited:

Steele, R. (1709). The Tatler. Project Gutenberg, 1, ed. G. A. Aitken, 2004. Retrieved from

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson.

Green, M. (2013). The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse. The Public Domain Review, 7, 2013.

Green, M. (2017). How the decadence and depravity of London’s 18th century elite was fuelled by hot chocolate. The Telegraph. Retreived from

Knapp, A. W. (1920). Cocoa and chocolate: their history from plantation to consumer. Chapman and Hall, Limited.

Loveman, K. (2013). The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730. Journal of Social History, sht050.

Mintz, S. W. (1985). Sweetness and power. New York: Viking.

“Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: Ozinda’s Chocolate House”, in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (1960), p. 384. British History Online Retrieved from

‘St. James’s Street, West Side, Past Buildings’, in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (1960), pp. 459-471. British History Online Retrieved from

Image Sources:

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Mahalo: The End of Sugar in Hawaii


Maui sugar cane fields

As I sit in Beat Brasserie, watching Maui sugar crystals disappear into my coffee, I realize that I’m consuming one of the last batches of Hawaiian sugar. The Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) closed the last sugar plantation in Hawaii this past December and laid off nearly 700 workers(Solomon). This marks the end of the sugar industry in Hawaii, a place that Mark Twain once described as “the king of the sugar world”(Downes). Sugar wasn’t just a profitable enterprise, it became a way of life because it shaped Hawaii’s culture through land use, employment and ethnic diversity.

The sugar industry grew in Hawaii in the 1860’s because the Civil War cut off sugar supplies from the south(Flynn 302). Then, in 1876, plantations owners struck a deal with the Kingdom of Hawaii that removed tariffs on sugar exported to the U.S(Solomon). Sugar production increased exponentially and American planters couldn’t get enough. Sugar brought in immense wealth to Hawaii and powered politics on the islands. Plantation owners capitalized on this power and helped to overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893(Downes).

Plantation owners rushed to fill the demand for sugar with cheap labor. American consumption of sugar nearly doubled between 1880 and 1890 from 38 pounds of sucrose per person per year to over 70 pounds per person per year(Mintz 188). Plantation owners needed laborers and with the promise of a decent wage, workers from China, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines immigrated in waves. These contract laborers were mostly young males who agreed to work for 5 years. At its peak in the 1930’s, 50,000 people were employed by sugar in Hawaii(Downes). Some returned home after their contracts expired, but many settled down and married into the community(“Hawaii’s First”). These immigrants shaped the unique ethnic makeup of Hawaii. This history is a source of pride for many residents of Hawaii and they carry on the legacy of their ancestors today. Teri Freitas Gorman, President of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce stated:

“My ethnic heritage is what I call plantation pedigree. I’m almost in the order that they came: I’m Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese. And I’m Native Hawaiian as well”(Solomon).

This heritage is also important because as Dan Boylan from the University of Hawaii notes, “somehow Hawaii has realized a degree of racial harmony unknown in most parts of the world”(Kent xii). For example, interracial marriage was “unremarkable” long before Loving v. Virginia(Downes).


Due to this heritage, jobs on sugar plantations run generations deep. Mark Lopes, the harvest manager at HC&S, remembers, “I used to ride on the tractor with [my father] and that was pretty cool. And then my son, when he was young, I used to bring him out on the weekends. My granddaughter is not going to be able to experience that”(Solomon). These concerns are echoed by many in the community. The Hawaiian Homes Commissioner, Pua Canto, grew up in the plantation camps in Pu‘unēnē(Solomon). She fondly remembers her father tinkering with the intricate tools in the mill. Jobs were highly specialized and many worry about where the 675 laid off workers will go(Wood 2). For these workers and those like Pua, Gorman, and Lopes, who consider sugar as an integral part of their identity and the only skill set they have, the new era is daunting.

The mills created skills training programs that produced welders, electricians, mechanics, and more. These workers took their skills all over the islands. A former millright stated that, “Other than Pearl Harbor, the state has no other training facility for these skills”(Wood). This is a great loss to the island because the mills invested in the residents.

The impact of the end of the industry is also felt by businesses that supplied the mill with equipment, fertilizer, and irrigation supplies. Some companies had partnerships with HC&S for over 100 years(Solomon). Maui’s small farmers have also been affected because they can no longer benefit from the bulk orders of supplies from HC&S.

The absence of sugarcane also changes the landscape and experience of the islands. Dorothy Pyle used to be able to see the thousands of acres of sugar cane from her house. Now, she states:

“It’s changing us forever because I will never see 35,000 acres of agriculture there again. And so the whole feel of the island, that flying in over these fields and driving through them. It’s never going to be again”(Solomon).

Not only will the fields be missed, but the smell of molasses and the crackling from burning cane have been lost as well.

Dorothy Pyle looks out over the last cane harvest.

As the sugar industry becomes a part of the past, it is important to remember its sweeping impact on the Hawaiian economy, people and culture. For me, it is a reminder to think about the immense history bundled in a small packet of Maui sugar or whatever food I happen to be eating.

Works Cited:

Downes, Lawrence. “The Sun Finally Sets on Sugar Cane in Hawaii.” The New York Times [New York City], 16 Jan. 2017, Editorial Observer sec., Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

“Hawaii’s First Chinese.” Hawaii History, Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.

Kent, Noel J. Hawaii, Islands under the Influence. Honolulu, U of Hawaii P, 1993.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1986.

Siler, Julia Flynn. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure. Grove/Atlantic, 2012.

Solomon, Molly. “The Final Days Of Hawaiian Sugar.” NPR: The Salt, 17 Dec. 2016. NPR, Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

—. “Maui Workers, Residents Say Goodbye To Sugar.” Hawaii Public Radio [Honolulu], 18 Nov. 2016. Hawaii Public Radio, Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

—. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Wood, Paul. “The End of Maui Sugarcane.” Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2017, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Media Cited:

Thayer, Matt. “Maui.” 16 Nov. 2105,

—. Former HC&S employees Teddy Espeleta (right) and Frank Nakoa greet each other before Monday’s ceremony marking the last haul of sugar cane from the fields. 13 Dec. 2106,

Solomon, Molly. “Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii.” Marketplace [Los Angeles, CA], 9 Dec. 2016, Sugar plantation closure marks end of a way of life in Hawaii. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.