Tag Archives: london

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

Enlightenment-Era Chocolate/Coffee Houses

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E119 Lecture Videos and Notes

Google Images Samuel Pepys Painting

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

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









Chocolate, Politics, and Gambling

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

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

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

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

Chocolate pots

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

White's Chocolate House
White’s Chocolate House

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multimedia Sources

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

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

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

Westernizing Ancient Traditions

The early Europeans had comparably duplicated the early Mesoamerican use of cacao and chocolate documented in the Mayan book of the Popol Vuh (Book of Counsel) into five main categories:

  1. Trade
  2. Medicinal
  3. Cultural
  4. Social
  5. Religious

The first encounter of Europeans with the cacao product can be traced back to August 15th, 1502 when Christopher Columbus’s son, Ferinand Columbus, captured a Mayan trading canoe belonging to the Chontal-Mayal-speaking Putun. This encounter is significant in regards to how Europeans perceived and witnessed Mayan’s use cacao for trade. Ferinand noted that the group, held what he thought were “almonds” as he termed it but was in reality cacao, as a currency traded at great value.[1]

Pictured here are cacao beans covered with a gold rim to symbolize the value of the beans.                               cacaogold

On the other hand, Italian colonist Girolamo Benzoni wrote in his book History of the New World published in 1575 that the chocolate drink made from cacao that the Mesoamericans used for spiritual, social, medicinal, trade, and casual purposes was only meant for pigs but nevertheless, it was worthy to him due to its monetary value. (Coe & Coe 110) Therefore, the colonists were bound to use cacao as a currency in their stay in Mesoamerica.

The journey of cacao and chocolate should be described as it is relevant to how the products were used in Europe, not just by Europeans in Mesoamerica. Through hybridization of the Spanish and Mesoamerican culture, a new generation of “Spanish Creoles” were born in a region that was previously known as the Aztec Empire. It was in this context of hybridization that chocolate was taken to New Spain and then transported to the rest of Old Spain as well as Europe as they saw the product had values. (Coe & Coe 113) Spanish chronicler Lopez de Velazco had documented the first shipment of cacao products from La Guaira to Colombia which was a hub for trade with Spain, and then shipped directly to Spain which is important as various Latin American states came into contact with the product.[1] The product which would be a topic of controversy and pleasure of Europe had arrived in Europe.

Cacao and its byproducts had more serious uses as well. Chocolate was used for medicinal purposes by Europeans just as Mesoamericans. It was a Greek born physician who discovered a theory that for diseases which caused a “hot” fever, you needed a “cold” drug and vice-versa. Although the Spanish preferred their chocolate drinks “hot, Spanish Royal Physician Francisco Hernandez discovered that a “cool” chocolate drink would cure a fever and published in 1591; a treatise on New World foods by Juan de Cardenas found that certain chocolate such as “green” chocolate can have negative health effects harming the heart, causing fevers, etc but if toasted and mixed with atole gruel; digestion is strong. (Coe & Coe 121-123) Thus, the European use of chocolate for medical purposes was similar to the Mesoamerican use and more uses for the chocolate. We usually do not think of chocolate as a medicinal pharmaceutical or drug but this video might change your mind, courtesy of Ichan Medical School.


Chocolate soon spread to the British Isles via monks and eventually found its role in Royal Families — where the trend back in the day. (Coe & Coe 115) Chocolate beverages used in the French Royal Courts in the wedding between King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess of Austria 1615.[3] As it was given the royal honors of being a product of the elite, the common people of Europe started to socially drink chocolate, including in countries such as the mentioned Spain and France but also, Greece, Italy, and Britain. In fact, chocolate became so custom in Britain that there were chocolate coffee shops opened in London during the mid-18th century![4] Chocolate is indeed sweet and as Sidney W. Mintz writes; “Indeed, all (or at least nearly all) mammals like sweetness.”[5] While there were initial doubts on cacao and chocolate as a fashionable product, this changed later as proven through the European customs of the product in cultural traditions such as weddings of Royal Families as well as casual usage in various forms.

Pictured here is a Chocolate Coffee Shop in London.


The question of the use of chocolate made its entrance into the ecclesiastical sphere related to the religious culture of Europe as well. There were debates among Spanish Catholic Churches if chocolate counted as a food and if it could be consumed during fasts. The end result of this internal debate amount the ecclesiastical community was that chocolate could indeed be consumed as decreed by His Holiness Pope Pious V who was a drinker of the product himself.[6] This decision had a great effect on the religious society of Europe as since it was justified by Catholic religious doctrine, more became comfortable with taking it including religious authorities.

Therefore, the early European use of cacao and chocolate very much resembles what the 5 customs Mesoamericans used it for.

[1] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 108-09. Print.

[2] Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. 28. Print.

[3] “Chocolate and Polyphenols in the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.” YouTube, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5OPDAYRvMg&gt;.

[4] “The History of Chocolate | Blog – ZChocolat.” ZChocolat. N.p., 20 Oct. 2012. Web. <http://www.zchocolat.com/en/the_history_of_chocolate.asp&gt;.

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

[6] Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. 16. Print.

[7] “History of Chocolate.” Spanish Food, n.d. Web. <http://www.spanish-food.org/spanish-food-history-chocolate.html&gt;.

The Importance of English Chocolate Houses

In the midst of the 16th century, Chocolate arrives in Spain marking the beginning of its introduction to the European countries.  Soon after, the custom of drinking chocolate increases in popularity and spreads across Europe, reaching England specifically in the 1650s.  Soon after, in London the first chocolate house is born in 1657.  A chocolate house can be best described as a club designed to accommodate the chocolate drinking of the wealthy and elite with an atmosphere vaguely similar to modern day coffee houses.  Due to the deluxe and delectable nature of chocolate during this era, chocolate houses were “central to London’s gregarious-all-male-gregarious-social life of the time.”  However, despite the Chocolate Houses’ reputation as being incredibly classist by nature and segregated, in terms of income level and gender, or their depiction as “the most fashionable hell in London” (Green 1), chocolate houses established a market for chocolate consumption and a demand for chocolate as a product that later translated into the highly accessible and highly desired product it is today.

When the custom of drinking chocolate hot started to become popular in England, the country currently had little tradition of drinking hot beverages as coffee had only arrived five years prior.  For this reason, “chocolate was an alien, suspect substance drink associated with popery and idleness.” (Green 1)  Additionally, a form of the chocolate drink was currently sold at the already much more established coffee houses, however; the drink was not popular among this crowd since the beverage cost more due to its rare and luxurious demeanor and the caffeine content was much lower than that of either coffee or tea.  Coffee shop customers wanted much more “bang” (caffeine) for their buck, and for this reason, hot chocolate did not gain popularity in the coffee houses and was a secondary, less popular option in addition to coffee or tea.  The establishment of chocolate houses is crucial as these locations created an environment in which chocolate was sought out and was the only product being sold.

Cadbury_and_chocolate_history_of_chocolate_a_new_ingredient.jpg (500×363)
Chocolate advertisement for a Cadbury’s product.

As mentioned above, the first English chocolate house opened in London in 1657 and chocolate houses in Florence and Venice started to gain notoriety in the early 1700s.   Of one of the first documented advertisements for the chocolate houses declared that: “In Bishopgate St., in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called Chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time and also unmade at reasonable rates” (Cadbury.com 1) (the chocolate houses also sold premade samples of the chocolate drink to be later made at home) thus creating an exciting new market full of mystery and wonder.  One of the most notable chocolate houses, White’s Chocolate House, opened its shop in the fashionable St. James street neighborhood in 1693 by Frances White, an Italian immigrant.  St. James Square was a self-contained (and self-segregated) aristocratic neighborhood full of the homes of nobles and gentry in close locational proximity to Charles II’s (a huge proponent of the chocolate houses who often brought a subset of his many mistress to fraternize with while enjoying his chocolate) favorite palace, thus making it the perfect region and allowing chocolate to be “consumed in one of the most exclusive addresses in Europe by the crème de la crème of British society, cementing chocolate’s association with decadence and luxury in the popular imagination.” (Green 1)  Two other important chocolate houses are that of Ozinda’s, which was also located in the St. James Street region, and the Cocoa Tree, which was located in the Pall Mall region and thus served as the more respectable, informal headquarters of the Tory party where policy and parliamentary strategy were conducted over chocolate. (Green 1)  In modern day, the club that formerly housed White’s Chocolate House remains to be an exclusive gentlemen’s club with current notable members such as Charles, Prince of Wales; Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; Conrad Black and Tom Stacey.  The luxurious and trendy neighborhoods that housed the chocolate houses as well as the notable and elite clientele further supported an environment that thus led to the current modern depiction of chocolate as being a luxurious and decadent product that couldn’t be more different from the powdery, watery froth that is known as hot chocolate in modern day. (sci-news.com, see recipe).

300px-White's_Club_St_James's_Street_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1375768.jpg (300×225)
Building that housed the chocolate house formerly known as White’s Chocolate House

The chocolate houses of London’s Georgian times provide an establishment in which the wealthy and elite could meet their peers to enjoy various rich chocolate drinks meanwhile discussing the pressing topics in politics or high-society gossip.  Although the exclusivity of the clubs and the high prices of enjoying chocolate at these establishments (patrons paid not only for the expensive beverage but often times, an admittance fee) was incredibly classist and did not contribute in making chocolate the economically accessible product it is now today.  The environment portrayed in the chocolate houses, the status of the patrons of these clubs, and the luxurious demeanor of the neighborhoods hosting these locations were crucial in creating a purpose and demand for chocolate, thus contributing to the establishment of chocolate as a luxurious and decadent product in current times.

Works Cited:

“Discovering Chocolate.” Discovering Chocolate. Cadbury.com.au, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.


“Europeans.” – The Story of Chocolate. Thestoryofchocolate.com, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.


Green, Matthew. “The Surprising History of London’s Lost Chocolate Houses.” The Telegraph.

Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10515620/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses.html&gt;.

Morton, Marcia, and Sidney Morton. “London’s Chocolate Houses.” Chocolate: An Illustrated

History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 21-23. Herb Museum. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/londons-chocolate-houses&gt;.

“Scientist Finds Manuscript with First English Recipes for Iced Chocolate Desserts.” Breaking

Science News SciNewscom. Sci-News.com, 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/science-recipes-iced-chocolate-desserts-01354.html&gt;.