Tag Archives: Europe

Europe Conquers the New World, Chocolate Conquers Europe

To study the history of chocolate in Europe since the 17th century is to study the socioeconomic climate of the time throughout Europe.  The introduction of chocolate to the European continent occurred via the Spanish conquistadors who discovered the cacao beans and the chocolate drink made from these beans when they interacted with the indigenous peoples.  It is believed that in 1544 Europe got their first taste of chocolate prepared in this way when the conquistadors reported back to the Spanish court with a delegation of Kekchi Mayan Indians who bore gifts for their conquerors, including beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24).  From the Spanish court, chocolate made its way into the lives of the elites in Spain, England and France, as well as other European countries, before becoming the staple commodity widely available to all social classes that it has become today.  Although the nations of Spain, England and France were distinct and undergoing different social and political climates during the time of the arrival of chocolate in the Old World, the history of chocolate consumption in these countries does share the commonality that in both chocolate began as a luxury affordable only to those of greater means before it became the widely accessible commodity it is known as today.


Mayan vase from Chama.  Source: The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised by Marcela E. Presilla

The above image is of a Maya vase from Chama, a region of Guatemala in which cacao is harvested, and shows a chieftain like that of the Kekchi Mayans being carried in a hammock, as was the chief of the Kekchi when he first introduced chocolate to Philip II of Spain.

Spain was one of several European countries to be impacted by the arrival of chocolate from the New World.  Although accounts vary as to how it got to Spain, it is known for certain that by the first half of the seventeenth century the same chocolate that the Spanish creole of Mexico were drinking had integrated into the Spanish Court (Coe, 131).  The way that it was consumed, however, was much more regal than it had been in present-day Mexico.  As it was coveted primarily by the Spanish royals, the way in which this chocolate was consumed became more refined over time.  In the mid-17th century the viceroy of Peru, Marques de Mancera invented a device to prevent ladies from spilling their chocolate onto their finery; The mancerina featured a silver saucer with a large ring in the middle into which a small cup would fit snugly and offered a solution for those noble Spaniards who had the luxury of owning valuable clothing worth protecting from chocolate (Coe, 135).  In fact, chocolate was so commonplace to these Spanish elites that around 1680 it was common to serve it and other sweets to officials during the public executions of the Spanish Inquisition (Snodgrass, 207).  Cosimo de’ Medici of Spain, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany, was also known to consume chocolate liberally during the public and grand events of the Spanish nobility of Baroque Spain, including while watching a bullfight with the Spanish king, and earned himself a reputation as a “chocoholic” resultantly  (Coe, 135). 


The Mancerina. Source: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

The origin of chocolate in France is not known with certainty.  But its association with nobility was not very different in France than it was in Spain.  In Louis XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles chocolate was a staple served at all public events hosted for the French elite.  It wasn’t until the King’s wife died and he married the conservative Madame de Maintenon that the ruler became thrifty and consumption of chocolate in the palace ended (Coe, 156).  Like the Spanish, the French had appropriated special vessels for serving chocolate.  The chocolatiere, a long vessel with a spout, hinged lid and a straight wooden handle, both poured and frothed the chocolate for serving and was surely made of silver if it was to be used by elites (Smithsonian, 2015).  In France, as in other parts of Europe, the drinking of chocolate was at times taboo for women.  When the Infanta Maria Teresa married the King of France in 1660, she brought Spanish women to serve in her court but was forbidden from drinking chocolate with them and took to doing so in private, as the act was not permissible for noble French women (Coe, 154).  However, this taboo did not last long; In 1671 the marquis de Sevigne wrote to her ill daughter that chocolate would make her well again saying:

“But you are not well, you have hardly slept, chocolate will set you up again.  But you do not have a chocolatiere [chocolate-pot]; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?  Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me.” (Coe, 155)

During this time, chocolate had a reputation for being untouchable to those of modest means.  Recently at Hampton Court Palace researchers discovered a chocolate kitchen, a room in which the King’s personal chocolatier procured chocolate delights for the King and his court on a daily basis.  So essential was this indulgence to the King that his chocolatier was known to travel with him to provide him with his sweet supply.  As in France and Spain, the luxuriousness of consuming chocolate was not limited to the food itself but also included the means by which the chocolate was consumed.  Pots for serving the beverage were often made of silver or gold.  In fact, William III is reputed to have used a chocolate pot that was made of gold and weighed 33 oz!  Many were employed in the making of chocolate and the associated paraphernalia and these costs associated with consumption meant that the drink was unattainable for many (Historic Royal Palaces, 2014)

The article linked below was published by the Smithsonian Institute and outlines the rise and fall of chocolate as the food of nobility.  At one point it details the means by which chocolate eventually became accessible to people of all classes in Europe and the United States.  The Industrial Revolution was in large part to thank for driving down the costs associated with chocolate consumption during the 19th century.  For example, it was during this time that Coenraad Van Houton invented the cocoa process, which created cocoa powder, a staple ingredient of many chocolate products consumed today.  While it is easy to see chocolate today as something that is off-limits to no one, to understand the history of chocolate is to understand that in Europe the commodity began as a luxury to be enjoyed by only those of the highest privilege.



Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver (photographer).  (2012). Mancerina.  [digital image].  Retrieved from: http://www.ascasonline.org/newsGENNA104.html

Baker, Mary Louise. (Photographer). (1926).  Rollout watercolor of the Ratinlixul vase from Guatemala.  [digital image].  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

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

Historic Royal Palaces.  (2014, September 3).  The making of the chocolate kitchen [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QslIjfi_-I

Righthand, J. (2015).  A brief history of the chocolate pot.  Smithsonian Institute.  Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/

Presilla, M.E. (2009).  The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes.  Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Snodgrass, M.E. (2004).  Encyclopedia of kitchen history.  New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.

From Elite to Everyday – How Chocolate Became Affordable For All

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

(Maya God Grinding Coco – Worldstandards.eu)

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


(King Louis XIII – NNDB)

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

chocolate house

(English Chocolate House – Worldstandards.eu)

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

(Van Houten Press & Chocolate Factory – Worldstandards.eu)

[1] Worldstandards.eu

[2] Worldstandards.eu

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chocolate’s Journey from Medicine to Food

In The Prisoner of Azkaban, as Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts to begin his third year at school, his train is ambushed by a group of wraiths. One of them attacks Harry, leaving him cold and shaking at the floor of his compartment. Luckily for the young wizard, a fellow traveler hands Harry a piece of chocolate; Harry then “took a bite and to his great surprise felt warmth spread suddenly to the tips of his fingers and toes” (86).

In a world where wizards and witches travel by broomstick, mend wounds with a wave of a wand, and slay larger-than-life beasts, it is chocolate that heals an ailing wizard? Maybe chocolate’s history has something to bear on this interpretation: might there be clues in the cultural history of chocolate why this substance has special powers of health?

In its first uses by Europeans, chocolate was associated with medicine, credited with healing a variety number of human ailments. Part of this is because chocolate, containing caffeine and theobromine (both stimulants) does have a measurable effect on mood—but its status as an elixir can be traced back to Europeans’ early understanding of the product.

Seventeenth-century Europeans understood their own bodies as composed of four humors; you’re healthy when they’re in balance. In this precarious scale, it was important to know where your foods fit in: were they moist, cold, hot, dry? For sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans, chocolate (along with sugar and coffee and tea) presented a profound problem of classification, as they were encountering it for the first time (Coe 128).

Title page from a 1652 pamphlet promoting the health benefits of chocolate prepared and consumed correctly.

Perhaps chocolate was medicine, good for your humors if you took it correctly. Many pages of the 1652 publication “Chocolate: Or, An Indian Drinke,” an English translation of a Spanish text that extols the benefits of chocolate, are devoted to debating the food’s true properties: Is it dry, or wet? Is it hot, or cool? The author concedes that chocolate is sometimes hot and sometimes cool, sometimes moist and sometimes dry. Moderation is key—it’s bound to be good for you under the right conditions. Can you add cinnamon, or would that be too hot? Are there times of the year where it might be more beneficial? In the following passage, he advises the seasons to drink it: “You may take it till the Moneth of May, especially in temperate dayes. But I doe not approve, that in the Dogdayes it should be taken in Spaine, unlesse it be one, who by custome of taking it, receives no prejudice by it” (37). In other words, don’t drink it when it’s hot out, unless you like to drink it when it’s hot out.

As the food historian Ken Albala has pointed out, physicians had financial incentive to promote chocolate as a pharmaceutical: “In thriving competition with those who sold chocolate for mere pleasure, physicians insisted that chocolate is more properly a medicine than a food and they utilized any available explanatory system to bolster their arguments” (Albala 54). Indeed, the mental calisthenics of classifying foods to these categories pushed Nicolas Blegny, the physician to King Louis XIV, to complain about the “useless reasoning of one who comes to the conclusion that chocolate is cold, the arguments of another who sustains that it’s hot, in a word which leads to another pretending to prove that it’s tempered”(quoted in Albala 67). And this problem, combined with the ever-expanding medicinal uses of chocolate and the uptick in its recreational use, would slowly erode the product’s early stature as a powerful medicine.

1930s Hershey’s advertisement promoting chocolate syrup for health

While medicine may have provided chocolate with a point of entry into the European household, historians point out that therapeutic uses of cacao quickly gave way to recreational ones. Sophie and Michael Coe write, “soon [chocolate] became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation” (126). Sidney Mintz takes a similarly utilitarian view of sugar—another new, exotic food entering European diets—that can be applied to chocolate as well: “The former medicinal purposes of sugar were now assimilated into a new function, that of a source of calories” (Mintz 108). These historians claim that by the late 17th century, these new, possibly miraculous substances introduced into Europe just decades before had become demystified. Once potential drugs and dangers, they became food.

But can we leave the story there? After sugar became merely a source of calories and chocolate became merely a consumer good, the forces of industrialization and commercialization began to pick up some of the threads where early medicine left off. Advertisements, not physicians, could make new claims about the health benefits chocolate had to offer. In this way, chocolate companies the new physicians, eager to sell exclusive formulas to an audience eager for novel concoctions.

A popular strategy to market chocolate was to promote its contributions to health.

Early 20th century advertisement for chocolate as a restorative.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, candymakers made claims about the virtues of chocolate for children, for workers, for women. A 1900 Hershey’s advertisement called their bars “more sustaining than meat.” Another from the early 20th century depicts children climbing chocolate jars on their way to better health. Another advertisement from Baker’s makes the claim that doctors are recommending the chocolate to fight fatigue. Maybe all of these strategies, which now seem wrongheaded, come from the same tradition of promoting chocolate as something to restore our humors, reset our balance, when deployed correctly. They want to draw on the uncertain line between medicine and food.

After all, if chocolate can restore vitality to the world’s most famous wizard, imagine what it can do for us muggles.

Works Cited
Albala, Ken. “The Use and Abuse of Chocolate in 17th Century Medical Theory,” 2007 Food and Foodways, 15:1-2 (2007): 53-74.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Colmenero de Ledesma, Antonio, Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke By the wise and Moderate use whereof, Health is preserved, Sicknesse Diverted, and Cured, especially the Plague of the Guts; vulgarly called The New Disease; Fluxes, Consumptions, & Coughs of the Lungs, with sundry other desperate Diseases. By it also, Conception is Caused, the Birth Hastened and facilitated, Beauty Gain’d and continued. Trans. James Wadsworth. London: John Dakins, 1652. Available from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21271/21271-h/21271-h.htm (Accessed March 10, 2017).
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.

Chocolate – Elixir or Poison?

We see the articles pop up from time to time – chocolate is the new cure for every health affliction. It lowers this, supports that and treats everything else.  This concept of using chocolate to heal isn’t novel.  The origins of it’s healing properties date back to Mesoamerica and have evolved over the subsequent centuries.  But as chocolate became consumed by the masses thanks to producers who brought chocolate to the masses, the negative effects of consuming the confection have been talked about just as much as the positive effects.  Ultimately, is chocolate an elixir or a poison?


Chocolate was ingrained in almost every part of the lives of Mesoamericans.  Among many of the uses for cacao, there were a variety of medicinal applications.  Cacao was believed to help digestion, aid in inflammation, boost energy and was used as an anesthetic. Application of medicinal cacao used for afflictions found in Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams include 50 ways of curing and healing to address skin eruptions, fevers, and seizures.  Remedies were a combination of cacao and other botanical ingredients, like avocado, that are considered to be “superfoods” in modern society. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods” 75-76) Traditional Aztec healers cured many ailments that we consider to be commonplace today with various forms of chocolate. For example, a stomachache for an Aztec would be treated with pure, unmixed chocolate (Grivetti and Shapiro 100),  which seemed as commonplace in their society as it might be to reach for Pepto Bismol in our society today. 


When the Spanish began noticing the powers of cacao after landing in Mesoamerica, they began adopting it for their own healing uses.  They noticed that it boosted energy and saw that Mesoamerican warriors who consumed cacao were made stronger. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 58) The Anonymous Conqueror said in his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556 that, “this drink [cacao] is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.” (Coe, and Coe, 86-88)

It’s clear that the Spanish saw that cacao was prized by Mesoamericans for a variety of reasons.  They began using cacao for their own healing purposes such as improved probability of conception, quality of breast milk, reversing the effects of exhaustion, impotence, vision-quest hangovers, mental illness, fevers, poison, skin eruptions, lung problems, agitation, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. (Martin, “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods'” 76) Like the Mesoamericans, they used chocolate as a cure-all, further supporting the belief in chocolate’s healing and medicinal powers.

In the 1500’s when cacao made it’s way to Spain, Francisco Hernández & Dr. Juan de Cárdenas began working on incorporating adapting the use of cacao as medicine from

Galen’s Humoral Scheme

Mesoamerican into “civilized” frameworks. “An apothecary based on Humoral Medicine subscribes that cacao contains healing properties encompassing 3 & perhaps all 4 elements – air (fat), fire (bitter), earth (thick) & maybe water (sweet) – to yield a neutral temperament leaning ‘wet-cool’, thus making it acceptable.” (“A Concise History of Chocolate”)   Fifty years later, we saw the first of many flags that will come in the following centuries about whether chocolate is healthy or harmful when Dr. Santiago Valverde Turices published the first guide on chocolate, Un Discurso de Chocolate, in 1624. (“A Concise History of Chocolate”)  Almost 400 years later, we still debate this question.




As time progressed, chocolate became more industrialized.  Coenraad Johannes Van Houten manufactured cocoa powder in Holland in 1828, followed by Joseph Fry manufacturing of first chocolate bars for consumption in 1847. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 42, 44)  Chocolate got a bad rap as a “poison” not long after when some companies began tampering with chocolate by mixing in inedible ingredients (like crushed red brick) in order to decrease costs.  In the mid-1800’s, consumers’ distrust for processed foods, like chocolate, brought new meaning to the “poison” label. The British government was inspired to pass a number of food adulteration acts to make such practices illegal and to reassure consumers that their food was pure. (Martin, “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal” 18) This distrust of corrupt or poisoned foods, while mostly forgotten after corporations became more committed to ensuring the quality of their products, still endures in our modern society, especially with chocolate and candy consumption.

While food adulteration has subsided over the subsequent decades, companies have used other tactics to decrease chocolate production costs.  Chocolate is rarely seen mass-produced in a simple and pure form.  Big Chocolate, such as Mars and Hershey, use additives and have created offerings that use minimal chocolate, relying on the addition of cheaper ingredients to defray costs.  Compare the ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup versus a recipe for a homemade version of the treat in the above.  The mass-produced cup includes chemicals and ingredients not usually – if ever – found in a kitchen.  When you compare the botanical ingredients Mesoamericans used to mix with cacao and the ingredients that Big Chocolate uses in their production, it’s staggering to see the progression of chocolate product ingredients.


It’s clear based on many early texts that chocolate in its purest cacao form was believed (without scientific conclusion) that it had healing and strengthening properties. The wide adoption of chocolate as a health elixir during the 1500’s and before leads us to believe that the primitive results that Mesoamericans and Spanish explorers saw when using cacao did cure their ailments.

Modern researchers, such as those at Harvard, claim that “ingredients in cocoa can be healthy, but the high-calorie chocolate bars that contain it aren’t necessarily good for you.” The flavonoids found in chocolate “have beneficial effects on heart disease risks, as well as on blood flow to the brain. Chocolate is the candy that’s made by adding sugar, milk, and other ingredients to cocoa powder. Those ingredients also add fat and sugar, which counteract some of cacao’s health benefits.” (Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat, Harvard Health Publications) It seems that chocolate in it’s simplest form and in moderation does, in fact, have positive health benefits.  The modern research on the food would seem to support the positive response that Mesoamericans saw when they used cacao as a health supplement.


  • “Chocolate: Pros and Cons of This Sweet Treat.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. 86-88. Print.
  • “A Concise History of Chocolate.” The C-Spot. The C-Spot, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 100. Print.
  • “Homemade Peanut Butter Cups.” Taste of Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the “Food of the Gods”.” 01 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
  • Martin, Carla D. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” 9 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

The Long Intercontinental and Multiethnic Career of the Mesoamerican Metate


Figure 1: A Traditional Mesoamerican Metate and Mano

          In order to create their sacred chocolate drink, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican women kneeled on the ground to pulverize roasted beans with a mano on a curved grinding stone called a metate, which together act as a horizontal version of a mortar and pestle (Mcanany and Murata 12).  During this “gendered labor”, women added damp corn masa as well as other spices, “such as chile pepper, vanilla, and annatto”, to the cacao (Mcanany and Murata 12).  Originating as early as 7000 BCE, these grinding stones are some of the oldest domestic tools in the Americas (“Metate”).  This simple invention spread hand-in-hand with the popularization of cacao in Europe.  Due to its involvement in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chocolate production and its persistence as a pillar of Latin American food traditions, its pervasive adoption by Europeans, and its influence on the modern, niche chocolate industry, the metate proves to be one of the most important artifacts in the history of chocolate.

Enjoying “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, metates rank among the few elements of the chocolate-making process that Europeans did not alter (Presilla 26).  In order to appeal to a European audience and “cross the ethnocentric taste barrier” between Mesoamericans and Europeans, chocolate had to undergo a hybridization process (Coe and Coe 114).  This hybridization changed or modified nearly everything about the chocolate-making and chocolate-consuming processes.  Instead of following Aztec customs of drinking chocolate at cold or at room temperature, Europeans “insisted on taking chocolate hot” (Coe and Coe 115).  In regard to the recipe, Europeans regularly sweetened the drink with cane sugar, and invaders introduced “Old World spices”, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper, in place of native Mesoamerican flavorings (Coe and Coe 115).  Europeans even replaced the method of obtaining the greatly desired froth of the drink.  While native Mesoamerican women customarily poured the liquid from one vessel to another from a height to achieve frothiness in the drink, Europeans used “a large, wooden swizzle-stick called a molinillo”(Coe and Coe 115).  Despite all these changes during the European adoption of chocolate, the metate was embraced by Europeans in the same capacity as it was used by Mesoamericans.

The age of mechanization of chocolate manufacturing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made the metate obsolete, yet the device continued to be used in Latin America as a symbol of tradition and in Europe by artisanal confectioners.  Beginning in the sixteenth century the Mesoamerican invention of the metate and the technique perfected by the Aztecs and Maya of grinding up roasted cacao beans on it “travelled everywhere that cacao was turned into chocolate” (Presilla 180).  The metate instantly became a popular device in Europe; “The metate became as much at home in Spain, France (where it was called “the Spanish stone”), and the Philippines as in Mexico” (Presilla 26).  Figure 2 shows a carving from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise, depicting a European man using a metate to grind heated cacao beans.  This depiction is notable because European men took up the craft of chocolate-making in European, which was viewed as a woman’s task in Mesoamerica.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 4.35.59 PM.pngFigure 2: European gentleman grinding cacao beans from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise

The industrial revolution marks a shift away from using the metate in favor of machine processes in the late 1700s, such as M. Doret’s hydraulic machine to grind chocolate and form a paste.  However, this transition to machine-based chocolate production took time, and cacao beans continued to be ground by hand (Coe and Coe 227).  The “ancient ways of making chocolate” persisted in “isolated pockets within Southern Europe” (Coe and Coe 233).  Confectioners in southern France in the 1870s continued to use metates as did the Romanengo chocolate establishment in Italy, which “still had stones to grind the cacao” as late as 1989 (Coe and Coe 233).  In fact, the industrialization of the chocolate industry made many consumers distrust the quality of the chocolate they purchased, which bolstered the artisanal chocolate industry and its use of metates as the artisanal chocolate was perceived as purer.  For example, Catalan chocolate makers in Spain encouraged observers to witness the chocolate being made with the metate to demonstrate to the buyer “that the chocolate he is buying is true-stone ground chocolate, made according to a procedure which…makes it more difficult to add adulterants” (Coe and Coe 233).

Figure 3:  Preparing Drinking Chocolate Near Oaxaca, Mexico

Today, many Latin Americans pay homage to their ancestors by using the traditional metate in making chocolate, and the niche chocolate industry often derives their techniques and tastes from this ancient style of chocolate production.  As shown in the video of Figure 3, a Mexican woman from Teotítlan Del Valle makes a traditional chocolate drink using a mano and a metate over a flame.  Alex Whitmore, CEO of Taza Chocolate, “brought a taste of Mexico to Somerville”, Massachusetts by making “authentic stone ground chocolate” (Hofherr) (Figure 4).  After apprenticing with Mexican molineros and “learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets”, Alex decided to use simple rotary stone mills derivative of the metate to create a chocolate with a “gritty, rustic texture” and be “one of a handful of companies in the country that are bean-to-bar chocolate makers” (Hofherr).  Taza and its rival companies symbolize a retreat to the roots of chocolate production and the traditional tools involved in the process.

taza_chocolate_mission_largeFigure 4: Taza Chocolate Mission

          Ultimately, the metate proves to be one of the most important instruments in the history of chocolate.  From its humble origins in the Maya and Aztec civilizations to its widespread adoption all over Europe, the metate enjoyed “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, transcending vastly different cultures and enduring the test of time (Presilla 26).  Due to the longevity and geographical range of its use and to the influence it has on contemporary niche confectioners, the metate helped shape the history of chocolate as we know it today.

Works Cited

A Mexican Metate, or Grinding Stone. Digital image. Mexicolore. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.            <http://mexicolore.co.uk/images-4/482_03_2.jpg&gt;.

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

Hofherr, Justine. “CEO Desk: How Taza Chocolate’s founder brought a taste of Mexico to             Somerville.” Boston.com. The Boston Globe, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Mar. 2017,                               https://www.boston.com/jobs/jobs-news/2016/02/23/ceo-desk-how-taza-                               chocolates-founder-brought-a-taste-of-mexico-to-the-east-coast

Le bon usage du thé, du caffee et du chocolat. Digital image. Rachellaudan.com. Rachel Laudan,           18 July 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Mcanany, Patricia A., and Satoru Murata. “America’s First Connoisseurs of Chocolate.”               Food and Foodways 15. 1-2 (2007): 7-30. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

“Metate.” Mexicolore, 8 Mar. 2017, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/artefacts/metate

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

Taza Chocolate Mission. Digital image. Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, n.d. Web. 9 Mar.                   2017.

Wilmo55. “Preparing drinking chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.” Youtube. The Sunday                     Supper Project, 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?               v=GlAg7zIR57k>.

The True Cost of Happiness: The Human Price of Attainable Luxury

In Eric Weiner’s 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss, he states, “ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty sew of happiness:  money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate” (2).

His modern, North American viewpoint may be shared by many, however, as we look back to the origins of one of his “essential” happiness ingredients: chocolate – and more specifically, the sugar that is used to sweeten it – we find that a very high human price has been paid to acquire it.


Focusing on England, where sugar was first introduced in small quantities around 1100 AD, but not commonly acknowledged as a costly medicine and/or spice until the 1500s, it became increasingly more available over the following 500 years.  Between 1650 and 1800, consumption rates rose by some 2,500 percent.  Known as a rarity by 1650 and a luxury by 1750, sugar was seen as a necessity by 1850 and quickly became “the first mass-produced exotic” basic product. (Mintz)

In order to fuel this change in demand, England “fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system”  (Martin “Slavery”).  Satisfying the sweet happiness England (and Europe) craved was made possible through the exploitation of Africa and America.  As quoted in Volume 1 of J.H. Bernadine de Saint Pierre’s Voyage to Isle de France, Isle de Bourbon, The Cape of Good Hope…With New Observation on Nature and Mankind by an Officer of the King (1773):

I do not know if coffee and sugar are essential to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two products have accounted for the unhappiness of two great regions of the world:  America has been depopulated so as to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated so as to have the people to cultivate them.  (Mintz, Frontispiece)

Europe Supported by Africa and America_painted2


Supported by America

The original workforce was supported by the encomienda system.  This was a grant implemented by the Spanish crown which allowed colonists to demand tribute from indigenous inhabitants in exchange for care, protection, and Christian education. (Martin “Slavery”). However, due to illness, maltreatment, and excessive overwork, the indigenous population declined from “25.2 million in 1519 to 16.8 million in 1532 and 0.75 million in 1622” (Goucher, 491). As the native populations of entire villages disappeared, Europeans turned to other available sources of labor to toil on their newly claimed lands.


Supported by Africa

To meet the seemingly insatiable demand for sweetness (up to 20,000 tons of sugar produced for English consumers each year), an estimated labor force of 50,000 African slaves was required (Martin “Slavery”).  However, the slaves who toiled on English plantations comprised only a portion of the approximately 10 to 15 million enslaved Africans who survived forced transport across the Atlantic from 1500-1900 (for every 100 enslaved Africans who reached the New World, another 40 died in Africa or during the Middle Passage) (Martin “Slavery”).

The Transatlantic Slave Trade_1450s-1867

For those who survived the Middle Passage life was, in the words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”  Working conditions were “so extreme that the slave population never achieved a significant growth rate and depended entirely on African importation to sustain production” (Martin “Slavery”).

Beyond Forced Support

Through revolts and legal emancipation, slaves were eventually released from bondage and given back their freedom:

1804:  Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery

1807:  The slave trade was closed

1834:  British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery throughout most of the British Empire

1848:  Slavery was abolished in all French and Danish colonies

1865:  Slavery was abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment

1886:  Slavery was abolished in Cuba

1888:  Slavery was abolished in Brazil by Golden Law

(Martin “Slavery”)

However, indigenous populations were never given back their lands, slaves (or their descendants) were rarely repatriated and racism and economic inequality still persist today.

In the pursuit of happiness, it is possible that one cannot have or desire too much chocolate or the sugar that sweetens it, but it is important to know and respect their true cost as it is impossible to reverse history or give back life.


Works Cited

Goucher, Candice, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton. Commerce and Change: The Creation of a Global Economy and the Expansion of Europe. In the Balance: Themes in Global History. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 1998.

Europe Supported By Africa & America.  BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS. https://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2007/08/14/europe-supported-by-africa-and-america/.  N.p. N.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla D. “Popular sweet tooths and scandal.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 20 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

The African-American Migration Experience. In Motion. http://www.inmotionaame.org/. N.p. N.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Bliss.  New York : Twelve, 2008.

Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

enclomendia picpyrud meowmadisonlong_1385062049

(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.


(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

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

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Cacao In Popular Culture

Theobroma Cacao’s favorable adoption and portrayal in popular culture throughout the centuries played a vital role in facilitating “the food of the god’s” transition from little known product, to the preferred drink of the elite, and then the masses, in a trend that continues to this day.

Late 16th and early 17th century Spanish explorers, friars, and merchants, such as Juan de Cárdenas, and Juan de los Barrios brought back with them from the new world varied accounts and manuscripts extolling the medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties of the newly discovered Theobroma cacao (Coe and Coe, 123; Van Patten, 161). These accounts contributed to the popularity of cacao in Spain, and eventually led to the widespread adoption in courts throughout Europe. Less than half a century later, cacao was being consumed regularly in drink form by the political elite, to the extent that it mired the Catholic church in debate over the legality of drinking cacao during the Catholic fast (Coe and Coe, 147-150).

While still mainly reserved for the elite, by the early 18th century, chocolate houses, such as White’s and Ozinda’s had opened up across England, in which anyone, regardless of status could purchase a cacao drink if they had the monetary means. Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator under King Charles II and King James II wrote extensively in his diary on how he often enjoyed cacao drinks as he rose up through the ranks of English society (Coe and Coe, 166-168).

With the procurement of sugar-producing lands from the Portuguese, and the widespread use of slave labor, Britain witnessed a massive increase in sugar production (Mintz, 39-55). Increased sugar production combined with the technological advancements within the cacao industry (such as the hydraulic press in 1828, and the conch in 1879), led to inexpensive production of cacao, allowing the middle class to partake in cacao products, previously reserved for the elite, on a regular basis (Presilla, 39-41). In “Smyth’s Travels in Virginia, In 1773”, it is noted that the lower and middle classes ate chocolate for breakfast (Grivetti and Shapiro, 285). As a result of this increased demand for cacao products, by the late 18th century, there existed over 70 chocolate companies in North America (Grivetti and Shapiro, 282-283).

From the Mary Moore Duprez Archive

The populace’s dive into the world of cacao was further spurred by articles appearing in the media, such as the 1841 edition of “The Family Magazine,” which discussed the virtues of cacao and its superiority to coffee and tea. Additionally, chocolate was frequently referenced in popular books at the time, such as Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities,” and even in the music industry, where the early 1900’s singer G.H. Elliot became known as (what would now be considered un-pc) “The Chocolate Colored Coon” (“CHOCOLATE”, 380; Dickens; “G H Elliott”).

Many of the large chocolate manufacturers, in order to boost their sales and the overall reach of cacao in society, initiated cultural customs based around chocolate that exist even today. In 1868, Richard and George Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates, which soon became a hallmark of Valentine’s Day (Chocolates – history.com). Cadbury was also responsible for the invention of chocolate easter eggs (cadbury.com.au).

Video Credit: CBS Worldwide Inc

Chocolate and cacao are now imbued in much of our popular culture; with references to, and entire episodes on chocolate in TV shows from “I Love Lucy,” to “Seinfeld” to the “Simpsons,” books such as Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and even video games such as “Minecraft,” played by over one hundred million people (“Adventurize”).

Video Credit: Daniel Harris, produced for this blog post

While it is difficult to directly attribute the dramatic rise in chocolate and cacao consumption to the popular culture that surrounded the much-loved product, it assuredly contributed to its consumption in a circular fashion (i.e., the more people wrote about chocolate, the more people ate it, the more people wrote about it, and so on).

Six centuries after Europe was first introduced to the cacao bean, and proceeded to spread “the food of the gods’” across the entire planet, cacao has become ingrained in our books, TV shows, movies, history, and cultures. Cacao has become an increasingly sought after, and irreplaceable global resource.

Cited Works:

  • Coe, Sophie D, and Michael D Coe. The True History Of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
  • Van Patten, Nathan. “THE MEDICAL LITERATURE OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA”. The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 24.1/2 (1930): 150-199. Web.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness And Power. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. Print.
  • Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste Of Chocolate. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001. Print.
  • Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2009. Print.
  • “CHOCOLATE”. The Family Magazine; Or, Monthly Abstract of General Knowledge 1841: 380. Print.
  • Dickens, Charles, and Charles Dickens. A Tale Of Two Cities. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
  • Chocolates, Celebrating. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day With A Box Of Chocolates – Hungry History”. HISTORY.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
  • “The Story Of Easter And Easter Eggs”. Cadbury.com.au. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
  • “G H Elliott”. Bigredbook.info. N.p., 1882. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
  • “Adventurize™ – The In-Game Minecraft Advertising Network”. Adventurize.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

A Worldwide Treat: The Increasing Popularity of Chocolate

In Baroque Europe, chocolate was linked with notions of status and class. The elite of Spain, Italy, France, and Britain consumed chocolate in the form of beverages and foods to flaunt their wealth. They used extravagant serving pots, cups, and saucers (like the one below) which demonstrate the importance of material culture during this time period. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, chocolate was popularized across many parts of the world as well as across various socioeconomic groups. The spread of chocolate can be linked to the role chocolate played in social interactions, to the democratization and industrialization of sugar, and to the inventions that made it possible to expand its production and the forms it took.

Silver chocolate pot used for hot chocolate, France, 1779.

When chocolate was first introduced as a medicine around 1100 CE, it was primarily used to cure bodily ailments, to stimulate the nervous system, and to aid in digestion (Dillinger et al., 2000). In the mid-1500s, chocolate became popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy in Europe. The breadwinner in the family was first entitled to meat the family could afford, but women and children consumed chocolate to supplement their scarce portions in order to obtain enough calories. The use of chocolate evolved from a luxury to a commodity as it became tied to social life. The first Chocolate House opened in London in 1657 (Loveman, 29). “Food and drink, not surprisingly, reflected [the] economic, social, and religious cleavages…chocolate was [characterized] as southern and Catholic and aristocratic…” (Coe and Coe, 200). Chocolate acquired new meaning in European countries as its consumption became highly social and symbolic of wealth. As people used chocolate to connect and interact with one another, its consumption took on new meaning, and its previous status as an indulgent good transitioned into a good that became worthy of the expense. Chocolate became more popular, and transitioned from a symbolic form of power to a democratizer as it became more widely available (Mintz, 91).

This photo was taken in 1777, and was likely the oldest surviving pub of Wavertree (which is located in Liverpool).

According to Mintz, “by no later than 1800, sugar had become a necessity – albeit a costly and rare one – in the diet of every English person; by 1900, it was supplying nearly one-fifth of calories in the English diet” (6). Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the democratization of sugar occurred. Sugar decreased in cost and became easier for commoners to acquire through the use of cheap and brutal skilled labor of enslaved people. While there was opposition to slave labor, it allowed for the price of chocolate to fall. Its production thus expanded, and more commoners were granted access to this commodity. Liverpool and Manchester turned into gigantic cities as a result of “the exchange of their produce with that raised by the American slaves” (Merivale, Lecture 6).

During the nineteenth century, a number of inventions allowed for the further spread of the popularity of chocolate. The series of innovations began with the hydraulic press, invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten in 1828, which relieved the labor that was previously needed for grinding cacao. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented the first chocolate bar. A few decades later, Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter created milk chocolate (in 1867 and 1879, respectively). Finally, Rudolphe Lindt implemented the conching process in 1879, which allowed for chocolate to be blended and smoothed (Lecture 5). Through the implementation of these new machines and inventions, the mass production of chocolate became possible, as the taste and consistency of chocolate could be streamlined and managed in large quantities by its producers.

1950 hydraulic press, Wikimedia Commons.

While chocolate was once restricted to the elite in Europe, as it was expensive and inaccessible, it became popular around the world throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First, chocolate became more widely consumed as a result of its social implications. Later, as consumers demanded chocolate as a necessity (rather than as a luxury good), people were enslaved to increase its production possibilities. Finally, new processes enabled its mass production as it could be streamlined and involved less human and manual labor. As chocolate became less expensive, technologies allowed for its popularity in the form of cakes and chocolate bars. Most recently, chocolate companies have turned to advertising to encourage its further consumption, often overemphasizing its nutritious value in the process.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Dillinger T.L., Barriga P., Escarcega S., Jimenez M., Salazar Lowe D., Grivetti L.E. Food of the gods: Cure for humanity? A cultural history of the medicinal and ritual use of chocolate. J. Nutr.2000;130:2057–2072.

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

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and power. New York: Viking, 1985.


Chocolate pot: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolatepot.jpg

Coffee House Pub: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Coffee_House_pub,_Wavertree.JPG

Hydraulic press: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prensa_hidr%C3%A1ulica-Villajoyosa_(chocolate).jpg



The Popularization of Cacao in Europe… and a Little Thing Called Caffeine

It is no secret that as a species, humans are vulnerable to addiction. Granted, character traits and societal acceptance will exacerbate these compulsions, as it has been proven time and time again throughout the course of history, but there are contributing genetic factors that play a role in substance dependence (though the degree of the genetic influence is highly disputed (United States Congress 40). The combination of both social and at times instinctive pressure during an era of extreme wealth through royalty and structured courts resulted in the slow, yet effective European commercialization of one of our most precious commodities today: chocolate.

Chocolate (or rather, cacao in its base form) originated in the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Olmec, Maya, and Aztec empires all depended on cacao in many aspects of their societal structure.  In Aztec culture, soldiers would consume large amounts of cocoa on their journey to battle for endurance and strength—little did they know these wondrous abilities were due to caffeine surging in their bodies (Coe & Coe 95). However, it was not until cacao was introduced to the Spanish courts that the popularization, consumption, and subsequent mechanization in mass production occurred.

When cacao made the transatlantic journey into Spain, the utilitarian aspect of the substance was lost amongst the opulent, as there was no real necessity for its practical uses. Those who drank this luxury did not spend their days battling opposing foes; rather, the elite relished its exotic properties. Though medicinal uses were explored during the waves of exposure in Europe, most enjoyed chocolate in a recreational setting (Albala). In this new environment, cacao was adapted to a life of leisure and affluence, flavored with sweeteners and spices that were more harmonious to the European palate (Coe & Coe 133).

This detail of a painted tile from the 18th century depicts a chocolotada (drinking party) in Valencia, Spain. This preparation varied greatly from the manual frothing of chocolate common in Aztec culture; the beginnings of the mechanization of chocolate production began with the methods above.

While there was a large population that consumed cacao, its acceptance across Europe was by no means an overnight success—the foreign qualities of this otherworldly substance incited both advocates and critics alike (Jamieson 272).

“I want to tell you, my dear child, that chocolate is no longer for me what it was, fashion has led me astray, as it always does. Everyone who spoke well of it now tells me bad things about it; it is cursed, and accused of causing one’s ills, it is the source of vapors and palpitations; it flatters you for a while, and then suddenly lights a continuous fever in you that leads to death…In the name of God, don’t keep it up, and don’t think that it is still the fashion of the fashionable. All the great and the less [great] say as much bad about it as they say good things about you…”

—Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (1926-96)

                                                            (Coe & Coe 155)

As the marquise de Sévigné laments in one of her letters, the effects of caffeine to those unaware and unprepared yielded some unfortunate results; in a very religious Europe, this was considered highly suspect and controversial. Yet not all experiences concluded so unfavorably; for many, the consumption of chocolate elicited positive responses—many hailed it as an aphrodisiac a mood-enhancer (Coe & Coe 160). Ironically, just a few months following her initial rejection of chocolate, the marquise had a change of heart:

“I have reconciled myself to chocolate, I took it the day before yesterday to digest my dinner, to have a good meal, and I took it yesterday to nourish me so that I could fast until evening: it gave me all the effects I wanted. That’s what I like about it: it acts according to my intention.”

 —Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (1926-96)

                                                            (Coe & Coe 155)


Although alcohol was widely popular and its outcomes were well known, caffeine and its effect on the human body were new to Europeans entirely. The jolt of energy, the curb of appetite, and psychological stimulants were but a few of the properties of cacao that piqued the curiosity of the Old World. Caffeinated drinks like chocolate were initially marketed as medicinal beverages to Europeans; however, the drinking of chocolate later became an urbanized ritual rather than a healing staple (Jamieson 279).

One by one, the major forces of Europe adopted the consumption of cacao, until chocolate and caffeine became a cross-continental sensation. This obsession with chocolate migrated from the Spanish Royal Courts to the far reaches of England, prompting the building of establishments like London’s famed Chocolate Houses (Jamieson 272).

In the Club At White’s Coffee House, 1733. Don’t be fooled by the name of this painting by William Hogarth; White’s is considered London’s oldest and most exclusive gentleman’s club and was formally known as White’s Chocolate House. Read more at the Telegraph.co.uk.

Cacao monopolized the caffeine market for many years in a part of the world to which it was completely geologically foreign (that is, of course, until coffee and tea were introduced). If this strange and alien product somehow did not make it to Spain on that fateful voyage, it is very likely we would not have such easy access to chocolate and it most definitely would not have grown into the mammoth industry it is today.



Works Cited

Albala, Ken. “The Use and Abuse of Chocolate in 17th Century Medical Theory.” Food

and Foodways 15.1-2 (2007): 53-74. Web.


Biological Components of Substance Abuse and Addiction. Washington, DC: U.S.

Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1993. Print.


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

& Hudson, 2013. Print.


Detail of Painted Tile Panel Depicting a Chocolatada. 18th Cenutry. Valencia, Spain.


Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.”The Telegraph. 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.


Hogarth, William. In the Club at White’s Coffee House. 1733. From the Series ‘The

Rake’s Progress.’


Jamieson, R. W. “The Essence of Commodification: Caffeine Dependencies in the

Early Modern World.” Journal of Social History 35.2 (2001): 269-94. Web.