While chocolate may just seem like a dessert food to most people today, its main ingredient, cacao, and the tree from which the fruit stems played essential roles in the lives of the people in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. It was associated with fertility rites, marriage rituals, and even rites of death for the Maya people. As illustrated through their mythology, the cacao tree connected generations. Cacao brought people together by being a part of their religion illustrated through vases and by bringing together communities during feasts and celebrations. It established the Mayan hierarchy, and during the feasts of the elite, the people in the local community were able to exchange goods with others outside of the community. The cacao tree and the fruit it bears played a significant role in the religious and community life of the Maya people in the Pre-Columbian era.
The religious significance of the cacao tree for the Mayan people is illustrated through their creation myth. In this myth, the twin sons of the couple who created the universe are beheaded in the Maya underworld, Xibalba, by the lords of the underworld. One of the severed heads, which is now known as the Maize God, is hung up in a cacao tree, like the figure depicted by the lidded vessel below. As the daughter of an Xibalban ruler holds her hand up to the tree one day, the severed head is able to impregnate her. This woman then gives birth to the Hero Twins named Hunahpu and Xbalanque. These twins go on to accomplish a number of exploits and eventually defeat the underworld. They then resurrect their father, the Maize God, as their final task. With their final task completed, they become the sun and the moon (Coe). The cacao tree in this story allows the Maize God to “pass on his procreative seed and to eventually triumph through the heroic deeds of his offspring” (Martin 178). The importance of the cacao tree and its fruit were also passed between communities and generations.
The tree and its fruit connected each generation of the Maya people and permeated Mayan religion in rites like baptism and funerals. During the baptismal ritual, the noble giving the ceremony would dip a bone in a vessel filled with water, flowers, and cacao. With this mixture, “he anointed the children on their foreheads, faces, and in the spaces between the fingers and toes, in complete silence” (Coe). Like the tree that the Maize God manifested himself in allowed him to have children and reconnect with the world, the Maya people would bury people with vases that were used to drink cacao with inscriptions of cacao on them. As the dead traveled to the underworld, the cacao would continue to provide for the Maya as it did when they were alive and would ensure their safe travel (Martin). In addition to rituals, the cacao tree and its fruit played an essential role in the celebrations and community interactions of the Maya people.
During religious ceremonies and celebrations, the Maya would drink from vases that had inscriptions of cacao and the cacao tree. These inscriptions and drawings “made even a sip of chocolate a sacramental act” (Martin 179). The cacao was celebrated by all in the community, but the inscriptions reinforced the Maya rulership as many portrayed Mayan rulers among the deities. The cacao vases demonstrated the order within the community by establishing the power of the elite as they were compared to supernatural deities as shown in the image of a Maya vessel below. They would be exchanged among elites during feasts that “created a forum for sociopolitical alliance formation” (Reents-Budet 209). These feasts then extended to the local community where people from different socioeconomic backgrounds were able to exchange goods which extended their relations beyond the local community. The vases were still present in the lower tier society, although they were not as elaborate as the elite vessels. While the people would offer cacao to the gods for gifts like fertility and rain, it also reinforced “their sense of community by way of a fabric of overlapping rights and obligations developed between sponsors and participants” (Reents-Budet 209). Cacao and the practice of drinking from and giving vases were a central part of the lives of the Mayan people.
Overall, the cacao tree and fruit were central aspects to the religious, social, and economic lives of the Maya people in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. In their creation story, his manifestation in tree enabled the Maize God to give way to the next generation which then resurrected him from the underworld. The importance of the cacao tree and its fruit permeated the Mayan religion and played essential roles in the religious rituals of the people. Cacao was present in the baptismal rites and in the tombs of people, illustrating a connection between cacao and religion. The drinking of cacao and exchange of vases that held cacao and also had inscriptions of the elite and cacao during feasts and celebrations demonstrated order within the Maya community. From these feasts, different people were able to connect and extend relations beyond their local community. Cacao connected people in the community through its role in religious stories and rituals and celebrations among elites.
When we think of chocolate, the usual picture that comes to mind is the sweet, milky, solid treat. However, the true history of chocolate reveals that for the majority of its existence, chocolate was actually served in a liquid form. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that chocolate had been transformed from a drink of the elite to a food of the masses (Coe and Coe, 232).
Cacao was a major crop in pre-Columbian Meso-America as shown in the below map of ancient Mesoamerica. Cacao and the products made from it, have always been politicalized as they have a wide range of economic, social, and cultural values tied to them. As cacao spread from its first encounterings in Mesoamerica to other regions across the world, it exerted power over people by dominating food markets, revolutionizing diets, and having a presence at powerful meetings (Leissel, 64). In ancient Mesoamerica, we see this most through how certain preparations of cacao beverages were intended for the gods and those of the highest social status. The largest difference between these beverages and the more secular day to day ones, was the frothing and fermenting process.
The cacao crop itself takes much handling and processing to get it to a point people of today would be familiar with. In ancient Mesoamerica, the cacao beans were typically dried, and then grounded and beaten into a mixture that contained water, spices and maize (Chase and Chase, 139). Typically, a section of vine called “suqir” was cut out from the pod of the cacao and was then whipped with a wooden beater. This process, created a foam like substance that was always the most cherished part of the cacao beverage (Coe and Coe, 141).
There existed many variations of this simple chocolate drink recipe. Strong evidence on such variations of the making of cacao beverages can be found through the ceramic bowls and containers in which they were made and stored such as the one pictured below (Chase and Chase, 144). From the structure and of these containers and the remains found within them, we can see that some drinks were fermented and others were not. Some were served hot and others were served cold or in between temperatures. Even though most chocolate drinks were specifically made for the elite and ritualistic purposes, others were intended for day to day use.
An example of a common secular day to day drink was known as “chicha”. This beverage was very different from an expected chocolate drink as it was bitter in taste. It had many variations but was always cooked with maize, water and cacao. For more secular purposes, “chicha” was not typically fermented and used limited cacao due to how expensive it was for the average person (Chase and Chase, 143). This drink was mostly drunk hot with a slight froth effect that was created by beating the liquid. To make up for the lack of cacao, extra flavor was typically added such as vanilla or ear flower. Secular drinks such as “chicha,” were an efficient and sustainable way of ingesting calories necessary for one’s day since it was a starchy substance that required a low expenditure of labor and resources to be created (Coe and Coe, 60).
The difference between such secular drinks and those for the lords, typically lied in their fermentation and the amount of cacao used. As described by the Classic Maya, the drinks were, “green, made up of tender cacao; honeyed chocolate [that] …makes one drunk, takes effect on one… it gladdens one, refreshes one, consoles one, invigorates one (Sahagún 1950–82).” Being that cacao was a primary object of exchange between social groups and for important ceremonies, hosts would transform the serving of chocolate drinks into a performance (Chase and Chase, 151). The beverage would be frothed by pouring in ground cacao seeds from above (Chase and Chase, 151). As can be seen below, this display created a what was described as a remarkable effect. Such performances allowed special events to be separated from normal occasions and put more emphasis on social setting and hierarchy.
Even though cacao and the products made with it during ancient Mesoamerica times seemed to be and have quite different uses from what they do now, there actually exist many similarities. Today, there are still many chocolate drinks such as hot chocolate, chocolate milk or even mocha coffees. Much like the cherished frothing process of ancient times, these contemporary drinks are similarly topped with steamed milk or whipped cream to give them the same desirable, creamy effect. Even though these contemporary drinks are more commonly accessible and not just used primarily for special occasion, they reveal the influence that ancient Mesoamerican culture has had on us. Quite honestly, it shows the lasting, universal and indescribable power behind cacao and chocolate products.
Chase, Arlen F., and Diane Z. Chase. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a Cultural History of Cacao. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Sahagún, Bernardino de, et al. Florentine Codex.. The School of American Research and the Univ. of Utah, 1982.
Across the countries of Enlightenment era Europe, elites distinguished themselves from other social classes through their exclusive social and consumption practices—musical evenings with private orchestras, fluency in multiple languages, and international travel as exemplified in the Grand Tour of the Continent’s most fascinating historical sites (Jacob, 2016). These class-defining practices notably included the drinking of chocolate as a beverage. Taken this way, chocolate “had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans”—i.e. the Olmecs and Mayans who first invented the idea of processing cacao beans into a chocolate drink—and it “stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe and Coe, 2019).
The relationship between chocolate consumption and the social position, ideology and religion of particular individuals in the Enlightenment period is not a simple one, however. While chocolate was clearly an elite drink that was also associated with the Catholic church, a more detailed investigation of consumption patterns and preferences among Enlightenment individuals shows that we cannot simply read off a person’s social position, religious outlook or ideological commitments from their beverage consumption preferences—nor vice versa. To try to do so would lead to serious error, and to understand the situations and choices of particular individuals it is necessary to look at the meanings they attached to various beverages, and the compromises they may have made in regard to their values, in a more nuanced way.
The Enlightenment period is considered to have been approximately coextensive with the 18th century in Europe (Robertson, 2015). Why did chocolate remain associated with the social elite in general over such a long period of time, in countries from Spain and Italy to France and England? Part of the answer is illuminated when we examine the slow progress made during the 18th century toward making chocolate more affordable through mechanical manufacture. Although Europeans had first become familiar with imbibing chocolate during the Renaissance, as late as 1772 the famous Encycopédie compiled by Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert depicted contemporary methods of chocolate manufacture that had barely advanced from those of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (Coe and Coe, 2019).
In fact, some modest advances in mechanizing chocolate manufacture did occur during the Enlightenment period, notably in Great Britain’s American colonies, as well as in France. In 1765, a Massachusetts chocolate-making firm began used water power to grind cocoa beans, and in 1776 a hydraulic machine that could reduce chocolate to paste was invented in France (Morton and Morton, 1986). But it was not until the second quarter of the 19th century, with the invention of a new process of cacao refinement in Holland, that things really began to change (Coe and Coe, 2019).
This stagnation in technological progress helped to keep chocolate expensive during the Enlightenment era—and consequently out of reach middle class consumers, who had little choice but to choose cheaper drinks—notably coffee—instead. In the coffee-houses of 18th century Venice, for example, a cup of chocolate cost three times the price of a cup of coffee (Coe and Coe, 2019). In consequence, coffee remained by far the more popular drink in the Serene Republic.
This consumption pattern was not repeated across other Italian cities, however. In Rome and Naples chocolate remained the drink of choice. The foundation for Venice’s distinctive preference for coffee would appear to lie in the city’s historical success as a seafaring, trading republic that had first made its fortune as the gateway to Europe at the western terminus of the Silk Route (Norwich, 2012). The commercial origins of Venice’s wealth resulted in a civic culture dominated by its mercantile class, a social reality we see reflected in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. By contrast, in other Italian cities, most notably in the papal city of Rome and at the Vatican itself, chocolate was consumed heavily. The situation was similar in Naples, which was ruled by the Spanish branch of the royal Bourbon dynasty. The dominance of these latter cities by royal and aristocratic elites has been implicated by their citizens’ prevailing preference for chocolate over coffee, in contrast to the coffee-oriented beverage culture of Venice (Coe and Coe, 2019).
These differing patterns in chocolate consumption helped to justify the outlook of anti-clerical radicals of the era, who associated chocolate drinking with the oppressive Catholic Church (Coe and Coe, 2019). This does not mean, however, that all such radicals eschewed chocolate drinking. The case of Voltaire, perhaps the greatest anti-clerical thinker of the age, is instructive in this regard. While we might expect Voltaire to have been very much a coffee-drinker on the basis of his social position and ideological orientation, there is considerable evidence for his liking of chocolate as well as coffee. It is recorded, for example, that when Prussia’s young music- and art-loving king Frederick the Great invited the old philosophe to stay with him in 1740, much chocolate was imbibed by both (Sorel, 1998). Moreover, Voltaire maintained a liking for chocolate, as well as coffee, to the end of his life. The Marquis de Condorcet, youngest of the great philosophes, visited the elderly Voltaire at his estate at Ferney near Geneva in 1770. Condorcet later recorded that “a dozen cups of coffee mixed with chocolate” constituted “the only nourishment which M. de Voltaire took from five in the morning till three in the afternoon” (Condorcet, 2020). Even after the French Revolution, Voltaire appears to have “remained sufficiently of the ancien régime to prefer his morning chocolate … over all other hot drinks” (Coe and Coe, 2019). This was despite the cacao for the chocolate having being produced by slave labor.
Nor was chocolate automatically the preferred choice of the religiously inclined. Many of the musical compositions of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) that ostensibly appear entirely secular arguably bear the distinctive imprint of his Lutheran piety (Gaines, 2005). Moreover, although Bach’s life extended well into the Enlightenment era, his religious commitments appear to have made him resist the period’s secularized, religion-questioning avant garde culture. This caused tensions during his visit with Frederick the Great in 1747, when the old composer’s religious temperament led him to clash fiercely with the young king’s advanced Enlightenment outlook (Gaines, 2005). For Bach, chocolate may have been associated less with the Catholic church than with elite social, artistic and intellectual preferences that he would have regarded as questionable, to say the least. This is speculative and asks for further investigation. But perhaps differences in Bach’s and Frederick’s preferred beverages accentuated, or at least reflected, their intellectual and religious differences. At all events, while Bach wrote a cantata in praise of coffee, he wrote nothing about chocolate (Coe and Coe, 2019).
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019
Condorcet, Nicholas. Life of Voltaire. Web. 6 March 2020
William Cadbury brought a lot of controversy and contradiction to his beliefs about the laborers in São Tomé in the early 20th century. He expressed that he wanted to reform labor conditions in Portuguese West Africa by not working with cocoa planters from there (Satre 24). However, what Cadbury said and did were two different things. Cadbury and his comrade, Joseph Burtt created what seemed like a mission to show the public that they would not do business with corrupt purchasing of cocoa beans and would explore the life of black laborers to discover the truth regarding how they were treated (Satre 74). Cadbury proved to be slow to action and did not want to participate in a boycott to maintain good relationships with the Portuguese government even when missionaries advised him that a boycott would help bring positive change to stop slavery and the abuses of laborers (Satre 78). In this work, I argue that William Cadbury carried out a facade to uncover slavery, the cacao laborers’ working conditions, and to help the Portuguese recognize that slavery existed so they would end it. I believe Cadbury intentions were to give his company a positive reputation, so the British would continue to buy Cadbury’s cacao products and disillusion the public that the company was making amends with Portugal to stop slavery in West Africa.
Cadbury knew slavery was going on but he did nothing about it. Lowell J. Satre in Chocolate on Trail claims, “The Cadbury company had good reason to be troubled about labor conditions on the island of São Tomé. Management opposed the abuse of workers, yet in 1900, the firm had purchased over 45 percent of its cocoa beans from the island” (18-19). Satre helps us understand that the intentions and goals of the Cadbury Bros company were to remain idle with issues regarding slavery and severe labor abuses. Cadbury’s goal was not to be a humanitarian but to be a profitable capitalist and to maintain close ties with the Portuguese. He felt he needed to have cacao imported from São Tomé, while he turned a blind eye on the need to fight for Africans’ civil rights and warnings from the Anti-Slavery Society that was established in 1839 (Satre 19). Satre further asserts, “Aside from the report that Burtt produced, however, the Cadbury company had in four years accomplished nothing for slaves who produced the cocoa beans” (99). Cadbury sent Burtt to the islands to gather information about the conditions of laborers but it is clear Cadbury was not too concerned about the outcome because he proceeded to give time to the Portuguese to reform and set conditions for laborers to “be paid a minimum wage, 40 percent of which would be placed in a repatriation fund. These new regulations also furnished protection against illegal labor recruitment” (Satre 23). These reforms did not take place and Cadbury failed to reinforce better working conditions (Satre 99).
Cadbury advertisements acted as a cover and disillusionment to the public that cacao products were “pure” and innocent when really the production of cacao is exploitative of African labor. The picture entitled, “Drink Cadbury’s Cocoa” below with the couple is not only a marketing tool but is also a tactic to psychologically distract consumers from the cruelty and horrors of slavery by convincing its audience that the product gives a sense of being calm and at peace when drinking the beverage ( “Cocoa Advert with Rower 1885”). Interestingly in small print at the bottom of the ad, it says, “In the whole process of manufacture, the automatic machinery employed obviates the necessity of its being once touched by human hand” (“Cadbury’s Cocoa Advert with Rower 1885”). Cadbury here attempts to persuade his buyers that the process of obtaining (before it gets to the machines that purifies it) the cacao beans is natural and workers are involved in honest and safe labor practices to manipulate people. In reality laborers endure injustices and are falsely promised they have the option to return to their country when their contract has ended, and the workers are barely fed and physically beaten very badly.
The Slave Life
The abuses that the enslaved Africans faced was unbearable. They underwent harsh psychological and physical trauma. They were separated from their families and sold by West African chiefs or traders unknowing of the European treatment towards their people they were selling (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”). Some of the Africans decided to kill themselves before leaving their country because they heard rumors of being eaten or were worried about an unknown fate (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”). The slaves had to be taken to the Europeans on the coast, and they traveled for miles in chains (“The Transatlantic Slave Trade”) like the image below (ZekethePhotographer, “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Artifact”). The West Africans were treated as property and commodities. Inadequate nutrition, diseases, sexual abuse, and punishment was extremely taxing to the captives, and many died as a result (“Life on Board Slave Ships”).
Better standards since the 1700’s on ships were implemented by the French and British in 1800 but still one in eighteen captives died during sea transportation, and this ill treatment continued far beyond into the twenty century to the enslaved people (“Life on Board Slave Ships”). The picture below illustrates a young enslaved woman being tortured by Europeans as a form of disciplining her for disobeying whatever heinous rules were implemented (“African Woman Slave Trade”). I argue that Cadbury did not care about the black laborers and he only cared about profits. He covered up injustices like shown below that were frequent in the life of slave; being whipped, chained, beaten, raped, not fed or clothed properly, and severely objectified in numerous ways. I believe Cadbury sent Burtt on the trip to Africa and have Burtt write a story to be published of his experiences to distract the Europeans from Cadbury supporting slave grown cacao. Cadbury helped reinforce slavery through his business and supported plantation owners by buying their cacao. Thanks to Cadbury and other chocolate manufacturers of his time, this perpetuated to racism, and Africans and African Americans experience inequality in the workforce, with housing, and more is still seen today.
Reforms Finally but are They too Weak?
Outbreaks and riots took place in 1953 where several hundred African laborers were killed by Portuguese rulers (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). In the late 1950’s this changed and a small group São Toméans formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP) (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). The new Portuguese regime disestablished the colonies it constructed overseas (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”). In 1990 São Tomé became one of the first African countries to embrace democratic reform and changes to its constitution with non-violent actions (“History of São Tomé and Príncipe”).
However, child labor has had little improvement. In 2017, São Tomé and Príncipe did little to abolish the worst forms of child labor (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). The government tried to end it by giving resources to support centers to have children stay in school (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). Regardless of the government efforts, São Tomé and Príncipe have child labor occurring in commercial sexual exploitation (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”) and partake in hazardous tasks in agriculture (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). The poor resources override law enforcement agencies to enforce child labor laws (“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Sao Tomé and Principe”). I further argue that regardless of some of these movements, labor abuses still occur today and we still get cacao from São Tomé with poor regulation of farmers working conditions.
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.
For 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.
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
With a 4000-year history, beginning in Central America with the Mesoamericans, the tradition of drinking chocolate has evolved immensely over the years. Chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink for almost nine-tenths of its history, but today we mostly think of chocolate in its solid form. It’s transformation has taken place from a luxury, within the reach of only royalty and wealthy elites, to being mass-produced, sugary, sweet, containing little to no cacao at all. The spicy, bitter, foamy xocolatl once associated only with decadence and luxury has now been relegated to a sweetened, inferior product by the industry, severely diminishing its place in society.
From as early as 1000 BCE, chocolate was a sacred, invaluable, refreshing, exotic and even a magical beverage. For the Mesoamericans, the drink went far beyond the health benefits and the aphrodisiac qualities that many of us have come to associate with chocolate. The ceremonial, pleasurable, elite drink was used to show high hospitality; served only to lords, the wealthy and the revered merchants and considered to be “an ambrosia from the rich and exotic lands of Anahuac, not something to wash down one’s food [with]”(Coe & Coe, 95). This drink was a powerful elixir with its exotic flavorings and prized foam, famous amongst the rulers, warriors and explorers alike. It was considered sacred during marriages, nourishing for militaries, sacrificial in religious ceremonies and an after-dinner drink that was enjoyed with smoking tubes of tobacco (Coe & Coe, 95). Such high status and social stratum, evident throughout the history of the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, earned the chocolate drink a special prestige in society and its ultimate spread into Europe. Curious and eager to adopt, the Spaniards carried the tradition of drinking chocolate into the Iberian Peninsula.
Assimilating to the New World culture and slowly developing a taste for the bitter chocolate drink, the Spaniards maintained the elevated status associated with the drink. Mesmerized by an elaborate process of fermenting, roasting, winnowing and finally crushing the cacao nibs to form chocolate liquor, the Spaniards adopted the entire routine to preserve the originality and prestige of the drink. The delicate preparation of the final beverage, which was dissolved in water, mixed with varieties of spices, and poured from one container to another to achieve highly prized foam made the drink suitable only for the Spanish elites. Marcy Norton clearly establishes the illustriousness and admiration for the drink:
“Drinking chocolate was a complex somatic experience for pre- Columbian and colonial Indians. The emphasis put on flower spices, the frothy foam, the special drinking vessels, and the requisite reddish hue shows that chocolate was valued not only for its effects on the taste buds, but also for the stimulation of the olfactory, tactile, visual, and affective senses. “ (Norton, 675)
The elaboration and meticulousness associated with the preparation of the drink allowed the Spaniards, among other factors, to overcome their revulsion for the bitter drink. The addition of spices and exotic flavorings further added to the appeal of drinking chocolate and encouraged the Spaniards to assimilate the drink into their culture.
Knowing no other way, the Spaniards adopted the entire paraphernalia associated with the Mesoamerican way of preparing and consuming the stimulant chocolate beverage. The use of achiote for sensory pleasures, j ́ıcara for sipping the chocolate and molinillo for frothing it, all came to be accepted and prized by the Spaniards as a way to enjoy drinking chocolate (Norton, 683). The Spaniards maintained the entire sensory experiences and embraced the various spices ranging from Tlixochitl, mecaxo ́chitl, achiote, chili peppers, and Xochinacaztli (Norton, 672). Each version of the drink prepared with these various spices elevated the complexity and prestige of the final drink. However, over the course of time, the New World spices were increasingly replaced by Old World and Oriental spices like cinnamon, black pepper, anise, rose and sesame (Norton, 684). The replacements of the New World spices and flavorings, to stimulate the European taste, took away what was essentially centuries old ways of consuming and enjoying chocolate. The new wave of seasonings and later, the replacement of honey with large amounts of sugar further deviated the drink from its sacred, exotic image to an inferior, affordable and heavily sugared beverage.
The desire to sweeten chocolate in many ways led to the massive imports of tropical commodities like sugar. Much like cacao, initially revered as a spice afforded only by the rich, sugar was a prized tropical commodity for several centuries. It wasn’t until the 19th century when the free trade movement led to a sharp decline in sugar prices leading to mass affordability. The English welcomed the sweetening of “coffee, chocolate, and tea [which] became customary […] because they were bitter as well as unfamiliar” (Mintz, 137). The Spaniards, similar to the English, began increasingly sweetening their beverages to suit their taste buds. This explosive consumption of sugar took hold among all sectors of the society and the chocolate drink slowly began its decline to eventually being reduced only to a heap of sugar.
Fueled by colonialism, this heavy intake of sugar in stimulant drinks changed the entire landscape for tropical commodities and paved the way to industrialization. As Sidney Mintz argues that tea, coffee, and chocolate beverages, along with sugar, helped to fuel industrialization (Mintz, 186) and as Norton says, “Atlantic commerce directly fueled the peculiar European dynamism that culminated in the Industrial Revolution” (Norton, 665). Out of this revolution, various machines and processes were invented that changed forever the way chocolate was consumed. Creations like the Melangur and Van Houten’s “Dutching” process gave rise to a new era of chocolate making. The 1828 invention essentially defatted the chocolate liquor to a point where the resulting product contained only 28 percent cacao (Coe, 234) and left behind a “mass or a cake that could easily dissolve in water to make a chocolate drink ” (“Cocoa Dolce”). This alkalized Dutch treatment of the cacao nibs although improved the chocolate powder’s miscibility in water, it took away the complex aromatic flavors associated with the cacao beans that produce good quality drinking chocolate. The era of industrialization ushered the invention of the easily prepared and digestible drink, which gradually dethroned the once revered thick, foamy, exotic beverage.
The massive advances in technology, industrialization and cacao farming led to a dramatic fall in price of cocoa and cocoa powder. Giant industries like Fry’s, Cadbury and Rowntree “made possible the large-scale manufacture of cheap chocolate for the masses” (Coe, 235). Industrialization and the availability of cheap, bulk cacao made chocolate affordable and popular; however the chocolate produced this way lacked complexity and depth of flavor. And so, it was made palatable only with the addition of “sugar and other spices like cinnamon and perfumes” (Sciscenti). As sugar started flooding the European market “more sugar was added and the spices were stripped away until it arrived at its classic American incarnation: sugary sweet, thin and without much actual cocoa” (Sciscenti). As a result, the chocolate drink, saturated with sugar and removed of all exotic New World spices, was now a far-fetched cry from the original drink of the Mesoamericans or even the Spaniards adaptation.
Recent years have seen an even greater increase in sugar consumption. Statistics show that “200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, Americans ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year” (Martin). Mass affordability of sugar has exasperated the problem. Labels on nearly every food item show sugar as a main ingredient and chocolate drinks have not escaped this trend. In fact, the tremendous amount of sugar added helps the manufactures mask the flavor off-notes of poor quality cacao. In comparison, as cacao is naturally bitter and acidic, the typical sugar content in a chocolate bar can range from 0-40%. While this is normal to please our palates, an unwholesome amount of sugar with little to no cocoa content in chocolate drinks has become the norm. For example, Nestlé’s Nesquik chocolate powder contains 78.5% or 11g of sugar per serving with only 2% of cacao processed with alkali (“Nesquik Powder Chocolate 9.3 Oz”). Nestle is a global brand leader in chocolate drinks and its popularity only demonstrates a trend towards lowering the chocolate drink to a heap of sugar. The sugar combined with the alkali process further demotes the product by severely mellowing the chocolate taste. The alkali process saps the flavonoids off of the chocolate drink, forcing the manufacturers to enhance the taste by introducing more sugar. This vicious cycle has not only offered a substandard taste to the drink but has also become the culprit to various health problems.
In recent years, despite heavy criticism, Nesquik and its competitors have only seen a boost in their sales and will continue to see so. According to the Euromonitor’s International data, Nestlé alone is “predicted to generate around US$340 million sales in 2015-2019” (Lee, 2015). While many reasons provide explanation for this trend, the most frequently used is the addition of sugar helps children drink more milk and “build strong bones, one glass at a time” (Hein). Although the added sugar in Nesquik chocolate milk drink inches towards the daily recommendation by the WHO, a few organizations have said flavored milk increases milk consumption in children (Hein). However, this is not a solution to encourage milk consumption; instead it is an exploitation of children’s natural affinities to sugar, whose increased consumption has only led to a widespread obesity endemic and early onset of diabetes. Nestlé and other companies have hence played a huge role in degrading the chocolate drink by promoting it as a healthy milk product and as a result have encouraged consumption of excess sugar, unhealthy eating habits, and poor nutrition.
To further understand this trend, we must look towards the role of advertising in reducing the chocolate drink to what it has become. In the 1930s and 40s, children featured prominently in ads “all growing stronger through drinking cocoa” (Robertson, 39). Characters like Honeybunch and Coco, although representing a wider context of racial discrimination, were invented to greatly influence children and heed upon the philosophies of cradle to grave loyalty. In Rowntree cocoa’s case, such ads, campaigns and invention of lovable characters were used to “add a psychological value inseparable from Rowntree’s brand of cocoa, to an extent that they will exert pressure on the mother [to buy the product]” (Robertson, 41). These ‘special mascots’ in advertisements create brand loyalty amongst children and places an immense pressure over parents to buy these drinks under the pretense of boosting milk consumption.
Rowntree’s cocoa ad with Honeybunch
Nesquik’s popularity is largely in part to the ‘Quicky’ bunny character that has enchanted so many young children and has helped Nestle build a brand loyalty. Similar to Rowntree’s Honeybunch and Coco, Quicky personifies the Nestle brand and helps in portraying the product as nutritious and healthy. The “physically active [and] energetic” (Daneshkhu) Quicky has been able to capture children’s imaginations as an animated character promoting health benefits and good nutritional habits. However, despite Quicky’s endorsements, chocolate remains a drink laden with sugar, and only a few traces of cocoa. It promotes no nutritional value, offers dull taste and flavor and is a far cry from what once used to be a healthy, wholesome nutritious drink of the Mesoamerican elites.
To promote the “healthy” cocoa drink and to increase profits, chocolate manufacturers, in the mid to late twentieth century decided to cover a broader range of the population and extend the advertisements to target women. Companies like Rowntree and Cadbury used advertisements to help women express cultural identity and gain social meaning (Robertson, 19). A woman was considered savvy, thoughtful, caring and clever if she unfailingly fed her family cocoa, thereby fulfilling her social role in the society. In fact, the big chocolate manufacturers successfully used cocoa to portray women as “both the devoted mother (a demonstration of maternal love), and the savvy housewife (economical, efficient, nutritious)” (Robertson, 21). The focus around efficiency grew and chocolate soon became an instant hot cocoa mix, which a mother can easily prepare for her child without supposedly losing its nutritional value. The specific targeting of the cocoa drink to women thus allowed companies to falsely advertise a much inferior ‘fast food’ chocolate as a wholesome invention.
The cocoa manufacturers continued to capitalize on the ever-changing conditions of the twentieth century and altered strategies in order to appeal to a higher social class of consumers. They revived the luxury associated with chocolate by advertising in social magazines and newspapers, which were read presumably by socially aspiring classes. Robertson clearly highlights this:
To lend even greater sophistication to the product, the advertising copy then emphasized that [the] cocoa was on a par with that tasted on the Continent: ‘Once it was a fixed belief that to drink chocolate at its best you had to drink it in Paris. Now…you can make at home a pot of chocolate worthy of a cordon bleu.’ (Robertson, 26).
This luxury appeal and ‘aspirational’ consumption of a pleasurable commodity, over time, came to be associated more with chocolate assortments in various different connotations. Despite the advertising efforts of promoting a domesticated, wholesome, nutritious, healthy product, the chocolate drink, in reality, underwent no such transformation and instead continued to be targeted to kids and be cheaply manufactured.
To understand the sugar epidemic in chocolate drinks, it is important to look at the sourcing practices. From the beginnings in São Tomé and Príncipe, big chocolate companies have had questionable cacao sourcing practices. They have ignored the problem of child slavery and exploitation of farmers for many decades and still continue to do so. A recent lawsuit against the big chocolate companies revealed how the practice of sourcing cacao from West Africa still uses child slave labor. Despite the establishment of the Harkin-Engel protocol, the big chocolate companies have shown little to no improvement in their practices. Nestle for its part, founded the Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan in 2013 which is now the primary source for its products and chocolate drinks but it falls short in “involving the communities affected, supporting women and children by paying living wages, and helping consumers to clearly understand the food supply chain” (Hoffman). Millions of farmers and laborers who are providing us with a precious raw commodity are still living in poverty and the lack of capital has not only led to poor standards of living but also stagnant farming practices. With no invention, technology, education of sustainable farming or familiarization with the taste of the cacao produced, the chocolate used in these chocolate drinks will continue to be of low quality.
However, there is hope for the revered drink to make a comeback. In the past decade or so, a few artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate makers are changing the tide in favor of ethically sourced, good quality beans to make superior cocoa for drinking chocolate. One of those companies leading the trend is Escazu. Their micro batch bars made entirely on a small scale with ancient equipment provides a strong contrast to the richer, sweeter American-style cocoa produced on an industrial scale by the big chocolate companies. Escazu has even gone as far as reinventing a recipe from 1631, which they believe to be one of the first chocolate drinking recipes to be published. They have modernized this drink by using “whole spices to steep the drinking chocolates, which are made with hot water, like a strong tea, as opposed to milk-based American cocoas. The beverages are strained and frothed with the steam spigot of an espresso machine just before serving” (Lucas). Escazu is demonstrating to consumers and its peers that chocolate drinks can be complex and innovative. For such small companies, this is a very expensive endeavor and to take drinking chocolate to this level shows the commitment and dedication to revive the chocolate drinking culture.
Another artisanal chocolate maker at the forefront of drinking chocolates is Taza. Far from the imagery of Oompa-Loompa’s and chocolate rivers, this 100 percent bean-to-bar company has aimed for a more grown up image and taste (Thornell). It achieves this by adding low amounts of sugar, and by grinding “its cacao beans in traditional Mexican molinos, hand-carved stone mills”(Thornell). This anciently adapted process makes Taza different. The distinct gritty mouth feel of the chocolate requires a more mature palate and an acquired taste. Much like Escazu, due to their better sourcing and innovative use of ancient techniques, they are able to keep the sugar content low, raise the complexity of flavors and therefore elevate this drink. This experience encourages consumers to familiarize and immerse themselves in a new chocolate world.
These companies show that there can be a bright future for the art of crafting drinking chocolate. The industry can evolve to bring back flavor and respect that chocolate, as a drink deserves. It is not necessary to be forced onto the technologies of the industrialization era but instead tools should be developed on bringing flavor, complexity and richness to the masses. Sugar is a great ingredient that is still needed but the industry must realize the impact of sugar on our society. Innovative solutions to reduce sugar consumptions while providing a great product must be thought of collectively. The effort the industry needs to make must involve out of the box solutions that address taste, affordability and sustainability.