Tag Archives: chocolate houses

Enlightenment-Era Chocolate/Coffee Houses

from the Diary of Samuel Pepy’s Wednesday April 24, 1661

Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.


samuel pepys.jpgFor Samuel Pepy’s chocolate was the perfect cure for a hangover, relieving his “sad head” and “imbecilic stomach” the day after Charles II’s coronation. During the life of this great diarist and government official, chocolate drinks passed from being a novelty to being a regular luncheon beverage.

Chocolate and the two stimulant drinks, coffee and tea, became the Enlightenment’s, the age of reason , most fashionable non-alcoholic beverages in Europe and the Americas. The introduction of these three beverages changed drinking habits, social customs and led to the creation of places of public discourse where one could share information, news and gossip. The desire for chocolate,the first of these three beverages to arrive in Europe. coffee, and tea led also to the creation of material objects required for the preparing, serving and drinking of these beverages.

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement championing reason and the rights of man (i.e. men with property) to a prosperous and free life; espousing reason in science, reason in religion,  promoting liberty and tolerance,  legitimate government (as eventually exemplified by the US Constitution), the separation of church and state, fraternite’, the questioning of absolutism and authority, of the Church, of nobility, of absolute monarchy.  The Enlightenment dominated the world of ideas in Europe and the Americas from the latter half of the 17th century through the 18th century.

At first chocolate was an expensive drink, confined to the Spanish court and nobility. But it spread to Italy in 1606 when Antonio Carlotta discovered chocolate in Spain and took some to Italy.  From there chocolate spread to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Chocolate had already reached France arriving in Bayonne in the Aquitaine by Sephardic Jewish merchants fleeing the Inquisition.  Chocolate consumption advanced in France through royal marriages.  In 1615, Anne of Austria, age 14,  the daughter of Philip III married Louis XIII, also age 14.  She brought chocolate as an engagement present. Louis XIV married Infanta Maria Theresa, the daughter of Philip IV of Spain.   It was said that Marie Theresa had two passions, being as fond of chocolate as she was of her husband.  The Duchesse d’Orleans said of the Infanta “the queen’s ugly black teeth came from her eating too much chocolate”.  As Chocolate was promoted as a medicine for its digestive qualities and prized as an aphrodisiac, one can understand her passion. The praises are sung of chocolate in Antonio Colmenero De Ledesma’s “Chocolate: or an Indian Drinke.  (You can listen to the poem on LibriVox, I believe it was translated by Wadsworth)

The vertues thereof are no lesse various, then Admirable. For, besides that it preserves Health, and makes such as drink it often, Fat, and Corpulent, faire and Amiable, it vehemently Incites to Venus, and causeth Conception in women, hastens and facilitates their Delivery: It is an excellent help to Digestion, it cures Consumptions, and the Cough of the Lungs, the New Disease, or Plague of the Guts, and other Fluxes, the Green Sicknesse, Jaundise, and all manner of Inflamations, Opilations, and Obstructions. It quite takes away the Morphew [discolored skin], Cleanseth the Teeth, and sweetneth the Breath, Provokes Urine, Cures the Stone, and strangury [urinary infection], Expells Poison, and preserves from all infectious Diseases. But I shall not assume to enumerate all the vertues of this Confection: for that were Impossible, every day producing New and Admirable effects in such as drinke it (sig. A4r).


Over the course of the 18th century,  chocolate consumption grew from 2,000,000 to 13,000,000 pounds in Europe.  There was an enormous human cost to this growth in consumption- Slavery. Slavery enabled the production of sugar, the addition of sugar to chocolate, and to tea and coffee to make these beverages palatable and flavorsome.

By the mid- 17th century chocolate houses were common in Paris for the aristocracy, for whom chocolate was exalted as a beverage. Coffee houses were popular in Paris where 380 were established by 1720.

In 1657 a Frenchman opened a shop on Queen’s Alley in Bishopsgate Street in the east of London’s Business District, where he sold chocolate which was advertised as a West Indian Drink. Coffee houses had come to London 5 years earlier, competing with chocolate shops. There were 82 coffee houses in London by 1663, 500 by 1700. Chocolate in London was at first,associated with popery and idleness (I.e. France and Spain) so to create a market, pamphlets and broadsides touting the health benefits, as previously mentioned,  were published and distributed.  Coffee and chocolate and tea  as beverages were the antithesis of alcoholic drinks, heightening one’s awareness, pleasurably, rather than dulling one’s senses.

In appearance coffee houses also were different from taverns or pubs.  Often decorated with bookshelves, mirrors and good furniture.  The custom was to leave one’s social differences at the coffee house door, there being a custom for anyone who begins an altercation, to atone for it by buying coffee for all present.Coffee houses were well ordered establishments that promoted polite conversation.  All a reflection of The Enlightenment which honors Rationalism.  The popularity of coffee/chocolate houses was a reflection of a growing upper and middle class.

The coffeehouses functioned as a place for discussion  for writers, politicians, businessmen, philosophers, scientists; lively places for rumors, gossip and news and sometime unreliable information.  People frequented several coffee houses choosing ones that reflected their interests. Coffee or chocolate houses were often associated with a particular interest or political viewpoint where one would find pamphlets and broadsides displayed.  Sometimes a patron would hurry from one coffeehouse to another to share news of a major event.

Coffee houses for businessmen centered near the Royal Exchange; politicians near St. James and Westminster; near St. Paul’s Cathedral for clergy and philosophers

“All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure and Entertainment shall be under the Article of White’s Chocolate-house, Poetry under Will’s Coffee-house, Learning under…Grecian, Foreign and Domestic News, you will have from St.  James Coffee-house.”

Richard Steele, the editor of  The Tatler, used the Grecian as his office.  Coffee houses were also used as one’s mailing address, as there was no street numbering or regular postal service.   The Grecian was most associated with science, as members of The Royal Society, Britain’s Scientific Institution flocked there.  Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley were said to have dissected a dolphin on the premises. The Marine near St. Paul’s was where sailors and navigators, merchants and seamen realizing that science could improve navigation and commercial success.  Jonathan’s was frequented by stockbrokers and jobbers, who eventually broke off and formed the London Stock Exchange. Garraway’s was less reputable, a home for auctions,financial speculation and bad paper.

The literary minded first went from Will’s where the poet John Dryden had gone, then moved onto Button’s where Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift were.  Edward Lloyd’s coffee house opened in 1680 as a meeting place for ship captains, ship owners and merchants. It evolved into the Society of Lloyds,(Lloyds of London).

Miles coffee house was a meting place known as the “Amateur Parliament” Pepy’s commented that the debates he heard at Miles,

“were the most ingenious and smart, that I ever heard, or expect to hear, and bandied with great eagerness, the arguments in the Parliament were but flat to it.”

Coffee houses were also controversial as they functioned as centers of political discussion and informed political debate. This made for a striking contrast with coffee houses in France.  The Abbe’ Prevost when visiting London, declared that coffee houses were the seats of English Liberty.

In France, coffee houses were a means of keeping track of public opinion, where there were strict curbs on press freedom .  Coffee houses in Paris were stuffed with spies and one who spoke ran the risk of being sent to the Bastille. Ironically, it was at the Cafe de Foy that the journalist and politician, Camille Desmoulins roused his countrymen with the words “Aux Armes Citizens” on July 12, 1789.  The Bastille fell two days later and the French Revolution had begun.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie and Coe, Michael. “The True History of Chocolate”. Thames and Hudson. London, England. 1996. Print.

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power”. Penguin Books, New York, N.Y. 1985. Print

Kiel, Kenneth F. and Ornelas, Kriemhild Connee. “The Cambridge World History of Food”. Cambridge University Press. 2000. Print.

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E119 Lecture Videos and Notes

Google Images Samuel Pepys Painting

Benhamou, Rebecca, “The Time of Israel Thanks Sephardic Jews for Chocolate 500 Years Too Late”. The Times of Israel. 2013. online.

“Coffee-Houses The Internet in a Cup” The Economist. 2003. On line









Chocolate in England: Available to All, Enjoyed by Few

Chocolate was introduced in earnest in England shortly after the British conquest of cacao-producing Jamaica in 1655 (Coe & Coe, 165). Within the next century, drinking of chocolate became increasingly popular in British society, enjoying a rise akin to that of coffee and tea, though perhaps not quite as steep (Loveman). However, though chocolate was ostensibly a drink available to all Englishmen, the aristocratic overtones of chocolate houses based off of their political and leisurely nature meant that in practice chocolate was only a drink of the elites.

In their book, The True History of Chocolate, Sophie and Michael Coe are quick to note the subtle differences in chocolate throughout Europe after it was introduced. For England in particular, they note its availability to all, in contrast with France, writing: “In France, chocolate was strictly for the aristocracy, while in England it was available to all those who had the money to pay for it, and it was on offer to all who patronized coffee-shops. Chocolate was becoming democratized” (Coe & Coe, 166). The key word in this sentence, however, is “available”. Chocolate was technically “available” to all because it was sold commercially at establishments that theoretically anyone could enter. But did this happen in practice?

Another main feature of chocolate houses in England was their political nature. Coe and Coe note that Charles II attempted to shut down coffee houses in 1675 because he thought they were hotbeds of sedition; chocolate was sold at these coffee houses, and “coffee house” was an umbrella term that included chocolate houses (Coe & Coe, 168). Moreover, at the Cocoa Tree, a popular coffee house established shortly after Charles’ decree, modern excavation discovered an underground passage to another pub in London, presumably for means of escape should the house be raided by governmental forces (The Telegraph). The presence of this passage belies the high stakes of the politics being discussed at chocolate houses. Politics were surely discussed by the masses, but the masses did not need to fear the Crown, as the individuals doing the talking wouldn’t have had the means to back up their words. The fact that the original patrons of Cocoa Tree desired an escape hatch when it was built means that the house was intended for influential members of English society, people whom the government needed to worry about.

Chocolate houses were more famous in contemporary times for their social overtones than their political ones, though. Most of the original houses were built in St. James Square, which, according to The Telegraph, was “a self-contained aristocratic estate of great and good houses for nobles and gentry” (The Telegraph). Chocolate may have been technically commercially available to anyone, but the location of the chocolate houses in the nicest part of London indicate that its being marketed as an elite drink. In her article, The Introduction of Chocolate to England, Kate Loveman concurs with this, writing that, “in the 1690s, chocolate houses began to be depicted as part of the daily routine of the elite” (Loveman). It is a safe assumption that the daily haunts of the elite were to a certain degree exclusive.

This assumption was borne out in contemporary English accounts of chocolate as a drink of decadence and chocolate houses as monuments to that decadence. Loveman notes that, “in the 1690s, chocolate was increasingly portrayed as the drink of the idle rich” (Loveman). This picture of White’s Chocolate House, published by Cadbury in 1708, seems to depict an aristocratic clientele.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 9.52.29 PM

The ornate décor of White’s and the powdered wigs and flowing dresses of its patrons indicates that chocolate houses were places of socializing and leisure. In addition, though the lithograph does not depict it, White’s was famous for featuring a large looking glass, which fueled popular perceptions of the vanity of its customers (Loveman). This reputation was enhanced by the reputation of the drink itself as an aphrodisiac, making it easy for satirists and detractors to point to the sexual promiscuity it implied (Loveman). Moreover, rather than politics, Loveman notes that chocolate houses were notorious places of gossip first and foremost (Loveman). All of these phenomena contributed to the larger general trend of chocolate and chocolate houses being consigned exclusively to the elite class of England.

In addition, the current trajectory of chocolate houses indicates something about their roots. White’s in particular has become an all-male “gentleman’s club”, and was a hot topic in English newspapers when Prime Minister and former member David Cameron declared it a sexist and anachronistic institution, calling for it to start accepting women (Daily Mail). In fact, Benjamin Disraeli famously quipped that the two things that an Englishman truly had no control over were membership into the Knighthood and membership at White’s (Daily Mail). With its current status as a bastion of patriarchy, conservatism and exclusivity in England, it is hard to imagine that, in a far less progressive era, White’s, and other houses like it, was anything but what it is today.

Though chocolate may be branded by some as the drink of the masses in England because it was commercially available to all, the elitist reputation and overtones of the houses in which it was sold meant that, functionally, chocolate was an elitist drink from the beginning in England.



Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Loveman, K. “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640-1730.” Journal of Social History 47, no. 1 (2013): 27-46.
Mount, Harry. “Disowned by Cameron, the Raffish Men-only Club That His Father Once Ran.” The Daily Mail. Accessed February 19, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2369652/Disowned-David-Cameron-raffish-men-club-father-ran.html.
Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph, December 13, 2013. Accessed February 19, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses/.

Wikimedia: Chocolate House, London, 1708 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg

The Role of English Chocolate Houses



Today it seems hard to imagine that fifteenth century England, like much of Europe, had no contact with either cacao or chocolate. Even more surprising is the fact that the first Englishmen who came across cacao had very little interest in it. According to Sophie and Michael Coe these men, who were most likely 16th century pirates and adventurers, even went as far as to burn an entire load of cacao (Coe 161). However, despite this initial nonchalance, the English soon came to embrace cacao beans and the chocolate products that were made from them. In fact chocolate became so popular in London that during the 1650’s, many people found an occupation selling large batches of readily available chocolate (Loveman 30). Furthermore by the end of the seventeenth century chocolate houses, specific venues for consuming prepared chocolate drinks, had sprung up across the country (Morton 21). Though initially linked to coffee houses, these houses eventually developed their own unique identity. Chocolate houses are historically significant because they helped to define the current global relationship between human beings and chocolate. In addition to expanding the social functions of chocolate, English chocolate houses also facilitated the commercialization and democratization of chocolate products.

Shown above: A chocolate house where people could pay for chocolate and company.
Shown below: A house made of chocolate.


A Typical Chocolate House


In order to show how English chocolate houses shaped the modern social and economic roles of chocolate, it is necessary to describe the general experience of the patrons who visited these establishments. According to Morton, a man entering a chocolate house would “toss a penny on the counter to pay for admission to the place and the right to rifle through free news sheets. Then he would pay for his chocolate, which wasn’t cheap, and join a table of cronies to sit and chat” (Morton 21). Importantly, the type of chocolate served in these chocolate houses was very particular. In contrast to the cold, bitter chocolate consumed in some ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, the chocolate drunk by English socialites was warm and sweet. This change was so distinct that physician Henry Stubbe actually recorded the English tendency to “use milk instead of water, or half milk and half water, or else to thicken the drink by adding eggs” (Loveman 30). Clearly, although chocolate had been adopted from the New World, it underwent significant taste it hybridization in England.

Shown above:An Aztec woman pours chocolate from one vessel to another. This liquid is unsweetened and bitter.

The Social Nature of Chocolate

Based on Morton’s description it is clear that chocolate houses functioned primarily as social institutions. Interestingly, chocolate has always had moderately social roots. Notably, in ancient Mayan societies the phrase to chokola’j meant to drink chocolate together (Martin, 2). However, chocolate houses served to affirm and strengthen the place of chocolate in the social sphere. Specifically, these houses were prime public spaces for the discussion of world news, current affairs, and politics. In fact, it was while sipping chocolate at a local chocolate house that one political group, the crypto-Jacobites, plotted the downfall of King George I (Green 1). Chocolate houses also reinforced the social nature of chocolate by linking chocolate to entertainment and leisure. In addition to serving food and tasty beverages, these houses were often also the sites of “card playing, dice and other gambling” (Morton 21).


White's was a very famous 18th century chocolate house. This scene clearly places more emphasis on social conversations than on the actual chocolate being served.


The social legacy of White's has survived. Today, it is an exclusive, private gentlemen's club.


The Commercialization and Democratization of Chocolate


Another consequence of the rise of the English chocolate house was the increasing commercialization of chocolate. The countries of colonial Europe were certainly not the first nations to pull chocolate into the sphere of business. Most notably, cacao beans had already functioned as currency in past Aztec civilizations (Martin 2). However, English chocolate houses were instrumental in making chocolate a consumer product. Coe tells us that in 1657 “Louis XIV granted a monopoly for chocolate to Daniel Chaliou” (Coe 166). This decision reflects the capitalistic culture of England, which benefited “shopkeepers and enterprising private businessmen” (Coe 166). Consistent with its status as a commodity, chocolate was promoted using strategic advertisements and propaganda. According to Green, the 18th century saw “a slew of pamphlets [appearing] proclaiming the miraculous, panacean qualities of the new drink, which would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing [and act as a] powerful aphrodisiac” (Green 1).

Shown above: An advertisement for chocolate emphasizes its exotic nature, convenience, and affordable cost.

The commercialization of chocolate acted as a catalyst for its democratization. While chocolate was confined to the aristocracy in other European nations, it was available to any Englishman who could afford to buy it and was “on offer to all those who patronized coffee shops” (Coe 166). Additionally, although expensive chocolate was still purchased mainly by elite men, several chocolate recipes were aimed at the wider population and stressed the addition of eggs and milk (Loveman 39).




Although chocolate was initially viewed in England as foreign and unfamiliar, it was gradually accepted and modified into a distinctly English luxury good and served in chocolate houses across the country. Importantly, the implications of this transformation were long lasting. Today chocolate is still closely associated with leisure and has become tightly interwoven into the fabric of English social life. Furthermore, the global chocolate economy has continued to grow, and the making and selling of chocolate is a booming business.


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

Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Loveman, K. “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640-1730.” Journal of Social History 47.1 (2013): 27-46. Web.

Martin, Carla. “AAS119 Lecture 2.”Feb. 2016.

Morton, Marcia, and Frederic Morton. Chocolate: An Illustrated History. New York: Crown, 1986. Print.

The European Beginnings of Cacao & Chocolate

Most people are unaware where the chocolate they eat everyday comes from or where chocolate began in the first place. When asked where the finest chocolate comes from in the world, several point to Europe’s diverse sets of chocolatiers, but chocolate was not always a European cuisine. Chocolate finds its humble beginnings with the cacao tree in Central and South America. It was here where the idea of chocolate began and it was here where the Europeans discovered the irresistible delicacy they now know as chocolate, though today, Europe’s chocolate is vastly different from its original beginnings in Mesoamerica.

A painting depicting Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World with his crew.

Introduction of Cacao to Europe

Christopher Columbus was the reason Europeans first set eyes on cacao beans when he found them in Guanaja (Honduras) in 1502 (Coe 107). Little did he know that these beans were the “New World’s most esteemed beverage” because at first early conquistadors were baffled and repelled by cacao as a drink (Coe 109). Columbus also threw away the first beans he found, not knowing how valued they were to the natives. (Coe 109). The way Mesoamericans prepared and delighted in their cacao beverages would be transformed to adhere to European tastes in Europe.  Several year later, chocolate beverages became an elite drink during the Baroque Age of Europe. Chocolate beverages found there way into Baroque palaces and mansions consumed by Europe’s elite and powerful (Coe 125). Chocolate was a new and exciting cuisine that Europeans began to become very accustomed to even though they had debates on several aspects of it, such as whether it was a beverage or a food. This new treat in Europe quickly spread and became a stable for many in their meals.


A painting of an early European chocolate house. Chocolate houses were social clubs for the elite to socialize while enjoying their chocolate beverages.

By the mid-1600s, chocolate houses had begun to sprout in Europe (Wheatherford). These places were quite more expensive than coffee houses, so they became the social clubs for the elites of Europe (Wheaterford). Chocolate drinks were being made by grinding the whole bean and then adding sugar and hot water (Wheaterford). This preparation was close to the Aztec recipe and therefore a little too rich for European tastes (Wheaterford). In 1828, the Dutch developed a press to force out the fat of cacao which produced the cacao powder that Europeans would add milk to in order to create a chocolate beverage more to their liking (Wheaterford). From here Europeans had added their own unique ingredients to cacao production and formed a beverage more accustomed to their taste buds and they had discovered the cacao butter byproduct that would lead to the production of chocolate bars.

Today’s use of cacao beans is nothing like its beginnings in Mesoamerica.

Concluding Thoughts

What began in Mesoamerica as a cold beverage for the elites, cacao beans were then brought to Europe to be adapted to European palates and transformed into their own unique recipes and own forms of the delicacy. The arguments for who in Europe started the chocolate and cacao storm are numerous and varied, but what is known for sure is that chocolate and cacao swept through Europe fast as an exciting new beverage and later solid food (Wheaterford). What began as a tree in Central America, cacao became one of the biggest delights in Europe and still maintains this reputation today.


*Pictures from Media Library in WordPress



Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.

Weatherford, Jack. “All about Chocolate — History.” All about Chocolate — History. N.p., n.d. Web.

Chocolate Industrialization and Advertisement in England: From Beverage to Bar

In developed countries today, when people think of chocolate, they most likely think of a solid, chocolate bar.  However, for many years after its discovery, chocolate was consumed in liquid form and was limited to the wealthy and the elite.  So when and why did chocolate change states? And what happened that enabled the general public to have access to chocolate?  With a specific focus on consumption trends in England, it will be argued that when chocolate first reached England in the 1650s it was most commonly consumed as a beverage and by the upper class; however, inventions such as the hydraulic press and chocolate bar coupled with mass production and marketing eventually made solid chocolate more convenient, affordable, and available to the masses, making it the most popular way to consume chocolate in England by the early 20th century.

Drinking Chocolate in Early England

Chocolate was formally introduced to England in the 17th century, and it was primarily consumed as a beverage (Coe and Coe, 161).  In addition, until the late 18th century, chocolate was time-consuming to produce and complicated to turn into a beverage making chocolate expensive and unappealing to those who did not have the time or tools to make the beverage (i.e. the poor and the working-class) (Coe and Coe, 169).  Therefore, as a rare, complex, and exotic commodity, chocolate was primarily consumed by the elite who could have their servants prepare the beverage for them or the wealthy who could afford to purchase a chocolate drink at a chocolate house in London (Figure 1 below) (Coe and Coe, 166-167).  However, chocolate would not be an exclusive beverage forever.  In fact, by the late 18th century, Industrial Revolution innovations had profound social and economic impacts on chocolate consumption.

Chocolate House
Figure 1. A 17th c. chocolate house in London portraying that at first chocolate was mainly consumed by the upper class and in liquid form.

Inventions that Paved the Way to Mass Production 

Three inventions that transformed chocolate consumption were the steam mill, the hydraulic press, and the alkalization process.  The steam mill was invented by Dubuisson around 1776 and was used to grind cocoa beans, which had previously been done by hand (“Discovering Dickens”).  The steam mill reduced labor intensity and costs, and thus helped decrease the cost of chocolate itself.  Next, the hydraulic press was invented in 1828 by Coenraad Van Houten and was used to efficiently squeeze the cocoa butter from cocoa beans, leaving behind a cocoa “press cake” which could be ground into cocoa powder (Coe and Coe, 234).  Van Houten also invented the alkalization process in which cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts.  This process eliminates some of the acidity from the cocoa, increases the powder’s miscibility, and gives cocoa powder a smoother consistency (Presilla, 28-29).  Van Houten’s hydraulic press and alkalization process cut chocolate prices even further, reduced processing time, and made chocolate more desirable (“Europeans”).  Overall, these three inventions paved the way towards the mass production and eventual mass consumption of chocolate.

The Solid Chocolate and Mass Production

The three aforementioned inventions enabled Joseph Fry (of Fry & Sons in Bristol, England) to create the first chocolate bar in 1847.  The bar was made by mixing alkalized cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter into a paste and then pressing the mixture into a mold (Coe and Coe, 241).  Two years later, Cadbury of Birmingham, England, was also manufacturing “chocolate for eating” (“The History of Chocolate”).  Since both companies used methods of mass production to manufacture solid chocolate, the price of chocolate declined, making it more affordable to the general public of England.

Advertising and the Domination of Solid Chocolate

Even though Fry’s and Cadbury were now selling solid chocolate, they were still selling cocoa mix to make drinking chocolate.  However, solid chocolate was more heavily advertised and marketed towards the masses than drinking chocolate, ultimately leading to solid chocolate’s domination in England by the early 20th century.

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate
Figure 2. Example of an early Cadbury Drinking Cocoa Advertisement
Fry's Pure Cocoa
Figure 3. Example of an early Fry’s Drinking Cocoa Advertisement

When Cadbury and Fry & Sons marketed drinking cocoa, their advertisements often included well-dressed men and women who seemed to resemble the upper class (Figures 2-3 above).  However, when they marketed solid chocolate, their advertisements often portrayed children or more middle-class looking men and women (Figures 4-5 below).  In Figure 4, one can see a boy going through the five stages of receiving and finally eating a Fry’s chocolate bar, revealing how Fry’s was marketing its bar to children as a quick and delightful snack.  In Figure 5, one can see a seemingly middle-class man dropping Cadbury chocolate and children swarming to eat it off the ground, revealing that Cadbury also marketed its solid chocolate to kids.

Fry's Chocolate Bar
Figure 4. Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate Bar
Figure 5. Example of an early Cadbury Chocolate Advertisement
Figure 5. Example of an early Cadbury Chocolate Advertisement

Not only was solid chocolate marketed towards children, but it was also marketed towards the working-class and mothers.  Since solid chocolate required no preparation, it was much more convenient than drinking chocolate.  Therefore, solid chocolate lent itself well to the British working-class who may have needed a quick energy boost on the job and wives who had little time to cook for their families (Mintz, 147).  Mothers were also interested in buying solid chocolate because they enjoyed it themselves, and solid chocolate was now a relatively inexpensive way to satisfy their children (Martin).

In sum, these different marketing strategies revealed that drinking chocolate was historically a luxury of the upper class while solid chocolate was something any person of any age or social class could enjoy.  With ads that encouraged the entire British population to try chocolate, solid chocolate popularity surged, and by the late 19th – early 20th century solid chocolate overtook drinking chocolate in popularity (Presilla, 29).


From the 1650s to around the mid-1800s, the British upper class primarily drank chocolate.  However, as new industrial innovations facilitated the creation and mass production of solid chocolate, this original consumption trend would eventually wane.  By the late 19th – early 20th century, solid chocolate proved to be more convenient than drinking chocolate and more affordable than in the past enabling more of the British population such as the working-class and children to enjoy the commodity.  Finally, with the usage of broad-based advertising, Fry & Sons and Cadbury were able to popularize solid chocolate to the masses, eventually establishing solid chocolate’s dominance over drinking chocolate.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. 161-169, 234, 241.

Discovering Dickens – A Community Reading Project. January 1, 2002. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://dickens.stanford.edu/dickens/archive/tale/issue5_gloss.html.

“Europeans.” The Story of Chocolate. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 8: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Lecture, Class, Cambridge, February 23, 2015. Discussed around Slides 11-15.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. 147.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2001. 28-29.

“The History of Chocolate.” The Nibble. May 1, 2010. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.asp.

Images Cited

Figure 1: http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2013/12/10/london-chocolate-festival-take-a-choco-tour-of-london/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)

Figure 2: https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/a-timeline-of-cadbury-adverts/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)

Figure 3: http://us.ebid.net/for-sale/postcard-fry-s-pure-cocoa-drinking-chocolate-advert-1893-the-sketch-nostalgia-106714206.htm (Accessed March 11, 2015)

Figure 4: http://pocketbookuk.com/2013/11/26/frys-five-boys/ (Accessed March 11, 2015)

Figure 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_invention_in_Birmingham (Accessed March 11, 2015)

Chocolate Houses: Then and Now

The Enlightenment marked a period of intellectual and scientific questioning, discovery and analysis. Academic discussion became more publicized and accessible, even amongst women and middle-class citizens. The development and rise of chocolate houses in London is parallel with the trends of this era and served as the public meeting place for discussion, socializing and enjoying the fashionable, exotic, new chocolate drink.

The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657 and attracted curious guests by advertising chocolate as “an excellent West India drink”, possessing “excellent qualities so esteemed in all places” and able to “cure and preserve the body of many diseases” (Coe and Coe 165). Chocolate itself was an exotic and unknown concept and with the arrival of coffee in London only five years earlier, hot beverages were not yet a solidified tradition (Choat). Affordable and accessible to Britain’s large population of middle-class shopkeepers and businessmen, the rise of the chocolate house “democratized” chocolate in Britain. Unlike Paris and Madrid, where chocolate was reserved for the socially elite, anyone with sufficient money could enjoy chocolate in the British houses. Described as a place “where one hears what is and what is believed to be new, be it true or false”, the reputation of chocolate-houses spread as an ideal gathering place for political and social interaction (Coe and Coe 167). Following this mold, White’s Chocolate House was opened in 1693 by Italian immigrant, Frances White. Originally known as Mrs.White’s Chocolate House, White’s became the most famous chocolate house in London (Warber).

Inside White's Chocolate House Taken from BenjaminSmithFineArt.com
Inside White’s Chocolate House
Taken from BenjaminSmithFineArt.com

The hot chocolate served in these British chocolate-houses was an “extravagant brew infused with citrus peel, jasmine, vanilla, musk and ambegris (Choat). However, chocolate was not the only option on the menu. Other beverages like coffee, tea, sherbert, cock ale, “ale with pieces of boiled fowl” and cider were also available “according to the season” (Coe and Coe 167). Adapted from the hot Mesoamerican chocolate drinks, the British adopted their own way of preparing chocolate “adjusting it to their own means by transforming the taste with spices and sugar as well as modifying traditional drinking vessels to fit their own preferences” (Scribner 474). British chocolate was made by boiling blocks of cocoa with water and “some to make it more dainty, though less wholesome, use therein Eggs and Milk” (Coe 169). Unsatisfied with this recipe, Philippe S. Dufour further developed the beverage, adding sugar (Coe and Coe169). “The British, furthermore, assimilated coffee, tea, and chocolate into the tavern and coffeehouse themselves products of Anglo-French relations and various other global impulses” (Scribner 474).

Chocolate-houses were a place for political discourse and debate  Taken from Eighteenth Century Collections Online
Chocolate-houses were a place for political discourse and debate
Taken from Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Chocolate consumption and White’s and other chocolate-houses was just as much valued as a social entity as it was for its taste. Chocolate was symbolic and represented class and sophistication. The exotic characteristics and flavors of chocolate combined with it’s accessibility gave the middle-class insight into a priorly unattainable lifestyle. Discussing the social value of taverns and coffeehouses, Vaughn Scribner discusses how

“aspiring cosmopolites could barricade themselves in private tavern rooms…to engage in sophisticated clubs, debate cosmopolitan matters with men from across the globe, sip exotic beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and wine, and above all distinguish themselves as separate, superior members of the world community (Scribner 469).

These institutions made the elite experience available and widespread; chocolate houses were a place where books were read, letters were written and ideas were discussed. Considering these chocolate establishments “hotbeds of sedition”, Charles II tried to ban the practice of chocolate houses and the subsequent political discussion they evoked with the “Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses” in 1675 (Coe 168). Public outcry ensued and Charles granted permission for coffee-houses to stay open for an additional six months. However, this law was unenforced and soon forgotten in the increasingly democratic England (Coe and Coe168).

Mutari products Taken from Mutari Hot Chocolate Facebook page
Mutari “sipping” products
Taken from Mutari Hot Chocolate Facebook page

The popularity of chocolate-houses declined in the 18th century and a few, including White’s, survive today as smart gentlemen’s clubs.  However, given the modern trend of bean-to-bar chocolate production and an increasing appreciation for historic chocolate practices, modern day chocolate-houses have started popping up. In March 2015, Mutari became the first chocolate-house in Santa Cruz, California (Carnes). Owned by Adam Armstrong, Mutari specializes in European-styled “sipping chocolates” including a Himalayan pink salt hot chocolate and a bitter, nutty 100% cacao sipping chocolate as well as unique cacao fruit smoothies (Carnes). Similarly, Mörk Chocolate, Australia’s “brew house dedicated to liquid chocolate”, focuses on small-batch, authentic, high-quality drinking chocolates (Clancey).  Founders, Kiril Shaginov and Josefin Zernell consider themselves “cacao artisans” and serve exquisite concoctions in their converted 1950s bakery warehouse, including a Breakfast chocolate blended with “house-made oat milk, dark chocolate and cinnamon”(Clancey).

Inside Mork Chocolate Brew House Taken from GoodFood
Inside Mork Chocolate Brew House
Taken from GoodFood
Works Cited
Carnes, Aaron. “Dining Reviews: Mutari.” Good Times [Santa Cruz] 11 Mar. 2015: n. pag. Print.
Choat, Isabel. “A Chocolate Tour of London: A Taste of the past.” The Guardian [London] 23 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Print.
Clancey, Leanne. “Just Open: Mörk Chocolate Brew House, North Melbourne.” Good Food [Australia] 6 Mar. 2015: n. pag. Print.
Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
Scribner, Vaughn. “Cosmopolitan Colonists: Gentlemen’s Pursuit of Cosmopolitanism and Hierarchy in British American Taverns.” Atlantic Studies 10.4 (2013): 467-96. Web.
Warber, Adrienne. “History of White’s.” Web log post. Suite. N.p., 2010. Web.

Chocolate, Politics, and Gambling

Far from what their name might suggest, “chocolate houses” are sadly, not houses made from chocolate. Instead, London chocolate houses were 18th century bastions of wealth in which luxurious chocolate drinks were served alongside steaming plates of leisure to the obscenely rich, who wanted nothing more than to relax, schmooze, and discuss their plans to overthrow the king on the side. With the Enlightenment roaring in the background, the chocolate houses became excellent places for English noblemen with too much money to unload their wallets and their newfound nihilism.

Interior of a chocolate house
Portrayal of interior of a chocolate house

Nested within exclusive aristocratic communities—most notably one called St. James Street, these lavish havens were erected in the same spirit as the already extensive and wildly popular coffeehouses of the time (“London’s Chocolate Houses”). Previously, chocolate drinks were merely sold as an afterthought at these coffeehouses, due to the much more popular and established nature of coffee, the beloved brown drink of choice. Comparatively, chocolate was its aloof foreign cousin and had barely arrived from France in the 1650s (“Discovering Chocolate”). However, the media began extolling chocolate as a medicinal, magical substance with aphrodisiacal properties, and it wasn’t long before people bought into the hype and the so-called chocolate houses sprang up to cater to this niche demand (Green).

The chocolate drinks themselves were brewed from blocks of cocoa and tended to be dark and bitter concoctions very much unlike the fluffy, sugary hot chocolate that we drink today which—quite literally—pales in comparison (“Discovering Chocolate”). These exotic drinks were often mixed with a handful of off-key flavors, with some recipes including Indian pepper, jasmine, and ambergris—a bile duct secretion found in the intestine of sperm whales (Choat; Kemp 8). Chocolate was very much an expensive, luxury drink, both due to the elaborate nature of its recipe as well as the high taxes involved in importing it to England (“Hot Chocolate”; “Discovering Chocolate”). However, this likely only served to play into the tendencies of an elite class that was less concerned with the essence of the drink and more concerned with making showy displays of wealth.

Chocolate pots

White’s Chocolate House, which opened in 1697, was perhaps the most famous chocolate house, among others such as Brooke’s, Ozinda’s, and the Cocoa Tree (Green, Algernon 152). Though these chocolate houses were ostensibly places that served chocolate drinks, in reality, this was by far their least important function. Behind their exclusive doors, the chocolate houses actually served as arenas for the gritty world of high-stakes gambling. According to The History of White’s, which candidly refers to White’s as a gaming club, “There is nothing, however trivial or ridiculous, which is not capable of producing a bet. Many pounds have been lost upon the colour of a coach horse, an article in the news, or a change in the weather” (Algernon 101). Furthermore, these bets often pitted people’s lives against each other, with gamblers making wagers on who would live longer—“There is scarce one remarkable person upon whose life there are not many thousand pounds depending, or one person of quality whose death will not leave several of these kinds of mortgages upon his estate” (Algernon 102).

White's Chocolate House
White’s Chocolate House

Beyond the morbid business of high stakes gambling, the chocolate houses also doubled as sites for people of various political parties to convene and vent their political frustrations. White’s, in particular, was unofficial home to the Tories, while Brooke’s served the Whigs (Algernon 152). The Cocoa Tree purportedly had a secret escape route for Jacobites to escape capture by authorities (Green). This affiliation with political parties was a large part of the reason why chocolate house membership was so exclusive. Belying their unassuming names, chocolate houses were actually extremely political.

In light of these revelations on the true nature of chocolate houses, the importance of chocolate drinks may seem only secondary. However, far from it, chocolate was the sticky lubricant that bound all these forces together. Perfectly packaged as an item of the elite, chocolate was the impetus for driving a culture of extravagance, which in turn, popularized chocolate among not just elites, but all of England. Compared to our culture in which the most iniquity associated with chocolate is the guilt that accompanies a sweet tooth, it is amusing, to say the least, to think that chocolate once went hand in hand with decadence, political dissent, and a penchant for anarchic gambling.

Works Cited

Algernon, Henry. The History of White’s. Vol. 1. London: Waterlow and Sons, 1892. 101,102,152. Print.

Choat, Isabel. “A Chocolate Tour of London: A Taste of the past.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/dec/23/chocolate-tour-of-london&gt;.

“Discovering Chocolate.” Cadbury. Kraft Foods Australia Pty Ltd. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx&gt;.

Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;.

“Hot Chocolate, 18th-19th Century Style.”Jane Austens World. 9 Aug. 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/&gt;.

Kemp, Christopher. Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. 8. Print.

“London’s Chocolate Houses.” Herb Museum. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/londons-chocolate-houses&gt;.

Multimedia Sources

Bourne, Leah. “The Top 12 Most Exclusive Private Members Clubs In London Read More: Http://stylecaster.com/the-top-12-most-exclusive-private-members-clubs-in-london/#ixzz3SKINBGoc.” StyleCaster. StyleCaster Inc, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://stylecaster.com/the-top-12-most-exclusive-private-members-clubs-in-london/&gt;.

Digital image. Replacements, LTD. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.replacements.com/thismonth/archive/v1301t.htm&gt;.

Jones, Bob. “The Lost City of London.” The Lost City of London. N.p., 03 May 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://lostcityoflondon.co.uk/2014/05/03/oh-divine-chocolate/&gt;.

Comparing Use of Chocolate/Cacao in Mesoamerica and Baroque Europe

chocolate_houseEnglish chocolate house in the 1800’s


AN00568627_001_lCodex Féjérvary-Mayer


Are some foods more than just a way to find sustenance? Even before the Classic Maya era, cacao was viewed as one of the most important goods a person could obtain, due to its deeply held social, religious, and economic value in society. It became a staple in the Mesoamerican world, and eventually, after European explorers began to realize its strong significance to the people of the “New World”, they began to bring it back to Europe with them on their return voyages, where it gained popularity mostly among the upper class, except in England, where it was easily accessible to all people. While both the Mesoamerican and Baroque European societies enjoyed cacao, they did have a number of differences in its use and significance to the society as a whole.

The earliest traces of cacao use date back to almost 1400 BC in present-day Honduras, according to Hillary Christopher’s Cacao’s Relationship with Mesoamerican Society. The system used to trade cacao was very extensive, and in some cases, shaped the economy of a community. Cacao was farmed in the rural areas of a society, where it would be harvested and brought to the urban centers, either for trade for goods not easily accessible in the distant regions, or as a tribute to the ruler. Cacao beans were very valuable and were used as currency, as noted in a Nahuatl document we viewed in class, which described the approximate worth of cacao beans in comparison to other commodities. While very important to the economies of Mesoamerican societies, cacao was equally, if not more so, important for its use in religious and social contexts. In the Codex Féjérvary-Mayer, it shows that the Mayans believed that the cacao tree played a role in creation stories and interactions with their gods. Another social role cacao played was its role in general socialization rituals. One such ritual, called tac haa, involved a courter serving a chocolate drink to the father of a woman he wished to marry. Chocolate was usually served at fancy meals and feasts for the upper classes of society.

In Baroque Europe, only the social aspect of the chocolate carried over to general society. In countries like Spain and France, chocolate was only consumed by the upper class, who had access to other goods like sugar and spices to sweeten and adjust the taste to their liking. It was a status symbol for the wealthy. In England, before tea and coffee became mainstream, accessible products, chocolate was served in “chocolate houses”, where the citizenry would gather to discuss politics and other relevant topics. These chocolate houses became important staples in the English social scene. When it first arrived, these houses promoted this new chocolate drink for its many benefits. “Within the next decade, a slew of pamphlets appeared proclaiming the miraculous, panacean qualities of the new drink, which would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing”, said an article documenting the history of British chocolate houses in the Telegraph, a British newspaper. This led to the explosion of popularity of chocolate in England.

While the people who first discovered the use of cacao in Mesoamerica had a plethora of uses for it, which included monetary, religious, and social purposes, both the Mesoamerican civilizations and Baroque Europe used chocolate as a tool for socialization and gathering with peers.





Over a Cup of Cocoa: Chocolate’s Rise and Political Relevance in English and European History

Although the impact of the introduction of a single good such as chocolate to European culture may seem trivial, a deeper dive into the luxury item’s history reveals that it has had lasting effects on the political and social development of European nations. It is important to bear in mind that, as asserted by Mintz, food is fundamentally social – meals can serve as stimuli for important conversations, and the presence of a luxury good like chocolate ensured in 17th-19th century Europe that the parties to those discussions were of particular economic background and influence.

In order to more thoroughly explicate the good’s historical significance, it is critical to first explain its origin in Europe. Colonists in the Americas had had previous exposure to chocolate, but had often found it to be less than satisfactory; Italian historian Girolamo Benzoni noted that he “never wanted to taste it,” finding it so repulsive that he described it as a “drink for pigs” (Coe and Coe 110). Ev  en the English shared this opinion at first, with John Gerard writing in 1633 that cacao as “an astringent and ungrateful taste” (Coe and Coe 165). However, these early opinions quickly became unpopular as contact between Spanish conquistadors and the Aztecs was sustained and exports back to Europe began to flow.

Mintz notes that “during the period when sugar was first becoming widely known, most people in England and elsewhere were struggling to stabilize their diets around adequate quantities of starch” (Mintz 13). The rapid and simultaneous introduction of cacao and sugar naturally led to methods of sweetening cacao during processing; Presilla even describes how “one former option [became] a requirement: adding a sweetener. It was the Spanish who first married chocolate and sugar” (Presilla 25). However, at that point in time, chocolate and sugar were still decidedly luxury goods. Coe and Coe recount how at Louis XIV’s palace, full of the upper echelon of French nobility, “chocolate was regularly served at all public functions, levees, and the like” (Coe and Coe 160).

Perhaps the most notable example of chocolate’s effect on class development and European politics stems from the prevalence of English coffeehouses during the late 1600s and 1700s. Coe and Coe describe the flow of cacao beans into England from 1655 onwards after Oliver Cromwell’s forces annexed Jamaica from Spain. No more than two years after, it was being advertised in an English newspaper as a substance that “cures and preserves the body of many diseases,” aside from its excellent flavor and uniqueness (Coe and Coe 169).

The interior of a London coffeehouse in which chocolate would likely have been served, c. 1705 – from “The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse” by Dr. Matthew Green

Interestingly, due to the ease of acquiring cocoa in England, it was not strictly a noble drink as it was in France at the time; rather, it was more widely available in public coffee-shops, although certainly expensive enough to be considered a luxury. In this way, we learn quite a lot about English elite social life during that time – goods were not limited to those with authority, but simply to those with the means to buy them. This led to a very different social structure in which successful merchants could assemble and discuss politics with a level of influence similar to actual nobility in France. Given the unstable political climate resulting from the competition between the Whigs and Tories during that period, these coffee-house discussions between the rich and the aristocratic became vessels for voicing political dissent over a cup of chocolate. So revolutionary were these types of forums for political discussion that “Charles II… tried to suppress these establishments which he considered hotbeds of sedition” (Coe and Coe 171). Ultimately, these discussions in the 1660s-1680s that occurred over chocolate may have sowed the seeds of political dissent that culminated in the 1688 Glorious Revolution to overthrow the monarchy.

Lloyd’s Coffee House in the 18th century – from “The Top 10 Coffee Houses of Early Modern England”

In this way, not only did chocolate become an increasingly accepted and widespread social product, but it played an important role in the political direction of 17th century England and beyond. The importance of these coffeehouses did not fade for some time, with examples such as Lloyd’s Coffee House being well-known as a forum for conducting shipping deals in the late 1600s (Lloyd’s 2013). White’s Chocolate House, established in 1693 as a hot cocoa emporium, was later converted to England’s first and most reputable gentlemen’s club, which comes with its own set of social implications that sprung from the humble origins of a chocolate servery. The effects of chocolate’s origins in England are societally ubiquitous in today’s era, and continue to diffuse more through each element of culture.

“In the club at White’s Coffee House” – from “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses” by Dr. Matthew Green

Works Cited:

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

Green, Matthew. “The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse.” The Public Domain Review. Open Knowledge Foundation. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/08/07/the-lost-world-of-the-london-coffeehouse/&gt;.

Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph 13 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.

“Lloyd’s at 325: The Story of Edward Lloyd.” Lloyd’s. 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.lloyds.com/news-and-insight/news-and-features/lloyds-news/lloyds-news-2013/lloyds-at-325-the-story-of-edward-lloyd&gt;.

“Top 10 Coffee Houses of Early Modern England.” Early Modern England: From the Tudors to the Victorians. 20 Dec. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.earlymodernengland.com/2014/12/top-10-coffee-houses-of-early-modern-england/&gt;.

Chocolate, Hybridization, and Forgetting Our Colonial Past

The mainstream and commercial accounts of the European – Mayan encounter, beginning with Columbus’ “discovery” of chocolate in America and ending with its hybrid forms in Europe, have a tendency to misrepresent the story’s imbalances in power and knowledge and the ever-present legacy of colonial exploitation that the incidence of chocolate in Western culture represents.


A depiction of Christopher Columbus’ heroic arrival the New World: http://toriavey.com/images/2012/10/Landing-of-Christopher-Columbus-in-America-at-San-Salvador-October-12th-A.D-640×479.jpg

Cadbury, the second largest confectionary brand in the world, and the US’s National Confectioners Association both erroneously support a narrative of chocolate’s discovery that suggests that it was a long process of European improvements to an ancient people’s exotic dietary habit (Cadbury, “The Great Chocolate Discovery;” National Confectioners Association, “The Story of Chocolate”). Cadbury explains that Christopher Columbus brought the “first cocoa beans back to Europe” from his fourth visit to the ‘New World’ but that “far more exciting treasures on board his galleons” distracted the Spanish from chocolate until Hernan Cortes recognized the beans’ commercial value in 1528. Additionally, Cadbury describes how “once Don Cortes had provided the Spanish with a supply of cocoa beans and the equipment to make the chocolate drink,” the Spanish used a series of experiments and “pharmaceutical skills” to adjust the drink with their spices and replace unfamiliar Mesoamerican flavors like chili pepper. Examples of adjustments include the alleged Spanish discovery that “chocolate tasted even better served hot” and an assertion that the English “improved the drink by adding milk.” The Confectioners Association makes a similar claim: they contend that, “unlike the Mesoamericans, the Spaniards kept their discovery on the hush. For nearly 100 years, Spanish aristocrats secretly sipped this new delicacy. They also continued to experiment, adding cinnamon and vanilla to the sugar and serving it steaming hot.”


An English chocolate house: http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446

In their descriptions of hybridization, Cadbury and the Association demarcate between the inferior tastes and capacities of the Aztec and Maya and the enhancements and amendments made by Europeans. They suggest that the Mesoamericans failed, first in keeping chocolate a “secret” and second, by being unable to fully innovate. Such claims support a narrative in which unknowing natives are rescued and improved by civilized and enterprising Europeans. Their story is one in which whites use their skills to take and instantaneously improve – ignoring not only the native peoples’ involvement in chocolate’s transmutations, but also erasing the Europeans’ own fumbles and failures throughout.

As Sophie and Michael Coe recount in The True History of Chocolate and Dr. Robert Temple argues in his article “Columbus Meets the Maya and Chocolate,” the context leading to chocolate’s hybridization is much more complex and confusing than a tale of European rescue and improvement. Christopher Columbus’ voyage to Guanaja was a desperate one – after being removed from his post in the Indies, stripped of his titles by the Spanish court, and defeated by the Portuguese in a race to the East Indies, Columbus’ final trip was an attempt to save his image. When he met the Mayan people, it was not encounter telling of European expertise. As Coe and Coe describe, Columbus and his crew overtook a Mayan vessel of goods without resistance only to misjudge its most valuable product (cocoa) for almonds. Despite noting that the “almonds” were so revered that Mayans would stoop to pick them up as though an “eye had fallen,” Columbus failed to investigate their worth (Coe and Coe). Instead, he was eventually duped by the local people into continuing his unsuccessful journeys elsewhere (Temple).

 The film 1492, as shown in class. This cinematic reproduction of Columbus’ discovery of Guanaja is almost comical in light of Temple and Coe & Coe’s accounts.

The rest of the encounter and transformations of chocolate is equally as convoluted. Coe and Coe maintain that the creation of a “creolized culture” of mixed local and European people was crucial to introducing chocolate into the diets of Europeans, who were otherwise staunchly averse to the drink. Even after the hybridizations of the product and its tools began, the process was still not one of European “finding” and “improving.” Many of the ascribed European improvements had Mesoamerican roots. Coe and Coe refute the claim that whites were the first to decide to drink it hot, noting that the practice “[had] been adapted from the usage of the Yucatec Maya.” Further, they note that the manufacture of the drink to a wafer was a practice used by Aztec warriors and that “the Spaniards merely seized on these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship” cocoa.

Therefore, Cadbury and the Association’s narratives of chocolate discovery perform a sort of epistemic violence that erases the contributions and value of native people from the final global chocolate product. Jill Lane’s “Becoming Chocolate, a Tale of Racial Translation,” contains commentary that lends insight to this culture of false histories. She says such an insistence “it seems to me, is a way of disavowing, hiding, or forgetting [one’s] colonial racial past.”

Works Cited

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

Kraft Foods Ltd, “The Great Chocolate Discovery,” Cadbury, https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx (accessed February 20, 2014)

Robert Temple, “Columbus Meets the Maya and Chocolate,” The Yucatan Times, April 13, 2014. Accessed on February 20. http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2014/04/columbus-meets-the-maya-and-chocolate/

National Confectioners Association, “The Story of Chocolate: Europeans,” http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3446

Jill Lane, “Becoming Chocolate, a Tale of Racial Translation,” Theatre Journal 59, no. 3 (1997): 382