Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why Cacao Slavery Still Exists

Slavery is a horrible but inescapable remnant of history.  The “transatlantic slave trade transported between 10 million and 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas from the 16th to 19th century” (Lewis).  This slavery originated in the development of the new world, particularly from a high demand for raw materials in European and American markets.  Little help from industrial machines in these centuries to grow and harvest crops translated to an extreme need for human labor.

Slavery slowly ended around the world beginning in the mid to late 19th century.  In the United States, slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865.  The end of slavery caused extreme concern about having enough labor to maintain a plentiful food supply.  Fortunately, the timeline of the industrial revolution coincides with the end of slavery.  The United States and many other countries developed machines to maintain high production but minimize the amount of necessary labor.  Specifically, the development and increased use of tractors began in the late 1800s then and has only continued to increase, enabling food production to be higher today than ever before.  With these modern developments, a single farmer can plant, care for, and harvest hundreds of acres for many different types of plants almost entirely alone.

Cacao Plantation (

However, outside of the United States although official slavery has ended, indirect forms of slavery persist, primarily in Africa and regions in Central and South America.  This prevalence uniquely overlaps with the growing regions of cacao with top cacao producers being the “Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, and Ecuador” (Leissle 43).  Cacao only grows in these regions because it requires a very specific environment to grow properly.  Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe explain this in their book the True History of Chocolate, “With very few exceptions, [the cacao tree] refuses to bear fruit outside a band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator” (Coe & Coe 24).  In these areas, cacao is grown on plantations which often consist of thousands of trees.  These trees are planted and live up to 100 years, often producing cacao pods after five years (“History of Cocoa”).  The cacao pods develop directly from the trunk of the tree.  The trees also produce cacao pods continuously throughout the year, such that a tree could have ripe cacao pods, developing cacao pods, and flowers that may eventually become cacao pods all at the same time.  All these factors combine and make the cacao plant extremely difficult to mechanize.  Considering the example of corn, nearly all the stages of corn production can be done with a tractor–planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and more.  However, cacao is grown on a tree, so a farmer can’t go through the field with a combine to collect the crop.  Nearly all the corn is mature at the same time which enables a single massive harvesting compared to cacao with varying ripeness meaning harvesters must collect cacao pods regularly.  Essentially, cacao is unique by having a production process directly at odds with mechanization, meaning a lot of labor is needed.  While cacao’s labor-intensive growing process may not be the cause of the lingering of slavery-like practices, there is a striking correlation. 

Cacao Producing Regions (

Furthermore, even if a revolutionary tractor or cacao harvester was developed, the unique geographical challenges of these regions would pose a significant barrier to successful use.  These regions are often rainforests or have near rainforest-like conditions, which should not be surprising since cacao “demands year-round moisture” and “if it does not get it, it sheds its otherwise evergreen leaves in a protest” (Coe & Coe 19).  This rainfall saturates the land and creates an enemy to large equipment—mud.  Tractors and other forms of machinery are already large and heavy and subsequent loading of heavy pods or whatever crop only makes them heavier.  Driving these massive heavy machines over the saturated land causes them to sink and get stuck, significantly slowing down the production process.  As explained by Chuck Kerchner of Zorzal Cacao in class, issues with transportation and large equipment is a common problem in these areas that is often overlooked.

Map of Global Precipitation (

In summary, cacao production is difficult to mechanize and even if you could develop a machine that helps with the production, the geographical features pose additional challenges in creating a consistent and sustainable mechanized production process.  This creates a large demand for human labor and is likely linked with the reason forms of slavery persist today.  However, we must strive to combat human trafficking and slavery, even though there is no clear solution.   Terminating cacao production is unreasonable to many and unlikely considering the millions of consumers around the world who eat chocolate.  For this reason, we must consider and explore developing new varieties of cacao that can be grown in different areas and in a different way.  Hopefully, this will encourage mechanization and make it feasible.  GMOs, while controversial, can help those who need help most.  GMO rice known as golden rice has been fortified with vitamin A and is being used to provide better nutrition to people who would otherwise be susceptible to blindness and other ailments.  A genetically modified cacao plant may be able to help those who need it most in a different way, by ending human trafficking and the slavery faced by cacao workers today. 

Works Cited

“Chocolate Business Trip Needed.” Salt Side Down Chocolates Blog,

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames and Hudson, 2013.

“Global Precipitation Climatology Centre.” Wetter Und Klima – Deutscher Wetterdienst – Our Services – Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC),

Hazard, Anthony. “The Atlantic Slave Trade: What Too Few Textbooks Told You – Anthony Hazard.” YouTube, TedED, 22 Dec. 2014,

 “History of Cocoa.” Growing Chocolate: History,

Leissle, Kristy.  Cocoa.  1st ed., Polity Press, 2018.

Lewis, Thomas. “Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 7 Sept. 2018,

Sharon. “TANZANIA CHANGES THE RULES FOR AFRICAN CACAO.” The Chocolate Journalist, 2 Dec. 2016,

Cacao and Religion in Ancient Mesoamerica

The presence of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica dates back to the Pre-Classic civilization of the Olmec. Archeologists have been able to study the presence of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica by debunking hieroglyphs, discovering artifacts, and chemically testing for cacao residue. From their studies, they have been able to discern that cacao played an intimate role in ritualistic religious practices. Evidence shows cacao being incorporated in a myriad of ancient ceremonies like marriage, burial, sacrifice, and shaman initiation, dating from the Pre-Classic age through Post-Classic Mesoamerica. The focus of this piece is to explore, further, the connection between cacao and religious practices in ancient Mesoamerica by way of artifacts found by archeologists. Religion played a massive role in the everyday of people in Mesoamerica, as I have come to find out, cacao did too. The first step is understanding what cacao meant to religion is to better understand what exactly the people of the time believed in.

It is important to clarify that,“cacao” for the purpose of this paper is starkly dissimilar to chocolate. The processes ancient Mesoamericans used to consume their cacao were very simple, not many ingredients whatsoever, compared to the cacao to chocolate processes of today. We use it as a decadent treat, whereas they used it primarily as a stimulant (McNiel 82). There was a focused purpose when someone consumed cacao, purposes stated in the preceding section. The ancient Mesoamericans, in particular the Mayans, held cacao in such a high-regard that the importance of cacao of the time was akin to maize (Mahony). It is well understood that maize was more integral in the everyday diet of the Mayan people, however, maize was not integral in the ceremonial processes of the time. Cacao represented much more than sustenance, there was a sacred component to it which is why I became interested in discovering its relationship with cacao in Mesoamerica.

Religion throughout ancient Mesoamerica has remained fairly consistent beginning with the Olmecs, moving to the Mayans, and ending with the Aztecs. Professor Davíd Carrasco, who studies specifically Mesoamerican anthropology at Harvard, suggested this assertion to me through a book recommendation and I find the thesis of the book very compelling. Professor Carrasco turned me to Peter Berger’s Sacred Canopy which aims to tackle the question, “Why did people believe what they did?” When discussing ancient Mesoamerica his primary contention and explanation was “As above, so below” which basically means that ancient Mesoamericans thought that the happiness or discontent of the gods was directly reflected in their earthly ongoings (Berger). In other words, they believed that life was being played on two different levels simultaneously: one being their autonomous action and the other being the will of the gods in the other world. This is commonly referred to as “duality” in anthropology. They used religion to explain the ongoings of the natural world. As a result we have seen a repetition of ritualistic archetypes from all ancient civilizations in attempt to garner the favor of the gods. Even through the years it is noted that the Nahuas made a cacao sacrifice to an effigy of Jesus Christ that the spaniards brought in (Mahony). This offers even more evidence of their religious practices remaining consistent even through severe transition. All in all,  Berger makes a compelling argument as to why ancient Mesoamerican belief has been rather consistent.

The repeated ritualistic archetypes to appease the needs of the gods is where we find chocolate in ancient Mesoamerica. Burial ceremonies were religious in nature (Prufer). Their understanding of death was that it was more of a beginning than an end. Death embarked one’s journey into the other world. In an ancient burial ground dating back to the 5th to 4th century there was a bowl uncovered that had chemical tracings of cacao, discovered in what would have been ancient Maya. The bowl was thought to have possessed the ritual sustenance for that person’s travel into the other world (Prufer). As the person died and moved on to the next life the cacao was the fuel that allowed them to successfully travel to the other worldly side. Consequently, the people that were still alive would continually make sacrifices in order to gain the favor of the past relatives, cacao deities, and other agricultural deities.

Copán is a famous archeological site located in current day western Honduras, in the 5th to 9th century it is understood that they were a part of the Mayan civilization. This site is one of the most famous locations connecting religion to chocolate by way of physical artifacts and hieroglyphs. In Copán we see diagrams and hieroglyphs of cacao trees and other agricultural deities. An interesting discovery in Copán was that the cacao tree was used to help depict their ancestry. Furthermore, there were artifacts that correlated people whom were still alive putting multiple sacrificial ornaments in their past relatives’ tombs. The connection with their ancestors which played a massive role in their religion (McNeil). They would pay respect to the dead and they looked upon their ancestors as having almost god-like impact in the other world, they Mayans would look to their ancestors alongside deities to help them protect and maintain their cacao storages. As a means of protecting their ability to successfully complete their ritualistic practices both religious and social.

I have been very interested in exploring the roots of Mesoamerica because they are my ancestors. Their belief system being so closely tied in with chocolate of all things is fascinating.The implications of rituals has had dramatic effects throughout all ancient Mesoamerican history, it was fruitful finding where cacao finds it place in these repeated archetypes.

Works Cited

Berger, Peter L., 1929-2017. The Sacred Canopy; Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, N.Y. :Doubleday, 1967. Print.

Rosenswig, R. M. (2008), Cacao in Mesoamerica: A Culture History of Cacao ‐ Edited by Cameron L. McNeil. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 27: 435-437.

Mahony, Mary Ann. “Cacao in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao (review).” Enterprise & Society, vol. 11 no. 1, 2010, pp. 175-177. 

Prufer, Keith M. W. Hurst, Jeffery; Cacao in the Underworld Space of Death: Cacao Seeds from an Early Classic Mortuary Cave. Ethnohistory 1 April 2007; 54 (2): 273–301.


Cacao’s Importance in the Mythnohistory of Ancient Mesoamerican Society

Cacao has become a relatively ubiquitous commodity today, but it once held a far more important role, as a significant part of Mayan and Aztec culture and history. It could even be said that cacao was became one of the most fundamental motifs in helping Mesoamerican’s understand and orient themselves to the world. Cacao iconography was found throughout the region in pre-Columbian times. It is related to numerous themes found on Mesoamerican vessels and other objects. This includes themes such as fertility and sustenance, sacrifice and regeneration, as well as embodiment and transformation (Martin). The current scientific name of cacao, Theobroma cacao, translates to ‘food of the gods’, a modern hint to its historical importance to religion.

Possibly the most important link that cacao has to religion within Mesoamerican society is the origination story in the Popol Vuh, a history of Mayan origination that was eventually transcribed by a Dominican Friar Francisco Ximénez. The Popol Vuh contains many references to cacao and is commonly translated as ‘the book of the people’, indicating its core connection to the people and through association, the importance of cacao.

Here is an animated narration of the Popol Vuh, including depictions of cacao important to the mythologic history of the Maya

According to a version of the story, Huracan and other deities created a heart of the land, and planted a tall tree connecting the sky and the earth. The roots penetrated into the underworld, the trunk was at the surface, and the branches reached up to the heavens. In some versions of this story the tree is even partially depicted as a cacao tree, suggesting that cacao connects the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. A pair of twins who ended up becoming the sun and the moon were conceived when their father spit on their mother’s hand. Their father in fact is frequently depicted as a cacao tree, and the twins journey is made in order to resurrect their father from the underworld. With the sun and the moon created, the deities were then able to successfully create humans from maize. The story shows how Mayans looked to cacao in order to help define their own creation and existence.

Depicted above is the father of the twins in the form of a cacao tree, who is commonly known as the Maize god

In addition to helping define their place in the world, cacao was also used to help them clarify their relationship to death. Cacao iconography is frequently seen outside the realm of drinking vessels for celebration or in terms of the origination story of the Maya. Many cacao depictions can be found around burial sites. Trees were planted over newly laid graves as tokens of future resurrection (Martin). We can see depictions of cacao trees on the sarcophagus of Pakal, an important Mayan figure. Saplings emerging from cracks in the ground can be identified as cacao. The growth of cacao here is symbolic or resurrection and the cycle of new life after death. Cacao is an important metaphorical symbol of rebirth in Mayan iconography (Grofe). In similar depictions of cacao trees, they are anthropomorphized to represent ancestors. Looking to the lifecycle of cacao, Mayans were able to project meaning into their own death, with cacao used as a primary motif in this understanding.

This is an image of Pakal’s sarcophagus which depicts cacao trees, an important motif in death and resurrection for the maya

Cacao became an integral part of Mayan religion through the way it could orient the people to the world around them. In itself, cacao is not inherently significant, but as a result of its importance in use and ubiquity in Mayan culture, cacao was an easy motif to use in their history and understanding of the world. It became a way for them to look at how they came into existence as well as begin to understand the role of death and new life. As a result of this role, cacao became an important motif in the iconography of Mesoamerica.

Work Cited

Grofe, Michael J. “The Recipe for Rebirth: Cacao as Fish in the Mythology and Symbolism of the Ancient Maya.”, 2007,

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

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld, 2005,

Chocolaterie Through the Ages

    From its inception to the Second Industrial Revolution, the practice of preparing and serving chocolate can be defined by two essential qualities: the impression of luxury, and cookware designed to reflect the labor required to produce it. Throughout its history, methods of preparing and serving chocolate have changed along with the culture around its consumption, as chocolate moved from connoting wealth and power amongst Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, to serving as a social vehicle for the 17th century Western elite (Martin and Sampeck 39-43; Righthand). In each case, chocolate was a symbol of status, and the vessels used to store, cook, and serve it reflected that symbolism. From earthen vessels and molinillos to matching ceramic chocolate sets, the various methods of storing and serving chocolate in Aztec Mexico, seventeenth-century Europe, and post-Industrial Revolution America reveal the changing ways that chocolate’s status as a luxury item was entrenched visually as well as economically.

    Cacao’s status as a food of the elite originated in the culture behind its production and consumption in Mesoamerican tradition; in this case, the manual labor required to make chocolate drove its elite status – labor symbolized by the instruments used to prepare and store it (Coe 220). The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is native to Mesoamerica and was adopted by the Olmecs, the Maya, and eventually the Aztec as a currency, spice, dietary staple, and most importantly as the primary ingredient in chocolate, a drink featuring spices such as vanilla and ear flower which served as a beverage of warriors amongst the Aztec (Coe 181-220, 1274). Chocolate was associated with the display of wealth and power; because cacao is a fickle fruit, requiring significant labor to grow and then process for consumption, restricting chocolate to those in positions of power – noblemen and warriors – was a testament of the power and social clout of the drinker (Coe 220, 1088). The physical embodiment of that clout were the vessels used to store and prepare cacao and chocolate. The Aztec king Motecuhzoma the Younger stored over 960 million beans in large, guarded bins coated with clay, and two thousand containers of chocolate daily were transported for consumption by his guard (Coe 1182-1194). Additionally, the preparation of cacao required an tool known as the molinillo, or chocolate mill, a slender, curved stick with a knob at one end, used to froth the cacao before drinking. Building and using molinillos required significant skilled and artisanal labor, as can be seen here (constructing the molinillo) and here (using the molinillo to froth chocolate), which depict the modern incarnation of the tool (Lange 131). To the Aztecs, the higher the amount of froth in the drink – and the more work performed with the molinillo – the greater the quality of the chocolate; this froth was highly prized and even consumed independent of the chocolate drink (Coe 1195, 655). Because of the labor it represented, the molinillo thus served as a cultural, culinary, and anthropological vehicle for enhancing the impression of luxury and labor which chocolate cultivated through its place of honor in Aztec culture.

    Chocolate was appropriated into European culture relatively quickly after its discovery during the Columbian exchange, and its luxury status was defined by the wealth and social connections required to procure chocolate – wealth then represented by the wares used to serve and prepare it. As the Spanish encomienda system ensured that cacao was available to the European elite, chocolate became renowned as a foreign curiosity, a medicinal stimulant, and a luxurious indulgence all at once; drinking chocolate became a public social endeavor representative of class and wealth (Martin 40-41). For example, it was introduced to the court of Versailles at the wedding of King Louis XIII, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French monarchy cultivated a reputation both for opulence and a love of chocolate (Chateau de Versailles). Their influence popularized the French chocolatiere set, captured in this painting of the Pentheviere ducal family (PBS Learning Media). As pictured in the painting, such sets were made of ceramic, porcelain, and precious metals, a clear use of wealthy containers to augment the status of the drink they contained (Martin 42; Lange 132). Such sets were outsourced throughout Europe, as far as colonial America, where they were happily put to use by people such as Thomas Jefferson (Lange 133). Interestingly, while the design of European chocolate vessels were Mesoamerican in nature, including tall spouted pots, steep-sided cups, and molinillos, the materials used were distinctly and ultimately representative of a Westernized ideal of monetary wealth.

    After the second Industrial Revolution, and with it several innovations in the processing of cacao, chocolate became readily available to the public; “vessels” for holding chocolate were replaced by branded wrapping and packaging that ultimately represented chocolate’s universal appeal and accessibility. The invention of the hydraulic press, along with van Houten’s method of alkalizing cocoa, made chocolate more shelf-stable, cheaper, and thus more accessible to the working class (Lange 138). Higher demand drove chocolate companies such as Hershey to homogenize and brand their products through standardized processing methods, as a means of promoting these brands to the working class public (Counihan and Esterik 84-85; D’Antonio 106-109). In this case, chocolate’s value was indicated by size and complexity – for example, Milky Way bars were filled with nougat and caramel, making them larger than pure chocolate bars and thus of greater value, despite actually being cheaper to produce (Brenner 54-55). Yet, like many other once-luxury items such as tea and sugar, chocolate had become a product for the masses, not one for the elite, and chocolate producers deliberately designed their marketing and packaging of chocolate to reflect this shift (Counihan and Esterik 84-85). The loss of elaborate, personalized tools for making and consuming chocolate paralleled this transition of chocolate in the Western cultural psyche – the iconic, cheap packaging of Hershey’s and Mars candy bars indicated that chocolate was no longer a food of the elite, but rather accessible to the average, working class family.

    The role of chocolate in global culture has changed vastly from its origins as a bitter, frothy drink of the May and Aztec elite, and the way that chocolate is stored, prepared, served, and distributed has changed in tandem. When chocolate was an item of luxury, reflected by the labor required to produce it or the wealth needed to procure it, in Aztec and seventeenth-century Europe, respectively, carefully designed and expensively produced containers and preparatory cookware developed to suit and complement chocolate’s coveted societal place. However, with the advent of new processing methods, and an economic shift towards mass production for the working-class, chocolate’s packing and distribution has changed to give it the impression of universality, and to render it a symbol of the quotidian, in a branded, neat, and instantly recognizable package.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate : inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. 1st ed., Random House, 1999.

Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. PBS Learning Media, 2018,

Coe, S. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. Kindle edition.

“¿Cómo sacar espuma al chocolate caliente? Secreto de Cocina, Yuri de Gortari.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocina Identidad, 8 April 2014,

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey : Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

“Hot Chocolate in Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles, 2019,

Lange, Amanda, and Grivetti, Louis Evan. “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early North America.” Chocolate, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2008, pp. 129–142.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60. DOI: 10.18030/

“MOLINILLO TRADICIONAL.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocinando con Rita, 28 June 2017,

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

The Revolution of Industry and Chocolate

In the 18thcentury, the transition from using human, animal, or water power to the burning of fossil fuels brought about a period of great change.  This change was called the Industrial Revolution, and was built on large deposits of coal and iron that were used to fuel advances in the technologies and factories responsible for manufactured goods. What headlined this Revolution was the arrival of an improved textile industry, steam powered transportation, and mass production. What is less discussed, however, is the effect that the Industrial Revolution had on the chocolate industry.

Previously, chocolate was considered in Europe and America as an exclusive drink for the elite and wealthy; either consumed in a cup at breakfast or during the day as a snack (Martin 2010).  Chocolate maintained a very polarizing reputation for its multifaceted uses. Some, like Benjamin Franklin, believed that it could be used as a treatment for smallpox (Martin 2010). Others associated it with being an aphrodisiac and others believed that the “exchange of chocolates between a man and woman was tantamount to a declaration of love,” (Quélus).  The reputation of chocolate and the invention of new production technologies enabled this exclusive commodity to become available to all people, leading to an increase in popularity of the product and profit from its sales.   

above is a picture of a conch used in Switzerland, Ammann was one of the first manufacturers to make conches available to chocolate produces in the late 19th century

The cocoa press and the conching machine are two of the biggest innovations that empowered the chocolate industry during the Industrial Revolution.  In 1828, Coenraad van Houten patented the cocoa press. This press burned coal to produce heat that would create enough steam and pressure to power the machine, which was a type of hydraulic press.  This process would separate fat from roasted cacao beans, and this butter would be pulverized into a fine powder called cocoa that would later be used to create solid chocolate (Coe & Coe). The cocoa press allowed a quick, inexpensive method of creating a chocolate drink, and this invention began the process of opening the window of accessibility.   The Conch Machine was the next invention to increase the accessibility of chocolate while also approving its taste and appearance. Invented in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the conch was a machine that was built to give chocolate a texture that was easier to mold and preferable the solid chocolate currently in the market eaten (Giller 2017). This chocolate was described as gritty and crude, while the chocolate produced by the conch was tasty, smooth, shiny, and had a superior aroma.  The original conch consisted of a granite parts that would mix ingredients from as little as six to eighty hours at a time.  Secrets of the conch were so sought after that many manufacturers like Lindt either kept their methods a secret or to claimed the details of the process were “proprietary” (McClements 654). 

The final innovation that truly transformed the chocolate industry was the use of the assembly line.  The video above shows how manufacturers specialized the production of chocolate.  While some workers, like Lucy and Ethel, wrap the chocolates, other workers further down the assembly line will package the wrapped chocolate. Tasks were separated and specialized like this to create the most efficient production process possible.  In 1903, Milton S. Hershey founded a chocolate company that would be known for employing these principles from the Industrial Revolution.  Hershey’s Kisses offered a consistently identical product that could be efficiently mass produced.  Customers were guaranteed that when they unwrapped the foil, they would be met with a tasty milky chocolate that would satisfy the customer every time.  These principles put in place by Hershey showed the beginnings of the chocolate industry as we know it as today. 

Hershey’s Kisses, wrapped and unwrapped. 

This except from the popular television show, “I love Lucy” also shows that chocolate has played a role in the culture of our society.  While the video makes most viewers laugh at the small expense of manufacturing companies, its true purpose is to promote chocolate.  Richard Cadbury revolutionized the chocolate industry with his chocolate’s association with heart boxes and Valentine’s day. In 1859, Cadbury introduced his own brand of chocolate, and over the next decade he began to package his chocolate into heart shaped boxes. Heart shaped boxes were previously used for betrothal jewelry, sewing materials, and porcelain. By filling these boxes with his chocolate and associating them with Valentine’s Day, Cadbury had struck cacao gold. Sales skyrocketed because of the already present reputation of chocolate as being more feminine, an aphrodisiac, and a token of love.  Over a hundred and fifty years later and chocolates are still associated with Valentine’s Day, are still gifted to women, and still presented in heart shaped boxes.  

  A picture of a heart shaped Cadbury Chocolate box that are still sold today

In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution made chocolate accessible to more than just the elite and rich of Europe and America. Inventions during the Revolution increased the efficiency of producing chocolate as both a drink and a solid, while the assembly line further increased the mass production of identical products. Without the Industrial Revolution, we would not experience the same chocolate industry that we have today.


Giller, Megan. (2017, 3) Why ritual chocolate uses vintage machinery. Accessed, (2019, 3)

Coe, S.D. & Coe, M.D.  The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack.  “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.”  2013.

Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.”

McClements, D. Julian. Understanding and Controlling the Microstructure of Complex Foods. Woodhead Publishing 2007, 654.
Quélus, D, & Brookes, R. The Natural History of Chocolate: The second ed., Printed for J. Roberts, near the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane.


Lucy and the Chocolate Factory high res –

The Legacy of Oppression in Chocolate: The Power is in Our Hands

In the classic times of the Aztec and Mayans, cacao was a sacred and cultural food icon. Over the next centuries it would develop into a taste for the rich and noble in Europe and then be disseminated into the general population where a mass production of chocolate soon became necessary to meet the demands of the people. When the demands for chocolate rose it became normal for companies to abuse foreign labor to maintain the supply for chocolate and sugar. This has created a legacy of oppression that still exists to this day. Profit is the bottom line of any corporation and they will do whatever they can to keep their costs low, which is why such unethical practices have existed. Ultimately, the control of the corporations profit comes from the hands of the consumer.  Thus, the responsibility is on us as consumers to hold chocolate corporations accountable for their unethical practices if we want the industry to leave behind its legacy of oppression.

To meet the growing demands in Europe for chocolate, cacao plantations were set up across the world from the West Indies to Africa. Mesoamerican workers were used, but as they soon died to disease enslaved Africans soon became the principle labor force behind the cultivation of cacao (Martin, 2019). Cacao as a cash crop then became so profitable that it became one of the common commodities involved with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery became a foundation of the cultivation of cacao as the as the cost efficiency of forced labor made it a very enticing choice. As the abolitionist movement progressed slavery eventually became outlawed throughout the Western world, yet even when slavery became outlawed the profitability of oppression meant that those at the bottom to the food chain would continue to work in unfavorable conditions.

Cadbury was a company that prided itself on being one of the most popular names in chocolate and even today Cadbury continues to find popular commercial success. As this ad shows Cadbury had been doing so well that it became the chocolate of choice for Queen Victoria herself in the mid 1800s. However, their high quality cacao was derived from the Portuguese colony of Sao Tome & Principe, a place with troubling ethics for the cacao laborers. Despite slavery being outlawed in Portuguese colonies, the treatment for the African farmers was akin to slavery (Martin, 2019). When the initial reports of the work conditions first reached the ears of Cadbury, they did nothing to remedy the situation other then send one researcher Joseph Burtt who’s report would end up taking years. Meanwhile, independent journalist Henry Nevinson went to Sao Tome & Principe and had already been publishing information about the use of slaves on the island. It would take 8 years before Cadbury would change where they sourced their cacao from after William Cadbury went to visit the island to see the work conditions himself. There were certainly various factors, such as foreign relations with Portugal that played into why it took Cadbury before making the decision to boycott Sao Tome & Principe. What pushed William Cadbury to finally visit the island was mounting pressure from consumers and the public. Other chocolate companies attempted to distance themselves from the public ire by also boycotting cacao from Sao Tome & Principe. The Cadbury incident is a perfect example that the power to end inequality inflicted by corporations lies in the hands of the consumer.

While the Cadbury days where companies could get away with having chattel slavery in their supply chains have passed, today a new form of oppression has become the norm. Ghana and the Ivory Coast now account for 60% of cacao produced in the world (World Cocoa Foundation, 2018). In these countries oppression through the chocolate industry has become a capitalistic slavery where the people at the bottom of the chocolate supply chain have such unequal wages that they live in conditions close to or in poverty. Even after decades of farming cacao, some farmers have not even tried chocolate before. The video below shows how far removed these farmers are from our comfortable world of well-wrapped and boxed sweets.

The reason these laborers get paid so little is because corporations want to keep their costs low in the supply chain to keep up with global demand. Perhaps the cheapest sources of labor suppliers have turned to, to increase productivity rates are in child laborers. This issue began gaining awareness back in the mid 2010s, but since the initial outrage there has actually been an increase in child labor associated with the chocolate industry (Balch, 2018).

Video showing child labor in the chocolate industry by Fortune

From the Cadbury Company in the late 1800s to child slave laborers today it is clear that there has been an unfortunate legacy of inequality in the production of chocolate. This legacy exists because companies want to source from cheap labor to make the most profit possible while keeping up with high global demand companies. Ultimately, it is the workers at the bottom of the supply chain that are the most hurt. If there is any lesson to learn from the example of Cadbury incident it is that we the consumers have the power in our hands to improve the lives of these workers. The profit that these corporations care so much about is in our control and it is our responsibility to make a difference for the farmers and children who face unfair wages because of the products that we choose to buy.

Works Cited


The Keys to Cacao’s Battle With Disease: Technology & Propaganda

The ordinary consumer does not usually pause to reflect on the origins of the chocolate he/she consumes. Yet, the ingredients of chocolate undergo a lot of processing before they are ultimately turned into a final good. And, before all human-induced processing can ever happen, a growth and reproduction cycle of cacao is absolutely necessary. However, cacao’s future may be under question. Though humans may continue supplying the arduous hand labor required for cacao tree cultivation, cacao diseases prove to be at cross purposes to a threatening level. Plus, with the looming advent of climate change, these diseases may potentially gain more traction, and put at risk global, and not just local, cacao production. Hence, it is an opportune moment for humanity to pool resources into the research and development of barriers to cacao diseases. That is, if it is still in the best interest of society to help cocoa trees survive.

At the heart of this problem is the botanical and natural history of cacao. Theobroma Cacao (theobroma translating to “Food of the Gods”) is the scientific name the naturalist Linnaeus gave to the cacao tree, which bears the fruit essential to the production of chocolate.[efn_note] 1) Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18. [/efn_note] Cacao’s origin is very likely to have been the northwest Amazon basin.[efn_note] 2) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 37. [/efn_note] Though there is no consensus on the roots of cultivated Theobroma cacao, the oldest known traces of domesticated cacao date back to 1800 BC, and the Olmec civilization is thought to have been the first to either domesticate the plant or discover the process of using cacao beans to make chocolate. [efn_note] 3) Ibid, 35. [/efn_note]

Theobroma cacao species are very similar regarding their fundamental reproductive cycles. Along the trunk of a cacao tree, small flowers bloom. The lucky ones – those which end up pollinated only by midges – end up giving birth to cacao pods: these contain a sweet, white pulp, which engulfs so-called “beans” (actually seeds), and these beans are the parts which ultimately are used to produce chocolate as we know it today. Wild animals actually seek the sweet, white pulp (which humans remove via fermentation in the chocolate production), and inadvertently end up distributing the beans, aiding the natural cycle. But, the “food of the gods” is quite particular about its preferences: A cacao tree loves the shade, will demand year-round moisture, will not tolerate temperatures below 16o C, and will typically not yield its fruit unless it is within the band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator.[efn_note] 4) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 19. [/efn_note] If cacao pods are in the right conditions to grow, they will take between four to five months to reach maximum size, plus one more month to fully ripen.[efn_note] 5) Ibid, 21. [/efn_note]  Cacao’s diffusion across the globe and human selection have together resulted in an understanding of two main subspecies of Theobroma cacao which may interbreed and form fertile hybrids (e.g. the trinitario hybrid): criollo and forastero.[efn_note] 6) Ibid, 26. [/efn_note] While criollo cacao is considered to have a more superior quality, with more flavor and aroma, the forastero cacao is more prolific and accounts for more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop.[efn_note] 7) Ibid. [/efn_note] 

This burdening list of demands does not diminish the historical, standing desire for the food of the gods. Indeed, these demands might as well add to the value of cacao. A cacao bean mostly consists of fat, while less than 10 percent of its weight is protein and starch.[efn_note] 8) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 28. [/efn_note] Regarding chemical composition, cacao contains two alkaloids (methylxanthines), theobromine and caffeine. Caffeine is addictive, as is sugar, a relatively recent addition tied to European chocolate consumption. Cacao is known for containing hundreds of compounds, among which stands out the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity.”[efn_note] 9) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 31. [/efn_note]  Given the chemical complexity of cacao, it is perhaps less surprising that it has been associated with numerous different purposes, such as a unit of currency, medicine, sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, congregational drink, and even source of energy and strength. But, the array of diseases cacao is prone to, including “witches’ brooms,” pod rots, and wilts, puts the entire world supply at risk, especially given the small diversity of species.

The Witches’ Broom Disease is caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa, and prevents cacao trees from reproducing. In Brazil for example, the “Witches’ Brooms ” cocoa disease – spread as part of a malicious political campaign in a late 1980s sabotage against landowners  – resulted in a dramatic downfall of national cocoa production, changing Brazil’s role as an exporter of cacao into an importer. In Ventania, a 900-person village in the northeast of Bahia which once flourished with cacao plantations, tragic consequences were visible, and remain evident to this day. Unemployment rose as cattle jobs were far fewer than cocoa jobs. Crime escalated and adolescents were, and continue to be, drawn to drugs and prostitution. Surely, the world has since seen more security checks in airports to help prevent transport and contamination of agricultural crops. Yet, if any disease like witches’ broom disease somehow were contracted in a major cacao-producing country, such as the Ivory Coast, that would provoke disastrous ripple effects.

Many of the technologies taken for granted today are in some way or another a consequence of the homo sapiens’ control over fire and ignition.[efn_note] 10) Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, (New York Harper: 2015) [/efn_note] To draw an analogy, in the same way that fire plays a critical role in the cooking of a raw meat to be eaten, most of the technology in the business of cacao is concentrated on the processing of cacao into a consumable, desirable chocolate. But, fire is also employable in the defense of a tribe’s piece of meat from a hungry lion, and so must be technology in the face of disease. Extrapolating from this analogy, technological advances have helped civilizations make the most of cacao as a resource for consumer’s demands, but now should ideally begin to shift towards the priority of protecting cacao in its raw form. As Kristy Leissle puts it, accounts for “the world is running out of chocolate” are generally published to increase the supply of cacao and drive down prices for the largest chocolate producers.[efn_note] 11)  Leissle, Kristy, (Polity Press: 2018), 178. [/efn_note]  Yet, this is not a debate of merely increasing supply, it is about diversifying to diminish risk, and increasing cacao’s immunity to diseases.

That is where genetic modification comes in with a promising future. In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050.”[efn_note] 12)  Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out,” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. [/efn_note] In the face of climate change, Mars and UC Berkeley are using CRISPR technology to begin exploring gene editing. This information is also supported by Erin Brodwin’s account in the World Economic Forum.[efn_note] 13)  Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” [/efn_note]  Human intervention may prove to be essential to the survival of cacao as well as the efficiency of its production.

Benefits of GMOs are already apparent in the cultivation of “gold rice” and potatoes. But, media is a challenge: the wave of non-GMO pressure must be confronted with rational, data-driven evidence along with more personal stories and appeals pathos with which consumers will more sentimentally connect. For example, one way of framing the argument follows:

Harmful pesticides in potato fields are avoidable when gene edited potatoes are immune to pests. In turn, this prevents workers on the field from getting brain damage from the toxic pesticides they spread.

The example above demonstrates an underlying truth: Propaganda and public interaction have a tremendous power to influence people. Seemingly aware of this notion, and with the purpose of diminishing the negative image of GMOs, “an advocacy group for genetic crop modification is giving away 4,000 pro-GMO chocolates for free in the run-up to Valentine’s Day,” reported Jeremy Hill on February 13, 2019.[efn_note] 14) Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. [/efn_note]  Yet, because there are still uncertain long-term effects of GMO plants, and some GMOs have negatively impacted butterfly populations, cacao producers should invest in the research and development of GMOs, albeit with caution for unexpected effects.[efn_note] 15) Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet,” Accessed in 2019. [/efn_note]  Ideally, it would be best if the flora and fauna where GMOs are put in place could be replicated into a sample environment for experimentation. This way, unintended effects may be mitigated, and the public perception of much-needed GMOs may ameliorate. Ultimately, genetic modification may serve humankind as a wall of fire. But, it must simultaneously be supervised, as an unwatched fire may get out of control and cause serious damage.


Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” World Economic Forum. Accessed March 15, 2019.

Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet.” One Green Planet Organization. Accessed March 15, 2019.

Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, (New York: Harper: 2015).

Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019.

Kristy Leissle, (Polity Press: 2018), 178.

Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out • Earth.Com.” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018.

Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18.

Blog Post: The Dark Side of Cacao

Chocolate today is a luxury food that we love and crave. Over the years, it has been romanticized and portrayed as a food of the gods, holding spiritual healing power, bringing people together socially, and even increasing wealth when used as currency. However, while it is occasionally mentioned, none of the positive narratives we hear about chocolate would be possible without the hard, gruelling work of slave labor. The narratives of slavery were occurring throughout history at the same time that the romanticised stories about chocolate were being created, however, the two sides of chocolate development are rarely interwoven. I argue that the crucial role slaves played in creating chocolate is well undervalued and underrepresented in the narrative of the development of chocolate.

Figure 1 shows the two simultaneous stories of chocolate, the first image showing the product that consumers see, and the right showing how production was made possible.

Figure 1: A Stark Comparison between the Final Product and the Production of Sugar

The commonly told, romantic narrative of chocolate omits the key part of the historical development of this luxury good. “A True History of Chocolate” by Coe and Coe, discusses the immense importance of chocolate from social, religious, medical, and economic perspectives, outlining aspects such as “the food of the gods”, “the Mesoamerican genesis”, and “the Aztecs as the people of the sun” (Coe and Coe, 2013). Most narratives in this book detail the positive aspects of development, highlighting the immense amounts of passion and spirituality that has gone into creating the good we so readily enjoy today (Coe and Coe, 2013). On the flip side, this book demonstrates how an almost complete history of chocolate can be written from the perspective of benefits only, barely mentioning the cruel conditions cacao workers had to undergo to make this all possible.

To be fair, it was mentioned briefly in “A True History of Chocolate” that hundreds of thousands of Africans were shipped in vessels to work the cacao plantations of the American tropics (p193). However, the living conditions of the workers or wage or economic outcomes of this movement were not discussed, omitting a very important part of cacao production, and suggesting slaves have been undervalued and underrepresented when discussing the true development of chocolate.

Despite this romantic history, the entire time, slave labour was alive and prevalent in many Africa and Mesoamerica. As seen in these pictures from lecture, power dynamics through slavery has always existed in the production of cacao.

Figure 2: Transporting goods. “Porters carrying Coffee in Brazil,” 1826, watercolor by Jean Baptiste Debret

Figure 3: The labor of fifty-thousand enslaved Africans laborers was required to produced 20,000 tons of sugar a year for English consumers.

Throughout this entire time of slavery, the romantic story of chocolate was also being written. Within the time frame of 1420-1520, the Aztecs, People of the Fifth Sun, created their own spiritual meaning about chocolate (Martin, 2019). The two most important drinks for the Aztecs were octli (the native “wine”) and chocolate (Coe and Coe 2013). Chocolate was considered the far more desirable beverage for warriors and the nobility, making it popular as a luxury good, and a good to make people strong (Coe and Coe, 2019). So much has been written and studied about chocolate as a luxury good from this perspective, that is seems almost impossible that at this same time from 1500-1900, Chatel slavery began the exploitation of workers, a practice in which people are treated as commodities and are sold and bought (Martin, 2019). Between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans survived forced transport across the Atlantic  (Martin, 2019). For every 100 enslaved Africans who reached the New World, another 40 died in Africa or during the Middle Passage (Martin, 2019). Slavery in this sense has been brushed over, and the slaves have not been given the recognition they deserve to make the more romantic stories of chocolate possible.

Slavery was a social relationship fraught with problems, yet there was no easy fixed, particularly as it became an engrained social norm. To reverse the system, abolitionists would have would have a far bigger job than simply saying that slavery was wrong; they would be required to completely rethink empires and coerced labour, by having compelling and practical alternatives (Martin, 2019). Therefore, as there was no simple fix to this complex and rapidly evolving problem, slavery persisted. It was not a brief phenomenon either, as seen by this quote in lecture. 

Labor rights issues in cocoa production are nothing new. They are tradition. – Martin, 2019

This further consolidates the argument that slaves have been undervalued and underrepresented in the narrative of the development of chocolate. A potential explanation for this is that slaves and consumers rarely ever communicate face to face, creating a visual barrier between the two, and perhaps this has what has led to the continued practice of slavery. Another explanation is offered my Mintz in his book, “Sweetness and Power”.

“Sweetness and Power” by Mintz details the complex interwoven origins of chocolate as an extravagant good for the aristocracy and as a “slave crop” (Mintz, 1986). Mintz suggests that the hottest debates came in the 1840’s, when slavery and protectionism collided with needs to compete in a widening market. For the first time, free-trade advocates and government’s motives saw eye to eye as interests aligned. It could be concluded from this that economic interests is the factor that ties together the two very different narratives of the development of chocolate. If consumers were willing to pay more, perhaps the government could better regulate wage laws. However, slavery did exist, and continues to be an understated factor of cacao production. 

Even today, there is an enormous disconnect between how chocolate is presented to consumers, and how it is produced. Most ads appeal to the sense of guilty pleasure, passion, and play on the rich flavour and textures of chocolate, as seen in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4: Three different chocolate ads that appeal to consumers

Contrasted with the methods of production, the current advertisements present a completely different image than what the means of production would show. In some ways this supports Mintz’ hypothesis the economics is the driving factor of this disparity. The marketing teams for large chocolate companies are driven by economic benefits, as is the desire to underpay slave labor.As seen in Figure 5 below, the narrative is being told more commonly than before, and more people are becoming aware of slave labour and choosing Fair Trade options, which benefit workers today. However, despite this, the work of millions of slaves throughout history has been understated in the crucial role that they have played in the development of the good that we enjoy today.

Figure 5: Advertisement Highlighting the Terrible Conditions of Slave Labor

While the two narratives of slavery were occurring throughout history simultaneously, it seems safe to safe the influence of slave labor has been undervalued and underrepresented in the portrayal of the development of chocolate.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007[1996]. The True History of Chocolate.

Martin, Carla. 2019. Harvard University Lectures from Course: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Mintz, Sydney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power.          

Image Links

  1. Chocolate Store:
  2. Cadbury ad:
  3. Hershey’s Ad:
  4. Cadbury Ad 2:

* All other images were retrieved from lecture slides from class.

Blog Post AAES “Popol Vuh Cacao”


Blog Post

Brittany Woods


The story that is mentioned in this blog post, shows the influence cacoa in many ancient stories and civilizations such as the Maya, Aztec, and Inca. The discovery of chocolate by Christopher Columbus was a major milestone in the era of chocolate and how its popularity skyrocketed. Christopher Columbus discovered cacao on his last and final voyage to the New World he came across the Maya trading canoe where the cacao beans were being transported. He knew that whatever they were transporting was very valuable so he took them back to Europe and little did he know chocolate’s popularity skyrocketed. The spanish invaders that first learned the real knowledge of cacao were not from the Aztec civilization but from the Maya and in Central America. It’s crazy to think that the same Maya were also using cacao as a currency along with it being worshipped and served to many rulers. The ancestors of the Mayans had entered the Peten lowlands of northern Guatemala at around 1000 B.C, but before that they lived they way many Mayans did at the time which was on cool highlands of Guatemala and the Mexican State of Chiapas  which is where the wild cacao would’ve been found. If they did use the cacao that was growing in the lowlands, that must mean that they had another word for it because it wasn’t known until between 400 B.C and 100 A.D that the word cacao was born from Mixe-Zoquean speakers. The Mixe-Zoquean’s who apparently started the words and probably the material as well, to the Maya who were the bearers of the Olmec adopted culture which was called the “Izapan” by archeologists. This late Pre-Classic civilization was characterized by earthly ceremonial centers like those of the Olmec and a strong style of stone sculpture. The site, also called an “Izapa” was in a rich area to produce cacao which is located in Soconusco which is a very special place located in the Aztec empire. The Izapan culture then spread southeast to Guatemala along with it being spread to places dominated by the Olmec. That being said, the areas mentioned are perfect for cacao producing and therefore it was the Izapans who were the first to plant cacao during the spanish colonial time period. “Important narrative episodes in the Popul Vuh or “Book of Counsel” can be traced back as far as the Izapans of the Late Preclassic, specifically to carved stone stelae at Izapa itself. The great epic of the Popol Vuh was the sacred book of the Quiche Maya of the Guatemalan highlands, and was written down not long after the Conquest, using the alphabet; Maya specialists believe that it was transcribed from a now-lost hieroglyphic original.” This is relevant because the cacao has been prevalent in the book of Popul Vuh by using the maize god in a cacao tree. The story begins with a set of twins who are sons of an elder couple who supposably created the universe. The twins unfortunately had their life end pretty quickly because they entered the Maya underworld where they were beheaded by the lords of the underworld. One of the severed heads was hung up in a cacao tree (known as the maize god) and extraordinarily impregnates the daughter of the ruler of Xibalban. The ruler in disgraces expels his daughter as she gives birth to twins, the names being; Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Following a series of events, the twins then go on a journey to defeat the ruler of Xibalban, after they did their deed they also went to resurrect their slain father who was known as the Maize God. After resurrected their dad, the story ends in a symbolic form by presenting the burial growth and rebirth of the maize, which shows the rebirth of the maya. “Cacao appears several times in the Popol Vuh as it has come down to us, but as part of the market basket , so to speak, not the revered substance that it was to become”(“The True History of Chocolate” 42). This story shows the relevancy of chocolate and how it was incorporated into many origins along with sculptures and stories to show how important chocolate really was. “I learned that although sugar cane was flanked by other harvests — coffee, cacao (chocolate), indigo, tobacco, and so on — it surpassed them all in importance and outlasted them” (“Sweetness And Power Intro”).

The Chocolate Class. “Cacao and its Ancient Literary Significance”\

The Popul Vuh: Mayan Creation Myth Animated Full Version

The image above, is the cover book of the Popul Vuh which shows many mayan illustrations/drawings that in some way involve cacao and how it heavily influenced many civilizations.

The Role of Coffee in the Enlightenment Revolution

              Since the 15th century, coffee has been a recurring commodity with significant influences on various cultures, playing an unexpectedly important role in the Enlightenment revolution. Legend says that coffee was first discovered when a goat herder noticed that after eating berries from a certain tree his goats became so energetic that they didn’t want to sleep at night. Upon trying the berries, the herder felt its energetic effects and shared them with his local monastery. According to the origin story the berries were met with disdain and one monk threw them into a fire. However, upon smelling the aroma of the roasting beans the monks decided to give the novelty a second chance. Like the tea-drinking Buddhist monks of east Asia, they found the coffee to keep them awake during spiritual practice and the commodity became commonplace [1]. While this origin story is likely apocryphal, it offers a useful insight into the early potential and unique aspects of coffee, namely offering an energetic effect with benefits beyond just luxury and taste.

               While one would think that the influence of coffee has little historical significance, being simply one commodity among many, it has likely played an incredibly influential role in history and the development of the world we know today. Coffee is a high-impact commodity because of the effects it has on people as a stimulant, namely increasing short-term cognitive and physical performance, inducing higher levels of collaboration and socialization, and producing greater motivation [2]. Because of these effects, coffee stimulates high levels of collaboration between individuals, increasing the rate of technological and scientific advancements, as we will see through the enlightenment revolution occuring during the 18th century.

                So how exactly did coffee help bring about the “Age of Reason” in 18th century Europe, and the great advances in politics, philosophy, science and communications? To answer this, we must first understand the psychological effects coffee has on people. Caffeine has been found to improve performance on sustained attention tasks, as well as on logical reasoning and semantic memory evaluations [3]. Additionally, according to a recent study from UC Davis, individuals who consume coffee have higher levels of participation in group activities and a higher affinity for socialization [4]. The study also showed that groups that consume coffee have an overall higher performance and are more likely to enjoy the social interactions, continuing to engage socially afterwards. These psychological factors can help explain the initial institutionalization of coffee as a social lubricant in Arabia and later Europe, with coffee houses emerging as hubs for socialization resulting from the increased affinity for socialization caused by caffeine.

                Now that we’ve covered the basic psychological effects of coffee, we must look at pre and post-enlightenment Europe. Before coffee became mainstream, beer was often the beverage of choice because water was often too polluted to drink. Many Europeans drank beer almost continuously, often beginning their day with “beer soup”, causing much of the population to be intoxicated on a regular basis [5]. However, thanks to the Turks’ imperial ambitions, coffee was soon introduced to Europe and eventually replaced beer as the drink of choice. Those who drank coffee would begin their day alert and stimulated rather than relaxed and inebriated, and the quality of their work would improve. As coffee became more and more common in Europe, coffee houses started becoming a staple throughout the region, creating social and collaborative spaces that hadn’t existed before [6].

                Soon more people began going to coffee houses which generated levels of collaboration never seen before, becoming places not just for enjoying a cup of coffee, but to exchange ideas. During this time coffee houses were places where men (almost exclusively) would often converse with complete strangers, engaging in serious conversation and conducting business which was not possible before in alehouses, which were noisy and rowdy places as a result of the intoxicating effects of alcohol. One could gain admittance by purchasing a cup of coffee for a penny and could then join the conversation groups, which resulted in coffeehouses often being called “penny universities” [7]. As a result, great thinkers were now not thinking alone, and could share their ideas with other experts while under the stimulating effects of coffee, which increased their levels of social collaboration and logical reasoning- essential aspects of enlightenment thinking. Additionally, coffeehouses were one of the few places where rank or status was not important, so conversations were truly of a democratic nature creating an alternative learning environment to institutionalized education [8].                

               While it’s impossible to pinpoint all the ideas that were born out of coffee house discussions, we can find various examples throughout history where coffee houses served an important role in the development of great ideas. For example, before World War I, everyone who was going to be anyone hung out in Vienna’s Café Central; Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky often played chess there, and incredibly influential individuals such as Lenin and Hitler would also visit. Additionally, the Vienna Circle would have meetings there, which consisted of a group of philosophers and scientists who made great advances in their fields. And who could forget Café de la Régence in Paris, where Karl Marx first met Friedrich Engels, who would go on to be the founders of communism. Below is a painting of a regular afternoon at the café, with men playing intellectually stimulating games of chess over coffee, developing their own knowledge of the game by collaborating with others [10].

                Overall, we see that coffee has had a great effect on western culture during the enlightenment era, encouraging collaboration and discussion which contributed towards the advances in science and technology we have today. But now the emergence of coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts seems to threaten the coffee culture that has been so influential in the past. The former sells itself as a place for productivity, while the latter as a grab-and-go coffee alternative, leaving little room for intellectual discussion [9]. Will coffee house culture dwindle and disappear completely as a result of the information revolution that allows for long distance collaboration and discussion? Or will the Third Wave coffee movement prove to be a success, acting as a hub for face-to-face discussions and sharing of ideas? In any case, it’s clear that coffee will continue to play a large role in our lives for years to come, whether it be by making us more social, alert or just less tired.


  1. [Multimedia Source] Goodwin, Lindsey. “Did Coffee Originate in Ethiopia or Yemen?” The Spruce Eats, TheSpruceEats, 6 Nov. 2018,
  2. [Scholarly Source] Shukitt-Hale, Barbara et al. “Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging” Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands)vol. 35,6 (2013): 2183-92.
  3. [Scholarly Source] Smith A, P, Kendrick A, M, Maben A, L: Effects of Breakfast and Caffeine on Performance and Mood in the Late Morning and after Lunch. Neuropsychobiology 1992;26:198-204. doi: 10.1159/000118920
  4. [Scholarly Source] Unnava, Vasu, et al. “Coffee with Co-Workers: Role of Caffeine on Evaluations of the Self and Others in Group Settings.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 32, no. 8, Aug. 2018, pp. 943–948, doi:10.1177/0269881118760665.
  5. [Multimedia Source] Diamandis, Peter. “From Beer to Caffeine: The Birth of Innovation.” The Huffington Post,, 27 Aug. 2014,
  6. [Multimedia Source] Hicks, Stephen. “Coffee and the Enlightenment.” Stephen Hicks, Ph.D.,
  7. [Multimedia Source] “The Enlightenment Coffeehouses.” Conversational Leadership, 1 Mar. 2019,
  8. [Multimedia Source] “Coffee: The Drink of the Enlightenment.” DailySabah,, 5 May 2015,
  9. [Multimedia Source] Simon, Bryant. “Five Myths about Starbucks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Dec. 2017,
  10. [Multimedia Source] virtuel, L’auteur. “Au Café De La Régence Avec Diderot Et Philidor Le Subtil.” Les Lettres D’ivoire, 19 Apr. 2018,