Tag Archives: European Elite

From Elite to Everyday: How Chocolate Became Democratized

When chocolate was first introduced to Europeans in the 1500s, they maintained a similar perception of it as Mesoamerican societies did long before them — a “food for the gods.” But for the Europeans, chocolate belonged to the closest category they had to the gods: the elites. Pictured below is an engraving of men at a chocolate house, which were lively, oftentimes raucous hubs designed for elite men to converse while consuming chocolate.

Socializing ensues in a London chocolate house. (image source: http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/londons-chocolate-houses)

Dressed in opulent garb and engaging in animated discussion, it is evident that these are privileged members of society. In stark contrast, standing to the side is a maid — presumably in charge of serving the chocolate — whose demeanor and expression show that leisurely enjoyment of chocolate was not made for everyone. However, this notion of chocolate as a delicacy for the elite did not remain static. Today, people living in the US can walk into any corner store or supermarket and find a variety of chocolate products sold at reasonable prices. This transition from a delicacy for elite Europeans to the everyday snack that we recognize it as today was propelled by several intertwining factors. The realization that chocolate did not have true medicinal properties made it acceptable to consume chocolate unsparingly. Once this norm had been established, the creation of more efficient modes of production removed slow, inefficient labor from the chocolate production process, thereby extending the availability of the product to an even larger audience. Ultimately, these factors that drove chocolate from the hands of the elite to everyday were associated with the desire to profit from the production and selling of chocolate. 

Elite Europeans initially perceived chocolate not as a readily consumed treat, but rather as a supplement with medicinal properties. This was a notable departure from the spiritual properties of chocolate that Mesoamerican societies originally believed it to have. As Coe and Coe described in The True History of Chocolate, “for the invaders, [chocolate] was a drug, a medicine, in the humoral system to which they all adhered” (Coe and Coe 126). This system, which was the extent of European medical knowledge at the time, was based on 4 “humors,” in which “good health [was] defined by the balance and mixture of the humors, whilst their imbalance and separation [were] the cause of disease” (Jouanna 335). One example of how chocolate’s purported medicinal properties functioned within the humoral system can be observed in Italy. The Roman physician Paolo Zacchia described chocolate as a new medicine that could aid the digestive process, but it should be consumed with caution for fear of exposing the body to excessive amounts of the “hot” humor (Coe and Coe 139). This instruction clearly suggests a conservative, strictly medicinal expectation for the consumption of chocolate.

Yet, the leisurely consumption of chocolate was not unheard of. Francesco Redi, a scientist and physician for Cosimo III de Medici, describes his heavily-guarded recipe for jasmine chocolate, which included additional aromatic flavors such as citrus, musk, cinnamon, and vanilla — indicating that chocolate wasn’t solely reserved for healing the body, but it could also bring pleasure to the body (Coe and Coe 145). Redi’s refusal to share this recipe with others is an example of the elitism associated with chocolate in Europe. Despite this, the recipe also demonstrated a shift of the perception of chocolate to non-medicinal and suitable for everyday, unrestricted consumption. It was only a matter of time before replications were attempted and the more widespread consumption of chocolate commenced, therefore paving the way for chocolate to be consumed at much higher rates and become a more profitable commodity.

Early modes of chocolate preparation employed by Europeans involved intricate, hand-operated tools. However, these were eventually overcome by the techniques developed during the Industrial Revolution, which streamlined the production process and turned it into an efficient endeavor, albeit at the cost of sacrificing the artisanship that had been an integral part of chocolate consumption for much of its history. One example of this early method of chocolate processing was the French chocolatière, or the chocolate pot, pictured below.

A staple for elite households, this silver chocolate pot contains ornate detailing and raised feet. (image source: https://art.thewalters.org/detail/5934/chocolate-pot/)

This pot borrowed elements from the Spanish molinillo. In fact, the handle on the side of the pot served the same purpose as the molinillo: to foam up the chocolate (Coe and Coe 157). Complete with a lid, these pots were usually constructed out of silver or gold in order to meet the exquisite tastes of the elites that these pots were intended for (Coe and Coe 157). However, this method of chocolate production by hand was not appropriate for quick, widespread consumption. The advent of the Industrial Revolution brought a shift from producing by hand to manufacturing with machinery, and chocolate production was no exception to this. One chocolate manufacturing development that rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution was the conche machine developed by Rudolphe Lindt in the latter half of the 19th century, pictured below.

Conche machines used today are larger and less decorative than Lindt’s early conche. (image source: https://www.chocolate.lindt.com/world-of-lindt/the-lindt-difference/the-lindt-differencethe-lindt-invention-conching/)

This machine rolls the cocoa solids around with granite rollers for a duration of about 72 hours, which is sufficient to break down the small particles and allow the chocolate to adopt a smoother texture — much more than the Spanish metates or French chocolate pots could ever accomplish (Cidell and Alberts 1002). The conche was an important development not only because it gave chocolate a universally appealing texture that could be enjoyed by everyone regardless of social status, but it also was conducive to outputting this smooth chocolate in a time-efficient manner that required less manual labor, which made the final product more affordable for non-elites.

These advancements that were made during the Industrial Revolution resulted in a less costly and easier production process, which allowed chocolate to become a more widespread staple for those who could not previously obtain it. Due to this heightened degree of accessibility to chocolate, entrepreneurs realized that it was a commodity that should be commercialized and marketed to the masses, rather than just remain a delicacy among the elites. Consequently, to maximize this new profitability associated with chocolate, new techniques, such as tempering, the process of raising and then lowering the temperature to prevent unwanted crystallization and irregularity in the chocolate (Coe and Coe 248), were continuously developed. This would further expand this level of accessibility of chocolate — both to the tastes and budgets of average people — to the degree that we can observe it today.

Chocolate’s journey from the reserves of the elite to its current commonplace consumption began with an understanding that its supposed medicinal properties were false, which made it acceptable to consume without fear of overdosing. But this alone was not sufficient to spread the consumption of chocolate to non-elites; it merely normalized the notion of everyday, nonmedicinal consumption. The industrialization of the chocolate production process is the corresponding factor that gave the final push of chocolate into the hands of the everyman. Although it was accompanied by a desire for profit by companies who wanted to capitalize on the new technologies discovered in the Industrial Revolution, there still arose a slightly more equitable distribution of who got to enjoy the rich, decadent flavors of chocolate.

Works Cited:

Cidell, Julie L. and Alberts, Heike C. “Constructing quality: The multinational histories of chocolate.” Geoforum, vol. 37, 2006, pp. 999-1007.

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, London, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Jouanna, Jacques. Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers. Translated by Neil Allies, Leiden, Brill Publishers, 2012.

The Sweet Taste of Success: Using Sugar to Display Wealth

Today, in the United States, we are so used to sugar being present in the foods and drinks that we consume daily. The overabundance of sugar present in modern consumption has contributed to a public health crisis and sugar has now garnered a negative reputation.[1] Although our contemporary view of sugar differs drastically from when sugar was first introduced to Europe, there is one important similarity that remains. Sugar is an extremely effective medium to convey to others one’s power and wealth, because of its visual and consumptive properties. Visually, sugar is easy to mold as evident in the elaborate decorative displays in both the past (e.g. subtleties) and the present (e.g. wedding cakes). Moreover, because these intricate displays are edible, guests acknowledged the power and wealth of the host by consuming the sugar displays.[2]

The above figure shows the routes of the Triangular Trade between the Americas, Europe, and Africa. As shown, sugar was an important commodity in the trade. (Popkin)

Sugar was first introduced to Europe around 1100 A.D. and was grouped together with other spices like pepper and ginger.[3] All of these spices were extremely expensive because of how rare they were and only the wealthy were able to afford them. By the fifteen century, sugar imports increased because the wealthy class demand for sugar was increasing, not because sugar had percolated downward to the common class. As a result, sugar became an important part of the Triangular Trade between the Americas, Europe, and Africa.[4] By the sixteenth century, sugar started to be consumed in a different form: as decoration.

First and foremost, sugar is able to be visually impressive because of its chemical properties. Sugar easily combines with other food components like almond oil, rice, and different gums. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz describes sugar’s properties in his book Sweetness and Power, “The important feature of these [sugar] recipes is that the resulting pastes were used to sculpture forms—forms having an aesthetic aspect but also preservable and edible.”[5] Because sugar could be molded in such a way, the practice of using sugar as a decoration began to spread from North Africa to Europe. Initially, because only the extremely wealthy, like the royalty, could afford sugar in Europe, they were the only ones who could afford to have sugar decorations at their meals. These people included the king, the nobility, the knighthood, and the church. Sugar was combined with other substances like oil and vegetable gums to make a “plastic, claylike substance.” Confectioners could then sculpt grand displays out of this claylike substance, which were called “subtleties.” These subtleties were served in between banquets and took the forms of animals, objects, buildings, and more.[6]

The sugar subtleties pictured above transformed banquets into grand displays. (Willan)

Because sugar was so limited and expensive during this time period, subtleties essentially emphasized someone’s wealth. Not only were the extremely wealthy able to hoard and consume sugar in their daily lives, they were able to explicitly convey their wealth to others by commissioning grand subtleties. Being able to convey one’s wealth with different symbols has always been a feature of the elite, from clothing to language.[7] In this case, subtleties became a new way for someone to convey their wealth to others. Essentially, sugar allowed the wealthy to be in-your-face about their wealth.

Additionally, what makes sugar particularly effective at being a symbol of wealth is because subtleties are edible and, in most cases, meant to be eaten by guests. This property is unique because a lot of physical displays of wealth are physically impressive as in the case of clothing or items molded in silver. However, there are not many edible displays of such grandeur. Furthermore, the edible nature of the subtleties meant that the displays were not meant to last for a long time, compared to items like expensive clothing and silver. Subtleties were often presented at banquets in between courses, destroyed, and then eaten by the guests. In this way, hosts were able to showcase not only that they were able to afford to commission this piece of art but to also destroy it. In turn, guests would be wowed by these sculptures and then would have to accept the host’s wealth by consuming the sugar. Mintz describes this symbolism, “To be able to provide one’s guests with attractive food, which also embodied in display the host’s wealth, power, and status, must have been a special pleasure for the sovereign. By eating these strange symbols of his power, his guests validated that power.”[8]

As time passed, sugar became less and less exclusive. By the late sixteenth century, subtleties expanded between the extremely wealthy classes like the merchant class. This is evident in that subtlety recipes began to appear in cookbooks, so it was no longer an exclusive practice for the select few.[9]

Even though today, sugar is abundant and present in everything we eat, displays of sugar are still common in the form of different desserts. For example, wedding cakes can become tremendously expensive depending on how grand the couple wants their cake to be. Thus, subtleties are not necessarily items relegated to the past and instead, are still relevant today as a display of wealth and grandeur.

Works Cited

[1] C. A. Grimes et al., “Dietary Salt Intake, Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption, and Obesity Risk,” Pediatrics 131, no. 1 (October 2012): pp. 14-21.

[2] Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, 90.

[3] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 79.

[4] Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

[5] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 88.

[6] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 89.

[7] Lamont, Michele, and Annette Lareau. “Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments.” Sociological Theory 6, no. 2 (1988): 153.

[8] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 90.

[9] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 93.


Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Third. Thames & Hudson.

Grimes, C. A., L. J. Riddell, K. J. Campbell, and C. A. Nowson. 2013. “Dietary Salt Intake, Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption, and Obesity Risk.” PEDIATRICS 131 (1): 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2012-1628.

Lamont, Michele, and Annette Lareau. 1988. “Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments.” Sociological Theory 6 (2): 153. https://doi.org/10.2307/202113.

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

Popkin, Barry. n.d. “Figure 1: The Atlantic Trade Routes between Africa, the New World And…” ResearchGate. Accessed March 24, 2020. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-Atlantic-trade-routes-between-Africa-the-New-World-and-Europe-The-trade-triangle_fig2_49676792.

Willan, Anne. 2016. “How Raw Sugar Transformed the European Banquet.” The Getty Iris (blog). February 23, 2016. https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/how-raw-sugar-transformed-the-european-banquet/.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ by Hannah Glasse. n.d. https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/5d/84/fae6076fcf6cc9867c26985f2650.jpg Gallery: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0034892.html Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/d766bfa8 CC-BY-4.0. Accessed March 24, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Art_of_Cookery_made_Plain_and_Easy%27_by_Hannah_Glasse_Wellcome_L0034892.jpg.

Title-Page: Glasse, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.” n.d. https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/bf/d5/d1b945439258ef0255875ef8d3a2.jpg Gallery: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0014985.html. Accessed March 24, 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Title-page;_Glasse,_%22The_art_of_cookery_made_plain_and_easy%22_Wellcome_L0014985.jpg.

Chocolate, Social Class, and Religion in Enlightenment Europe

Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate drinking in Eighteenth Century Europe

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.

Caffè Florian in Venice survives from the Eighteenth Century

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).

An image of Voltaire (with raised arm), Condorcet (seated at the right) and other philosophes discussing at the Café Procope in Paris

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).

Works cited:

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


Gaines, James R. Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment. Harper Perennial 2006

Jacob, Margaret. The Enlightenment: A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins 2016

Julius, John. A History of Venice. Viking 2013

Morton, Marcia, and Frederic Morton. Chocolate: An Illustrated History. Outlet 1988

Robertson, John. The Enlightenment: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press 2015

Sorel, Nancy. First Encounters: A Book of Memorable Meetings. Random House 1998

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


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

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

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

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

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

See the source image


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Works cited:

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

John Wiley & Sons 2011

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

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

The History of Chocolate: A Story of Mass Democracy or Mass Exploitation?


A traditional view of the history of chocolate focuses on the growth in mass consumption of chocolate as a byproduct of democratization and the industrial revolution. With time, consumption of chocolate spread from Aztec elites to the European nobility to the common citizens of the Western world. However, I contend that the history of chocolate is not simply one of expanded access fueled by increased political and economic inclusiveness, but rather one of shifting patterns of exploitation. The expansion of chocolate consumption has tracked the political enfranchisement and growth in economic power of white Westerners, but has simultaneously resulted in the brutal exploitation of poor brown and black people, first in Latin America, and now in Africa.

The Elite Origins of Chocolate

In ancient Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was confined to the elites, which included members of the royal house, lords and nobility, long-distance merchants and warriors. Consumed after dinner at royal banquets, it was considered an exotic delicacy and a gift from the gods, a precious treasure not to be wasted on commoners (Coe and Coe, pg. 95). It was also used in religious ceremonies, including marriage rites, to symbolize the sacred nature of matrimonial covenants (Coe and Coe, pgs. 97-101). When the Conquistadors brought chocolate back to the Old World from Mesoamerica, it quickly spread through Europe, becoming a delicious treat for European nobles. Through the displays and pageants of Spain’s Habsburg rulers, the drink quickly gained fame, with powerful oligarchs such as Cosimo de’ Medici becoming “chocoholics” (Coe and Coe, pg. 135). Curiously, chocolate came to be seen as more feminine, as it was popularized with ladies of the royal courts in Europe. It retained its association with marriage, as women intermarried among royal families and brought their love of chocolate with them (Coe and Coe, pgs. 136-137).

The image below displays the status of chocolate drink as both an elite status symbol and a beverage uniquely associated with the idealized image of the noble lady and her well-ordered household:

18th century French noblewomen drink chocolate with their afternoon meal

Chocolate Comes to the Masses

Despite chocolate’s elite origins, a different narrative took form around chocolate as production methods were refined and it became more broadly available to the masses. By the late 17th century in England, chocolate became associated with the intellectual movement towards democratic governance during the Enlightenment era. Chocolate houses and coffee houses became centers of democratic thought, prompting Charles II to issue an ultimately futile decree to close them down in 1675 (Coe and Coe, pg. 168). Chocolate was truly democratized in the mid-19th century, as technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution made chocolate far more accessible to ordinary people. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the alkalizing process which gave chocolate its familiar dark color and made it milder in flavor. In 1849, Joseph Fry invented the modern chocolate bar, using cocoa butter to transform chocolate into a solid confection (Coe and Coe, pgs. 234 – 241). Simultaneously, sugar, which had come into common usage as both a preservative and an ingredient to supplement the caloric needs of working and middle class citizens in the West, came to be one of the most important components of both chocolate drink and the newly invented bars (Schartzkopf and Sampeck). As the narrative goes, the physical transformation of chocolate represented a revolution in accessibility, carried on a wave of political democratization and the industrialization-fueled growth in mass consumption.

The picture below displays three different styles of modern, mass-produced chocolate bar, complete with sugar for extra flavoring and the familiar dark coloring introduced by Van Houten’s method:

Modern, mass-produced chocolate bars complete with unique design elements

The Thin Veneer of Democracy

Though the history of the spread of chocolate is often portrayed as a triumph of mass democracy, in truth chocolate has been and continues to be a product of extremely unequal, hierarchical systems of racial and class-based oppression, in which poor brown and black people produce chocolate as a luxury good to be enjoyed by better off, mostly white Westerners. The oppressive hierarchies of Western chocolate production trace their origins to the encomienda system of the early 16th century, in which Spanish colonizers virtually enslaved the Native people of their American colonies, forcing them to harvest cash crops such as chocolate beans, often at the expense of their own lives (Yeager). Eventually, the encomienda system came to an end, and chocolate production in the New World gradually became the domain of newly enslaved Africans. As globalization increased, and outright slavery fell out of favor, production shifted from Latin America to Africa, with (technically illegal) slave labor still being used to produce chocolate in places such as Sao Tome as late as the early 20th century (Satre). In the modern era, the exploitation of African labor continues. 74% of chocolate was produced in Africa during the 2016-2017 season, but Africans only consumed a tiny percentage of the chocolate they produced, and received a comparatively small cut of the profits (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46). In the words of Ghanian farmer Mercy Asabea, when asked about the local scarcity of chocolate, “Ghana made Europe what it is…We have every resource here, yet Ghanians are not progressing at all” (Leissle, pg. 57).

The following chart shows a harrowing picture of the relationship between modern chocolate production and consumption, with the orange dots representing main exporters and the red dots representing export destinations:

Modern chocolate production and consumption patterns (April 2010 to March 2011)

Accusations of highly exploitative labor practices, including forced child labor, continue to this day. This video from the Stolen Lives Project details just a few of the abuses allegedly committed by the modern day chocolate production industry:


Ultimately, it is important for us to develop a realistic perspective on chocolate and its origins. One can both appreciate the expansion of access to this delicious treat, especially in the Western world, yet simultaneously reject purely Western-centered narratives which exclude the experiences of disadvantaged black and brown people in the developing world as they relate to chocolate production and consumption

Works Cited

“Bars of Black Swiss Chocolate.” Wikimedia Commons, 8 Oct. 2015, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dark_chocolate_bar.jpg.

Boucher, Francois. “The Afternoon Meal.” Wikimedia Commons, 10 Aug. 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fran%C3%A7ois_Boucher_002.jpg.

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

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.

Stolen Lives Project. Chocolate Slaves. Vimeo, 2 Aug. 2015, vimeo.com/135172005.

Wade, Kristine. “The Production of Chocolate.” Flickr, 3 Feb. 2017, http://www.flickr.com/photos/147998004@N06/32640931946.

Yeager, Timothy J. “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 55, no. 04, 1995, pp. 842–859., doi:10.1017/s0022050700042182.

The Spread of Chocolate: From Elites to the Masses and Back to the Elites Again

As with many of our favorite foods, like beer, coffee, bread, etc., chocolate has also fallen prey to the recent trend of reverting away from mass production and more towards the smaller scale worlds of “craft” and “artisanal”. For many, the appeal in craft products lies in the idea that the product is made by hand, individually, with the unspoken secret ingredient- love. On the other hand, the craft movement can be understood as yet another new face of class warfare- a way for the upper echelons of society to once again prove their superiority over those who are unable to afford the “finer things in life”. And indeed, chocolate is just one of those finer things. Though not strikingly different in taste, the innate understandings we have of a dark chocolate bar from brands like Hershey’s, Mars, or Cadbury are worlds apart from those with labels from Chocolat Bonnat, Godiva, or Neuhaus. But why? Shouldn’t something as wholesome, delicious, and universally loved as chocolate be an equalizer amongst us? The answers lie in the history of chocolate consumption itself, and its journey from popularity only amongst the European and North American elite, to that of the masses.

Shortly after European colonizers “discovered” cacao and its delicious byproducts, chocolate soon made its way into the hearts of the Spanish elites. 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. Chocolate soon spread to other elite circles throughout Europe, such as those in France and England, and the demand for it quickly became greater than that which was being brought over from the New World. In order for the pace of production to meet the increased demand, Europeans had to establish colonial plantations in equatorial regions around the world to grow cacao and sugar.

Chocolate was, in every sense, a fashionable thing throughout the 18th century and only became accessible to the lower classes with the invention of a cocoa press by a Dutch chemist in the early 1800s. The cocoa press revolutionized the way Europeans made, sold, and consumed chocolate. What was once a quite labor intensive process was now easily able to be conducted on a mass scale. The cocoa press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate. The product became known as “Dutch cocoa” and soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.

Not long after, chocolate bars were being made and sold on a massive scale, and being enjoyed across all classes. Companies such as Cadbury, Mars and Hershey that ushered in a chocolate boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s that has yet to abate. In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in lieu of wages. Today, the average American consumes 12 lbs. of chocolate each year, and more than $75 billion worldwide is spent on chocolate annually. Interestingly enough, most of what we would consider “chocolate” today tends to be made with significantly more sugar and extra additives than actual cacao.

Recently however, there’s been a new revolution in the world of chocolate: the craft food industry. Similar to its fallen brethren beer and coffee, chocolate has now begun to reverse course in its journey toward universally affordable and enjoyable. Although many artisanal brands claim an aspiration to change the chocolate industry for the better- sustainable, effective cacao farming and harvesting methods – the reality is that they have created another avenue by which class division and elitism can be fostered. Today, it is considered trendy and hip to side against Big Food corporations in favor of these homemade delicacies. This apparent rejection of candy as a commodity, with identical shapes and sizes, is also an embrace of candy as status symbol. After all, why spend a buck for a pack of M&Ms when you can spend twenty times that amount for a single bar?

While it is all well and good to pursue sustainability and support local farmers, it is also important for us as consumers to understand the societal implications of such endeavors. For all the faults of Big Food and mass production (and there are indeed many), we needn’t be so quick to forget the good that this production has done as well. In the U.S., chocolate is one of the few non-essential items nearly everyone can afford; 85 percent of consumers buy it. Whether we realize it or not, chocolate plays a massive role in our everyday lives, and we ought to think more critically about its history of exclusivity before we bemoan the incredible inclusivity we have with it today.

Works Cited:

  1. Fiegl, Amanda. A Brief History of Chocolate. Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.
  2. Kintzer, Brad. Inside The World Of Craft Chocolate. National Confectioners Association, http://www.candyusa.com/nca-news/cst/defining-craft-chocolate/.
  3. Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Feb. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.
  4. Lindell, Crystal. “Mintel: U.S. Chocolate Market to Hit $25B in 2019.” Global Chocolate Report, Candy Industry, 9 June 2015, http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86698-mintel-us-chocolate-market-to-hit-25b-in-2019.
  5. Shanker, Deena. Little Chocolate’s Big Moment. Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.

Church and Chocolate – The Turbulent Relationship of the two C’s

The strength of the Catholic Church and their presence in Europe is a commonly known fact, and it’s something that still holds true today.  Through the shrewd political tactics during the turmoil of the middle ages, the Catholic Church’s religious influence over western Europe became all encompassing (Hanson, 24-26). As someone who grew up in a religious household, the idea that chocolate would be a point of contention within the church was not just fascinating, but almost incomprehensible without a deeper understanding of what chocolate stood for when it was first introduced.

With the discovery of chocolates that came from the New World, questions began emerging within the church. Was this pagan beverage something that they supported or denounced? Would this beverage be beneficial to their influence or be a thorn on their side? It should be noted that when chocolate’s influence started rising in Europe, the Catholic Church was going through their own upheaval of what we now know as the Reformation, or the religious wars (Coe, 137).  They were struggling with the emergence of the Protestant wave and trying to maintain their borders and influence over the members that were unhappy with what the church represented.

This post isn’t to argue whether or not the church’s continuous changes in stance of chocolate was right or wrong, but to highlight how the discovery of chocolate brought about not just socioeconomic changes, but religious changes as well.

Fasting, Women and Poison

While there is no real record of when exactly chocolate reached Europe, but the first appearance takes place in Spain (Coe, 129-128). Making its way through the royal courts and nobility, the popularity of this beverage spiraled. This is also when the questions of chocolate and its relationship with the church began coming into question.

In 1636 Antonio de León Pinelo asked the question, “Where does chocolate fit into our moral and religious system?” (Martin, pp. 23).  Looking further back, we see that even before, there was a Dominican friar who had formally asked the pope whether or not chocolate was okay to consume during fast. It is stated that the pope merely had a good laugh with the cardinals regarding this question and did not even bother to write a response. So, why would this have been an issue? The church’s dilemma came from several issues: this was a beverage from a pagan colony that did not believe in their God, this chocolate beverage was often used as a meal substitute, and the products that were mixed in to the chocolate beverages could count as a type of food.

Treatise by Leon Pinelo. Madrid, 1636.

The question about the consumption of chocolate, which was mostly in liquid form at the time, actually became a legitimate debate as time went by.  Jesuits, who had wholly accepted chocolate and were already using it as a tool for trades and investments, were for everything chocolate. Yet, the Dominicans who were much more puritanical and traditional, argued that the whole point of fast was to purify the body of food and thirst quenching liquids and thus chocolate should not be allowed (Coe, 148). Despite the fact that chocolate (once with the addition of sugar to subdue the bitterness of it) became a favorite amongst the cardinals and the pope, who declared that it was OK to consume during fast, many puritanical priests still held on to the idea that chocolate was not okay.

There was also the issue that chocolate had such strong ties to women, and the status was women was always a point of contention in the church (Martin, Lecture 3).  Since chocolate was prepared by women, the church initially felt that it was almost inappropriate for it to be enjoyed by men, especially during fast.  The church also probably felt threatened of their power when European women in Latin Americas, who had grown up away from Europe, did not listen to the sermons that were conducted in these colonies and instead chose to gossip right outside the church drinking chocolate while the priests were speaking (Martin, Lecture 3). It isn’t hard to see why the church began to perceive the presence as a threat to their ideals and their teachings.

Raimundo_Madrazo_-_Hot_Chocolate“Hot Chocolate”. Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, 1884-1885.

Also, the idea that chocolate was not a “Gift of God”, but perhaps something more sinister came to be with with the perceived murder of Pope Clement XIV.  Because chocolate had become sweeter and the taste was so strong, it was thought as the ideal vessel for poison.  When it was rumored that the pope was slowly poisoned to death through his favorite beverage, the consumption of chocolate within the church was also soured. Even though the rumor was eventually debunked, the idea that chocolate could be used as a tool of weapon made people much more wary of it.

The Society of Jesus

However, if there was a group of strong advocates for chocolate within the church, it was the Jesuits. The Jesuits were both feared and disliked by people inside and outside the church. This was mostly linked to their history as the militant arms of the church but also due to their large success in using slavery in the New World for their own profit. They captured and used forced labor on the locals to harvest large amounts of not just tobacco and cotton, but also cacao beans for their own monetary gains (Moss, 29).

The Jesuit missionaries tried to take this success past the Americas and Europe into parts of Asia. They wanted to repeat the success they had found in the New World and expand to China and other parts of the East. While they were mostly unsuccessful, they did find large amounts of success in the Philippines. As the Philippines became a Spanish colony, using the influence of the Catholic religion, they also introduced chocolate as a source of beverage and food as well.  The country, still to this day, enjoy copious amounts of chocolate and tend to have a lot of chocolate based food and beverages during the Christmas holidays.

Malagos Chocolate (Philippine Chocolate Brand). Malagos webpage.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013.

de Madrazo y Garreta, Raimundo; featured image. 1884-1885. Private collection. Oil on canvas. http://www.artnet.com/artists/raimundo-de-madrazo-y-garreta/hot-chocolate-806TPfsQ-L3wKppXQc2LlA2

Hanson, Eric O. Catholic church in world politics. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Malagos Chocolate; featured image. 2016. Malagos Facebook Page.

Martin, Carla. 2018 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 7th, pp.23, 25.

Martin, Carla. 2018 AAAS E-119 Lecture 3. Chocolate Expansion. February 7th.

Moss, Sarah, and Alexander Badenoch. Chocolate: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009.

Pinelo, Leon; featured image. Madrid, 1636.

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 Change from Elite Drink to Common Confection

The chocolate prevalently consumed today isn’t the chocolate known to the ancient Mesoamericans, or elite Europeans of the past. What was once a rich, decadent drink of the wealthy has now become a common confection, easily attainable by all members of our society. Due to the many innovations introduced during the Industrial Revolution, now most readily available chocolate is heavily processed and adulterated with sugar.

The chocolate the Mayans and Aztecs sipped was made by a process of grinding roasted cacao seeds until they formed chocolate liquor. This bitter, fatty liquid was mixed with corn flour, a little water, and some spices to add flavor.  A similar process was used in Europe when the Spaniards first brought back cacao seeds from the New World in the 1500’s. “For many years cacao beans were roasted and ground into a thick, grainy paste (cacao mass or liquor), by methods differing very little form the pre-Columbian metate grinding…”(Presilla, 2009, p. 30). Pictured below is a metate, the grinding stone that would be heated and used to grind cacao seeds.

metate_et_mano           Figure 1. A Mesoamerican Metate used for grinding cacao.

As chocolate gained popularity throughout Europe, its target audience remained the same. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 125). Several inventions in the 1800’s would eventually change chocolate’s status as an exclusive drink, to a low-cost food.

This change was first precipitated in 1828 by Conrad Van Houten from the Netherlands. Van Houten devised a way to use a hydrolyzed press in order to extract the cacao fat from chocolate liquor; leaving both cocoa powder and the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder was quicker to turn into hot chocolate than the traditional method, and the cocoa butter had many uses, such as making soaps. He further invented an alkalizing process which helped to make less acidic, smoother tasting cocoa powder (Presilla, 2009, p. 40).

chocolate_melanger          Figure 2. Modern Melangeur used to mix ingredients.

Pictured above is a modern day version of a machine introduced during the industrial revolution, the Melangeur. This is a large mixer used to combine ingredients into a uniform dough. This added greater consistency and speed to an otherwise laborious process. In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt, of Switzerland, developed a machine to take the smoothing and combing process one step further. With his conching machine all grittiness could be removed and a truly smooth, melt in your mouth, solid, chocolate was created. During that same year another Swiss inventor, Daniel Peter, came up with the process of adding dried milk (Prescilla, 2009, p. 41).

Through trial and error, a self-stable bar chocolate was made from conching cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and dried milk. The end result was a product that could be made inexpensively on a very large scale. As the price went down, the demand rose. This new form of chocolate could not have been mass produced so cheaply without its main ingredient; sugar. Mintz (1987) tells us sugar changed from a luxury of the wealthy to a dietary staple of the poor in Britain (p. 133). Pictures below are sugar cane workers on the island of Jamaica in the 1880s. As sugar consumption increased in staggering rates in Europe and North America, the need for affordable mass labor led to slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, the working conditions of laborers on plantations was terrible.

cane_cutters_in_jamaica          Figure 3.  Jamaican sugar cane works in the 1880’s.

The strong consumer demand in our society for ever more sweet treats has led chocolate manufacturers to look for ways to continue to make mass produce quantities of chocolate for as little money as possible. Of course this has resulted in paying sugar and cacao farmers as little as possible. Historically, before food and drug regulations, this also meant a free for all on adding cheaper ingredients into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 244).  Large scale chocolate making meant, and continues to mean, a reduction in overall chocolate quality.

Before chocolate became the conched bar of sugar, dried milk and cocoa we know of today, the quality of beans used mattered a great deal. The most prized beans came from the variety called Criollo. This name has lost significance outside of niche markets due to the nature of modern chocolate making. Many things can go awry when making cacao ready for eating. Not only do varies varieties, namely forastero, potentially have a less ideal flavor, issues can arise during growing, fermenting, drying and roasting. Van Houten’s alkali treatment and conching can both help salvage imperfect beans (Presilla, 2009, p. 41). The high amount of sugar can also help mask unpleasant flavors. After the Industrial Revolution Priscilla (2009) notes “Even excellent chocolate had become faceless and anonymous, for the great majority of consumers had no way of seeing and judging the cacao from which it was made (p. 41.)

Chocolate was once a fine crafted drink of elite Mesoamericans. Then cacao traveled to Europe, and for many years, was kept in the same tradition of being sipped by the upper class. Innovation, and an unfortunate acceptance of slave labor, allowed chocolate during the Industrial Revolution to be transformed. It became a common, edible food available to all of our society. The origin and quality of the ingredients has become unknown to the average consumer. Today most think of chocolate as a highly sweetened candy. This has not always been true. Chocolate had a different life long before industrialization.



Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Mintz, S. W. (1987). Sweetness and power: the place of sugar in modern history. New York: Penguin Books.

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

Figure 1. Yelkrokoyade (2008) Metate et mano [Online image]                                                          Retrieved March 8, 2017 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMetate_et_mano.jpg

Figure 2. Sanjay Acharya (2008) Chocolate melanger [Online image]                                            Retrieved March 8, 2017 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChocolate_melanger.jpg

Figure 3. Cane cutters in Jamaica [Online image] (1880’s)  Retrieved March 8, 2017 from https//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACane_cutters_Jamaica.jpg


Industrial Progress: How the industrialization of chocolate morphed function and accessibility

Throughout its history, chocolate has maintained a relatively stable existence in terms of its functions and production.  While there have been periods of change, there have also been long stretches of time where chocolate use stayed consistent.  For example, in Mesoamerica from as early as 1800 BCE to as late as 900 CE chocolate was consumed as a beverage and used in a variety of religious ceremonies (C-Spot).  However, when brought to Europe in the early 1500s, chocolate went through a period of rapid change. Most significantly, chocolate’s industrialization led to a change in its accessibility, highlighting how advancements in production methodology and advertising of chocolate altered its social standing and class function.  Through careful examination of key events in the industrial timeline of chocolate, four stages can be identified that each show a transition in the industrial development, ultimately linked to societal structure and function.

Starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was introduced to Europe as a drink for the aristocracy.  Over these two centuries, chocolate served a variety of functions, of which some are no longer recognized in modern society.  In 1556, the earliest recipe for chocolate was documented in Spain.  This recipe, collected by a lieutenant of Captain Hernán Cortés, relates how the cacao beans are ground into powder, mixed with water until foamy, and then stirred with gold or silver spoons until drunk.  This was an especially common recipe in Mesoamerica.  The entry then declares that this drink is the “most wholesome and substantial of any food or beverage in the world…whoever drinks a cup of this liquor can go thru a whole day without taking anything else even if on a cross country journey” (C-Spot).  This account clearly relates cacao’s function as a hearty beverage with a substantial amount of nutritional value.  However, the function of cacao changes in the 1580s when it contributes to the humoral theory of medicine in that its “hot” nature combats poison, alleviates intestinal discomfort, and cures a variety of other ailments (Coe 122).  This functional form sticks with chocolate into the 1600s where its increasing demand eventually leads to European plantations in the Caribbean that operate to ensure a steady supply of cacao for the European elite.  In fact, the elite were so floored by chocolate that in 1657 the first chocolate house was established in London (C-Spot).  These houses were the cultural and political hub for society’s elite (Coe 223).  To get a historical and social sense of a chocolate house in England, this article by Dr. Matthew Green published in The Telegraph is quite informative. Dr. Green does a great job of capturing the sophisticated nature of these houses, particularly those of the super elite on St. James Square.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was served to the elites of Europe in a variety of functions ranging from a medicine to a simple, yet powerful, beverage.  However, as the 18th and 19th centuries approached, a more transitional period of chocolate began to take form, in which production was industrialized and the final product was made more accessible to the middle class.  Starting in 1764, the first power machinery was used in chocolate production, in the form of a grist mill, used to grind cacao beans by Baker’s Chocolate in Dorchester, Massachusetts (Coe 227).  Baker’s Chocolate was founded on the pillars of purity of product, mass production, money-back guarantee, and affordability (C-Spot).  These pillars emphasize the shift from the chocolate drink as an item of the elite to a mass produced and advertised product accessible to a range of social classes.  This evolution of chocolate manufacturing continued in 1828 when Coenraad Johannes van Houten received a patent for his screw press, used to separate fat from the roasted cacao beans (C-Spot).  This method was an inexpensive way of removing fat and leaving behind a cake that could be ground into a fine powder (C-Spot).  Later call the Dutch Process, it was promoted by van Houten as “for the rich and poor – made instantly – easier than tea” (C-Spot).  It was even thought of as a more suitable chocolate for women and children as this process removed the bitterness found in untreated cacao (C-Spot).  The last industrial innovation of note was the first mass-marketed chocolate bar produced by Fry’s Chocolate.  In 1847, Francis and Joseph Fry were able to perfect the chocolate mixture in a moldable form, thus forming the first bar (Coe 241).  As can be seen in the advertisement below, Fry’s Chocolate consumption was directed at children due to its sweeter taste, and thus more accessible when compared to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement

Following the development of the Fry’s chocolate bar, many chocolate companies began to follow suit by creating chocolate treats that could be mass produced and bought by the public.  This was a time in which “industrial decadence”, or the ability for food to be produced on an industrial level, greatly improved the quality and variety of diets for the middle and working class population (Goody 72).  This statement holds true for chocolate production.  In fact, the time stretching from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s was a period marked by innovation and branding of different forms of chocolate delights.  Below, one can find a timeline of the most popular brands of chocolate introduced during this period.  These brands still exist today and mark the beginning of a period of refined

Timeline of Chocolate Brand Introduction

and obtainable chocolate for all social classes.  There are a few events deserving specific attention as they highlight the theme of chocolate industrialization and its effects on accessibility, mass marketing, and mass production.  For example, in 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé created milk chocolate using Nestlé’s powdered milk, creating a sweeter chocolate to be enjoyed by a wider range of people (Coe 247).  Other similar advancements include, Rudolph Lindt’s conche machine in 1879, which created a smoother sensory experience and the invention of the Toblerone in 1908 as a different approach to chocolate involving a mold and filling (Coe 247, 248).  These developments, along with the introduction of a variety of chocolate products, ushered in an era of mass production and accessibility.


The last stage of chocolate industrialization is the current one.  While the bars and candies discussed above still exist today, there is now a distinction between this “grocery store chocolate” and fine chocolate made by the chocolatier.  This term is used to describe a person that uses fine chocolate to create unique creations using machinery but also hand production (Martin, Lecture 4).  An example of this process is seen at Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville, MA.  Below is a video of their production process, which highlights their hands-on and “bean to bar” practice.  It appears that this distinction between fine

and “grocery store” chocolate has arisen due to a change in consumers’ preference for sustainable and fair trade foods.  While people occasionally love to get their hands on a Milky Way, many consumers are attracted to the idea of a pure chocolate bar whose ingredients can be traced throughout the entire production process.

Over time, the function and accessibility of chocolate has shifted to mirror the industrial aspects of its production.  When first introduced to Europe, chocolate was produced in colonialized islands and intended as a drink for the elite, while also serving a purpose in the medical world.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, chocolate underwent a transitional period where industrialization was introduced in the form of mass production and advertising, thus making chocolate accessible to all classes.  This period was followed by a rapid expansion of the chocolate industry where chocolate was consumed in solid form and constant advancements were made to appeal to the variety of tastes craved by consumers.  Finally, today, we still enjoy a variety of mass produced chocolate candies, but now we strive for a bar crafted with sustainability, purity, and fairness in mind.



Picture and Video Source:

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement:


Taza Chocolate Video:



Made in PowerPoint with dates extracted from C-Spot’s Concise History of Chocolate

Works Cited:

“A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” The C-spot. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

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

Hudson, 2013. Print.

Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York:    Routledge, 2013. Print.

Green, Dr. Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 4: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Aframer 199x. CGIS,   Cambridge, MA. 22 Feb. 2017. Lecture.