Tag Archives: Coffee houses

Chocolate, Slavery and Aristocratic Decadence: Jamaican Plantations and London’s Wild Side in the 18th Century


A negro slave beating a woman slave watched by two white men.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The treatment of black slaves on the sugar plantations of 18th century Jamaica was brutal. Distressing evidence of this is provided by songs that slave women on such plantations sang about being forcibly separated from their families, suffering sexual abuse, and receiving punishment whippings. For the purpose of these punishments, the slaves would be stripped and held down by other slaves, while the plantation overseer or owner instructed a male slave to deliver the lashings (Altink, 2000).

Popular representations have made us familiar with the idea that such brutality provided the foundation for the cultivated and elegant lifestyles of the social elite across the ocean in Great Britain. In a scene from Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park as shown below, for example, Fanny Price discovers Sir Thomas Bertram’s sketchbook showing scenes of brutality from the Jamaican plantations that had provided the source of his wealth.

Less well known is the connection between slavery on the plantations of Jamaica and the decadent lifestyles that grew up among some of 18th century London’s wealthiest elite. This connection is provided by one of the products that sugar was grown to make: hot chocolate for drinking. For not only sugar, but also cacao was grown on British-owned slave plantations in Jamaica (Grivetti and Shapiro, 2011). And London not only offered establishments for drinking coffee, but also, if one could afford it, ones for drinking chocolate.

If one has formed one’s idea of 18th century London life from reading about the erudite and witty conversations that figures like Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and their circle of talented friends held in the city’s pubs and coffee houses (Damrosch, 2019), then it can come as a shock to learn about the decadent culture that prevailed in the city’s chocolate houses. The most prominent of these institutions were White’s, Ozinda’s and the Cocoa Tree (Green, 2018). The opulent decor of the socially exclusive chocolate houses was consonant with their aristocratic clientele and stood in contrast to the more drab interiors of the city’s coffee houses.

See the source image


In 1778 White’s Chocolate House moved from its original location in Mayfair to new premises in St James’s Street

White’s became notorious for the crazy gambling that took place there. The Connoisseur, a down-market weekly newspaper that Johnson felt “wanted matter” (i.e. lacked substance) but that was appreciated by Boswell, reported that at White’s “there is nothing, however trivial or ridiculous, that is not capable of producing a bet” (Coe and Coe, 2019). Large sums of money were wagered on such matters as which armies would be defeated in battles, whether a certain Duke would or would not have an illegitimate child within two years, or whether a given number of White’s members would die within exactly a year (Green, 2018; Doyle and Scott, 2020). One frequenter of White’s is reported to have bet £3,000 on which of two raindrops would first reach the bottom of the bow window at the club. While in their True History of Chocolate (2019) Sophie and Michael Coe state that his was Lord Arlington, many websites focusing on the Regency period suggest it was the “Regency Buck” Lord Avanley. (My search for definitive information continues.)


 The famous – or infamous – bow window at White’s

Perhaps the most notorious incident to occur at White’s occurred in 1750 when a man collapsed in the street in front of St. James’s Palace. When he was carried into the nearest building, which happened to be White’s, the establishment’s aristocratic chocolate drinkers took bets on whether he would die. These degenerate gamblers forbade anyone from providing assistance to the man, as they couldn’t tolerate the idea of their bet being spoiled by an “unfair” intervention (Green, 2018).

Hogarth, A Rake’s Progress No. 6, The Gambling House

Such attitudes and practices earned White’s the disdain of the satirical artist William Hogarth, who expressed his disapproval in the sixth painting in his work A Rake’s Progress. This series of paintings depicts the picturesque vicissitudes in the life story of Tom Rakewell, a well-to-do young man who comes to London and dissipates his fortune through wild living. In The Gambling House, the sixth picture, Tom re-loses the fortune he had earlier regained, amid the grotesque countenances of huddled degenerate gamblers. Incidentally, the smoke that can be near the ceiling represents a real fire that occurred at White’s in May 1733 (Uglow, 1997).

An interesting theory about what drove aristocratic gamblers of London’s chocolate houses has been advanced by Matthew Green. Viewing their behavior through the lens of Thorstein Veblen, Green chides Hogarth for being unfair to the gamblers as a consequence of being trapped in his own middle-class perspective. Instead, Green argues, we need to recognize that for the nobility of Georgian London life had become “one big game of conspicuous consumption” (Green, 2018). Seen in this light, their behavior may appear somewhat more rational, but one wonders whether such a sophisticated analysis is really justified. The bets were indeed huge, but could any of the players really hope to impress their equally wealthy friends with them? An alternative explanation might focus on the psychology of gambling—including perhaps a need for excitement in a world that had become boringly secure and devoid of danger (Baraniuk, 2020).

Production of chocolate in the 18th century—in particular the key ingredients of cacao and sugar—bore a heavy cost in human suffering. This suffering was largely invisible to the inhabitants of London, Paris and other major cities of Europe, even as the eighteenth century became the “apogee of British and French slave-based sugar plantations” (Mintz, 1986). By contrast, for many thoughtful people today is impossible to encounter images of elegant eighteenth century and Regency elite lifestyles without also having evoked images of the barbaric cruelty that sustained it. Yet perhaps people can still be seduced by the nihilistically glamorous dissolution of the aristocratic gamblers who frequented London’s chocolate houses. Keeping in mind the link between this world and the unspeakable misery which African slaves on the cacao and sugar plantations endured in order to produce the chocolate that fuelled its decadence may help us to avoid such moral lapses.

Works cited:

Altink, Henrice  “Jamaican Slave Women’s Dance and Song in the 1770s – 1830s.” Web. 7 March 2020

Baraniuk, Chris. “Why gamblers get high even when they lose.” Web. 8 March 2020


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson 2019

Damrosch, Leo. The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age. Yale University Press 2019

Doyle, Marissa, and Regina Scott. “Where the Boys Are: Betting at White’s.” Web. 9 March 2020


Green, Matthew. “How the decadence and depravity of 18th London was fuelled by hot chocolate.” Web. 7 March 2020


Grivetti, Louis, Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage

John Wiley & Sons 2011

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

Uglow, Jenny. Hogarth: A Life and a World. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux 1997

Made with a Feminine Touch: Beth’s Chocolate and the Larger History of Women Creating Chocolate

In the chocolate industry, there are just a handful of companies that produce over 60% of the world’s confections. They are nicknamed ‘the Big Five’ and are as follows: Hershey’s, Mars, Kraft, Nestle, and Ferrero (Martin, Introduction, Slide 5). These companies produce some of the candies we all know and love such as Hershey’s Kisses, Snickers Bars, Cadbury Eggs, and Kit Kats, just to name a few, and they were all founded by men. In fact, they are still run by men with the exception of Hershey’s who just elected its first female CEO in 2017. What does this mean for women? Have they never created chocolate because of gender and cultural barriers, or rather, are they just not recognized at the forefront of its production? In this article, I will argue the latter. Just last month, I had the pleasure to meet Beth Kirsch, a chocolatier in Newton Massachusetts and owner of Beth’s Chocolates. Beth is among a new wave successful female chocolatiers and chocolate producers in the 21st century, but we can find women making chocolate in almost every time period that chocolate has appeared.

Meet Beth

Beth Kirsch had an unusual route to chocolate. She spent the majority of her adult life as a children’s media producer for PBS, winning three Emmy’s for the series Between the Lions (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier). Beth always loved chocolate, however, and one day in 2012, she attempted to mold a chocolate bar into the shape of an Eiffel Tower; it was an utter disaster. The chocolate stuck to the mold, and when it finally did come out, it tasted terrible. Beth immediately decided she would learn to work with chocolate. She enrolled in a three-hour class at ChocoLee Chocolates, and it was here that she learned the process of tempering. A year later, she took a three-month internship at EH Chocolatier in Somerville, and after that, she enrolled in an online course at the Vancouver based Ecole Chocolat to earn a professional chocolatier certificate. Then, in 2016, she traveled to France to become a master chocolatier through the Valrhona Ecole Du Grand (Pyenson). With all this knowledge, Beth was able to make those chocolate Eiffel Towers she had once desired and much more. She decided to launch her own confectionary business from her newly certified kitchen, and thus, Beth’s chocolates began.

Beth is a chocolatier; she does not create her own chocolate from bean-to-bar but buys bars from others to use in her confections. Beth specifically likes to use Valrhona, a fine cacao chocolate brand from France that is known for its exceptional flavor and ethical sourcing (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). By melting down these bars, she can add her own additional ingredients, re-mold them, and then decorate them into something else entirely- into Beth’s chocolates. For example, in the image below, you can see one of Beth’s most popular and award-winning bonbons called Fig-In-A-Box. To make this, Beth first creates a fig puree, adds aged balsamic vinegar, transforms the concoction into a French pate de fruit, hand dips it in Valrhona dark chocolate, and finally, brushes it with gold stripes (Kirsch, Chocolates: Fig-in-a-box). The chocolate coating itself may not be her own, but she invents the unique combination of flavors and the delicate design. Some of her other popular bonbons include Pomegranate, Cappuccino, Cognac, Ginger 3 Ways, Passion Fruit, and Salted Dark Caramel. In 2018 alone, Beth’s Chocolates won ten different awards, a huge achievement considering how new her company is (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier).

Beth’s Fig-in-a-box Bonbon (http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/)

 Looking at her path into chocolate, Beth rose to prominence with the help of many women. She first took a class at ChocoLee’s in Boston, which was founded by Lee Napoli, a gifted female pastry chef and former chocolatier. EH Chocolatier, where she interned, is also run by two women, Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney. In my own conversation with Beth, I asked her about her experience as a female chocolatier (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). She explained to me how in France where she once trained, almost all of the chocolatiers are men and the profession is like an exclusive gentlemen’s club. However, in the States and particularly Boston, she has seen an incredible opportunity for women to create chocolate confections for two reasons. Firstly, Beth pointed out how you can become a chocolatier with little to no formal training, although it certainly helps. Secondly, you can become a chocolatier at any time in life, even after pursuing a career in an entirely different field. Indeed, she began experimenting with chocolate confections after working in television for most of her life. Elaine and Catherine from EH Chocolatier had been a doctor and a Harvard administrator respectively. I turned to the FCCI to corroborate Beth’s information and was pleasantly shocked by howmany chocolatiers were women. According to the FCCI website, there are currently fourteen chocolatiers using fine cacao in the United States; of those, nine are independently run by women and an additional two are co-operated by a man and woman duo (Martin, ‘Map’). In the map below, you can see specifically where these various chocolateries are dispersed across the United States; just as Beth had mentioned, many are clumped together in New England- eight out of the fourteen to be exact.  Women’s current role as chocolate creators is not a new one, but rather, a more formalized one. If we turn to the history of chocolate, we can find them creating it in every era and often for men. 

U.S Chocolateries as registered with the FCCI (Me via Mapline)

Turning Back the Clock to Find Women Making Chocolate

In colonial times, women primarily created and served chocolate as a beverage. Chocolate consumption originated in the Olmec civilization, a people who occupied the modern-day Gulf of Mexico from 1400 to 400 BC (Leissle, 29). The practice then spread to the Mayan and Aztecs societies, both of whom enjoyed their chocolate as a drink made from crushed seeds. Farmers would grow, harvest, ferment, dry, and roast the cocoa beans, much like we do today, but from there, a woman would grind the beans on a stone, add water, add additional flavors like corn maize, and finally and most importantly, pour the beverage from one vessel to another in a highly symbolic fashion to produce a foamy head on it (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 872). It could then be served to a prominent Mayan or Aztec, perhaps a king, merchant, or warrior. We can find abundant evidence that women were primarily made these chocolate beverages in much of the art from this time period. For example, the Princeton Vase featured below is a piece of ceramics dated between 670-750 A.D. It depicts a Mayan god sitting on his throne, surrounded by female figures which are assumed to be his concubines. One of these women stands behind him in the bottom right corner of the image, pouring chocolate from one vessel to another to generate the highly desired foam. As captured by this vase, chocolate may have been consumed by mostly men in the Mayan and Aztec societies, but it was women who were responsible for its creation.

The Princeton Vase (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg)

In the Baroque Period, women still prepared and served chocolate drinks to men, but now, to European ones. This trend first appeared in New Spain when poor Spanish settlers would often marry native women. When these Aztec housewives would cook for their husbands, they brought many of their customary dishes and ingredients into the kitchen. This often included a chocolate beverage prepared in much same manner it was among their own people, but now, combined with old world spices such as cinnamon and sugar (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 1583). These hybridized drinks were later transported back to Europe, and by the 17th century, some of the first Coffee houses started to appear in England. Despite their name, coffee houses served a variety of foreign, imported beverages, but coffee, tea, and chocolate were the most popular among them (Coe and Coe, Kindle Location 2425). As can be seen in the image below, these were male-dominated spaces where men would convene to talk politics, culture, and most importantly, sip a cup of coffee or chocolate or tea while doing so. However, if you look at the far left side of the image, there is one single woman behind a bar; she is preparing the actual chocolate. So, although women were not welcomed as patrons, they appeared in coffee shops in subtler forms as owners, waiters, or cooks. In fact, 20% of coffee shops during this time were owned and operated by a woman (Cowan, 147). Women helped make chocolate accessible, solidifying and gratifying the European craving for it.

Drawing of a 17th Century Coffee House (https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=752544&partId=1)

Following the Industrial Revolution, women continued to serve chocolate as a beverage while also learning how to incorporate it into new foods. Throughout the 19th century, a variety of new machines were created to transform the cocoa bean into something else entirely. Two of the most important products that emerged from this context were Dutch cocoa powder and solid chocolate bars (Martin, Slides 60-69). A variety of cookbooks and cooking classes soon appeared that attempted to teach women how to bake with these new chocolate varieties. In America, for example, celebrity chef Maria Parloa alongside the Walter Baker Chocolate company published the 1909 pamphlet Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes and Homemade Candy Recipes that detailed a variety of different chocolate preparations from the classics like hot chocolate, chocolate milkshakes, and chocolate pudding, to more unique dishes like chocolate eclairs, cake, cookies and even jelly (Martin, ‘Brownies’). Just a few years prior, another famous chef named Fannie Farmer published her 1906  Boston Cooking School Cookbook that included one of the earliest mentions of brownies (Martin, ‘Brownies’). The recipe, which is included below, called for two squares of Walter Baker’s chocolate as well as chopped walnut meat, something that might surprise a modern audience today. These cookbooks did not just teach women how to prepare chocolate in new ways but encouraged them to serve chocolate more frequently overall. These women were helping to transform chocolate from an occasional indulgence to an ever increasing part of the American diet.

Fannie Farmer’s Brownie Recipe (https://archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563)

By the late 20th, and early 21st century, artisan chocolate bars began to emerge to differentiate themselves in taste and quality from the Big Five companies; many of these businesses are owned by women. For example, one chocolate that Beth Kirsch herself buys is Castronovo chocolate, founded by Denise Castronovo in 2013 in Florida. Castronovo directly sources fine heirloom cacao beans from South American farmers, and then roasts, winnows, grinds, refines, conches, tempers, and wraps the bars in her own factory packaged under her own last name (Balmaseda). Castronovo is one of the only women to have been recognized at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards, and as of today, she has a staggering 26 awards (Thomson). Another female-run bean-to-bar company is ‘57 Chocolate, founded in 2016 by sisters Kimberly and Priscilla Addison out of Ghana. In the 10-minute interview below, they discuss how they started the company to prove that Ghana is not just a country for growing and exporting cacao beans, but one that can create artisan chocolate itself. They are leading the way in this crusade, sourcing fine beans from local farmers and transforming it from their kitchen into truly Ghanaian chocolate bars (Addison and Addison). In fact, as mentioned in the interview, many of their bars feature different adinkra symbols, which were historically designed and used by indigenous Ghanaian tribes. Female chocolate makers are vastly outnumbered by male ones, but they are nonetheless present all over the world, and more are entering the profession every year.

Kimberly and Priscilla Anderson on ’57 Chocolate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU)

Back to Beth: One Woman Among Many

Beth Kirsch is just one example of a woman involved in the chocolate industry, specifically as a self-employed chocolatier. However, she is far from alone. As history has shown, women have always been involved in preparing chocolate, in different places, in different forms, and for different people. These women were often overlooked by society, but they always existed, and as the saying goes, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Now in the 21st century, we can clearly see more and more women entering the chocolate industry as bean-to-bar makers or chocolatiers. Finally, they have the formal title they lacked for so long. Now, it is the job of other organizations to start recognizing their chocolate, awarding it, and bringing it into public knowledge. As previously mentioned, all of the ‘Big Five’ chocolate companies were started by men, but maybe in the future, we can see the rise of a sixth company, this one run by a woman.

Works Cited

Addison, Kimberly, and Priscilla Addison. “Our Story.” ’57 Chocolate, 2018, http://www.57chocolategh.com/about.

Balmaseda, Liz. “Tiny Chocolate Factory in Stuart Wins Huge International Awards.” Feast Palm Beach, 17 July 2015, feastpb.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2015/07/17/tiny-chocolate-factory-in-stuart-wins-huge-international-awards/.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Cowan, Brian. “What Was Masculine About the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post-Restoration England.” History Workshop Journal, vol. 51, no. 1, 2001, pp. 127–157., doi:10.1093/hwj/2001.51.127.

Kirsch , Beth. “Beth Kirsch Chocolatier .” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/about/.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolate Tasting and Seminar.” Women of Winthrop Speaker Series. Women of Winthrop Speaker Series, 24 Apr. 2019, Cambridge , MA.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolates: Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/chocolates/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin , Carla. “Introduction .” AAAS119x. AAAS119x, 30 Jan. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Martin, Carla. “Brownies.” US History Scene, 10 Apr. 2015, ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.

Martin, Carla. “Map .” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 2019, chocolateinstitute.org/resources/map/.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao .” AAA119X. AAA119X, 20 Feb. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

Thomson, Julie R. “Surprise! Florida Makes Some Of The World’s Best Chocolate.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 May 2017, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/best-chocolate-florida_n_59088cf5e4b05c397682bc33.

Multi-Media Works Cited

British Museum. “Interior of a London Coffee-House.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, 2019, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=290256001&objectid=752544.

Farmer, Fannie. “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1906 .” Internet Archive, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 2006, archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563.

Kirsch, Beth. “Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/.

Ostrover, Olivia. “U.S Chocolatiers.” Mapline, 30 Apr. 2019, app.mapline.com/map/map_4f4f4836.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

RAW AFRICA, director. The Two Sisters Reviving Ghana’s Chocolate Market with ’57 Chocolate . YouTube, YouTube, 23 Feb. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU&t=204s.

Robicsek, Francis. “Category:Princeton Vase.” Category:Princeton Vase – Wikimedia Commons, University of Virginia Art Museum , 2019, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.

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, www.thespruceeats.com/the-origin-of-coffee-765180.
  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, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Aug. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-diamandis/from-beer-to-caffeine_b_5538535.html.
  6. [Multimedia Source] Hicks, Stephen. “Coffee and the Enlightenment.” Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., www.stephenhicks.org/2010/01/18/coffee-and-the-enlightenment/.
  7. [Multimedia Source] “The Enlightenment Coffeehouses.” Conversational Leadership, 1 Mar. 2019, conversational-leadership.net/coffee-houses/.
  8. [Multimedia Source] dailysabah.com. “Coffee: The Drink of the Enlightenment.” DailySabah, http://www.dailysabah.com, 5 May 2015, www.dailysabah.com/feature/2015/05/01/coffee-the-drink-of-the-enlightenment.
  9. [Multimedia Source] Simon, Bryant. “Five Myths about Starbucks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-starbucks/2017/11/30/2786c776-d528-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html.
  10. [Multimedia Source] virtuel, L’auteur. “Au Café De La Régence Avec Diderot Et Philidor Le Subtil.” Les Lettres D’ivoire, 19 Apr. 2018, cervieres.com/2018/04/19/au-cafe-de-la-regence-avec-diderot-et-philidor-le-subtil/.

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