Tag Archives: Multimedia Essay 1

A Mestizo Tradition in Cacao: The Introduction and Incorporation of Molinillos

The history of chocolate mirrors the history of mestizaje from Mesoamerica to modern-day Mexico and Central America, with the contemporary product serving as the result of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences. Even the production of authentic, ancient, or traditional Mesoamerican cacao beverages and chocolate are infused with post-colonial influences, from the addition of new ingredients to entirely new techniques for crafting chocolate. Of these, the introduction of the molinillo, now considered a staple component in crafting traditional Mexican chocolate, represents the culmination of indigenous and Spanish techniques.

Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican Chocolate

Cacao was harvested and consumed as early as the Olmec civilization, with cacao originating from their word for currency, ka-ka-w [1]. The Mayans adopted cacao into their respective civilization–for consumption, as legal tender, and for rituals.

Cacao was essential for social, physical, and spiritual well-being, regarded for its medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayan would prepare the batidos and other hot chocolate beverages from the ground cacao pulps. They were also used for arranging marriages, with the term tac haa, “to serve chocolate,” commonly used to describe the discussions in which they would determine marriages while drinking chocolate. Mixtec went a step further, using “cacao” as a phrase for royal marriage [2]. For the Aztecs, only the elites and wealthy consumed it because it couldn’t grow in Mexico, so they had to transport it 900 miles on their back [3].

Aztec sculpture holding a cacao pod.

Early pre-Columbian religious references to cacao are also prevalent in both Mayan and Aztec artifacts, with the Popol Vuh ascribing cacao with godly qualities and the Dresden Codex featuring cacao throughout, including consumption by the gods [4]. Likewise, in the Madrid Codex, Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the physical manifestation of Quetzalcoatl [5]. Other religious depictions included:

  • Cacao in fertility rites, with Ixchel and the rain god exchanging cacao.
  • Cacao tree depictions of royal bloodlines, with deities emerging from cacao trees with pods and flowers to symbolize their royal blood [6].

Figure: Aztec statue holding a cacao pod.

“Chocolate for the body; foam for the soul.”

Meredith Dreiss, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods [7]

The foam produced was of special religious importance, with the foam seen as the most sacred part of the drink [8]. With this reverence toward the froth, the molinillo, as the instrument used to facilitate easier production of the froth, would also be revered and would become deeply intertwined in the chocolate-making process.

Molinillo in Mesoamerica? The Spanish Arrive

Many would expect that the Mayans and Aztecs used molinillos, since they are now regarded as crucial instruments when crafting authentic traditional chocolate beverages, but in fact, the molinillo was most likely introduced by the Spanish, possibly during the 16th century. While it is true that pre-Columbian texts mentioned turtle/tortoise shell stirring spoons and stirrers, there were no mentions of molinillos in pre-Columbian texts. Moreover, it was noticeably absent from the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary in 1571 [9].

Some of the possible confusion could stem from anachronistic depictions of the molinillo, such as the one below:

 “The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate [curved cacao grinding stone], and has mistakenly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (From J. Ogilby, America, London, 1671.) 

Instead, they used “small, hemispherical bowls” as drinking and mixing vessels, made with materials ranging from ceramics, to decorated calabash gourds (Crescentia cujete tree), to gold (huei tlatoani). Foam was created by pouring chocolate repeatedly between drinking vessels to produce the foam [10].

Left: 6-9th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Guatemala  | right: 7-8th century Mayan ceramic vessel, Mexico
Mayan woman producing foam via pouring technique

It wasn’t until 1780, when Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero, mentioned the molinillo but not the traditional method of pouring the beverage to produce foam [11].

Molinillo: The Basics

The molinillo, a kitchen tool used to froth hot chocolate beverages, is a carved, handcrafted wooden stick, with a slender handle at one end and a knob at the other [12]. Its name is derived from its circular shape and its motion when used for producing foam resembling that of a molino (windmill) [13]. Each molinillo is unique and varies in size depending on the amount of beverage to be produced. The first iterations involved a simple ball or square at the end of a long handle. However, these soon were adapted to better facilitate frothing. Modern molinillos are crafted from a single block of wood, forming a slender wooden “whisk” with a long tapered handle and a carved knob with rings and other movable parts on the other end [14].

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces, as well as square tops instead of rounded [15].

Molinillo with Color Accents
Molinillo with Squarish Top

Using a Molinillo

Frothing hot chocolate beverages with a molinillo is straightforward. Simply put, the slender handle is gripped between the palms, which are then rubbed together to rotate the carved knob back and forth. This motion grinds the chocolate discs used for the beverages against the pestle bottom of the drinking vessel [16], allowing the beverage to froth within a few minutes.

A Mexican Cook, “Using A Molinillo to Make Hot Chocolate.”

The motion is so simple, in fact, that the molinillo frothing process is even a popular rhyme among Mexican children and their teachers:

Bate, bate, chocolate,
tu nariz de cacahuate.
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHOCOLATE![17]

Bate = Stir or whip
tu nariz de cacahuate = roughly "your peanut nose"
Uno, dos, tres = One, two, three

Crafting Molinillos

“Molinillo and chocolate depend on each other–one cannot exist without the other. “

Molinillos are carved from a single piece of wood rotating on an axis. Typically soft wood from trees like the aile mexicano (Alnus acuminata ssp. glabrata) are used for carving because they are odorless and flavorless as to not impact the flavor of the chocolate. The black sections of the molinillo are not painted; rather, the friction from the velocity of the wood spinning on the axis of the machine burns the wood a darker color, which the crafter then polishes. Once the base is completed with all the large grooves, all the smaller notch carvings (helpful for circulating the milk to increase frothiness) are completed by hand [18].

Molinillo Tradicional [Making a Molinillo from Wood]

Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces:

Artisanal Molinillo Crafting

For molinillo artisans in areas popular for their chocolate, such as 3rd generation crafter Jesus Torres Gomez, carving molinillos, among other wooden kitchen utensils, is both a skill and an artform, passed down for over 100 years as they continue to modify and perfect their craftsmanship. While he uses a motor to facilitate the rotation of the wood piece, all the carvings are completed by hand. He produces 3 types of molinillos:

  • Criollo, for making the foam for chocolate atole in the central valleys.
  • For making the foam for hot chocolate.
  • More elaborate item to serve as a decorative souvenir for tourists in Oaxaca (not meant to be used).

Similar to the more extravagant uses of chocolate and chocolate-producing equipment in Mesoamerica, these items are often also used for special events, including weddings and quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for 15th birthday) [19].

Jesus Torres Gomez, “Artesano de Molinillos”

Modern-Day Molinillos and “Authentic Recipes”

Contemporary molinillos serve more as a nostalgic artifact than a necessary tool for the average chocolate beverage consumer. For champurrado–traditional Mexican chocolate-based atole– and hot chocolate, recipes available online often include many modifications to traditional recipes, incorporating many ingredients not available to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For the thicker champurrado, they are often flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, as well as grated piloncillo (raw, undefined sugar cane)[20].

Likewise, they often include milk instead of water, and they are frothed with whisks or spoons. For “authentic Mexican hot chocolate” recipes, chocolate beverages are not strictly based on traditional Mayan or Aztec chocolate recipes; similar to the effect of molinillos on chocolate crafting, they combine indigenous and Spanish influences. However, molinillos are still incorporated into more traditional recipes, particularly Oaxacan hot chocolate, which uses water instead of milk and is whisked with a molinillo [21].


  • [1] Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.”
  • [2] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
  • [3] Festa, Jessica. “Sweet Guatemala: A Look At The Country’s Mayan Chocolate History And Modern Experiences.”
  • [4] Martin, Carla D.
  • [5] De la Fuente del Moral, Fatima.
  • [6] Martin, Carla D.
  • [7] Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods.
  • [8] Martin, Carla D.
  • [9] Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
  • [10] ibid
  • [11] ibid
  • [12] Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.”
  • [13] CORTV. Jesús Torres Gómez artesano en molinillos.
  • [14] Bowman, Barbara. “Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer).”
  • [15] ibid
  • [16] “Molinillo: Hot Cocoa Frother | Mexico, Wooden Stick, Traditional Hot Chocolate Grinder, Frothing Stick, Molinillos.” UncommonGoods.
  • [17] Fain, Lisa. “Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo.”
  • [18] Cocinando con Rita. Molinillo Tradicional.
  • [19] CORTV.
  • [20] Rodriguez, Vianncy. “How to Make Champurrado.”
  • [21] “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate.” A Side of Sweet.

Works Cited

Multimedia Cited

———. Molinillo with Squarish Top. Gourmet Sleuth, Molinillo – Mexican Chocolate Whisk (Stirrer). Accessed May 16, 2019. https://www.gourmetsleuth.com/images/default-source/articles/molinillo-3.jpg?sfvrsn=2.



Nestle’s 2012 advertisement emphasizes chocolate’s special place in the heart of the American home. Using cookies, the commercial weaves the ingredient into several nostalgic narratives—the college homecoming, grandma’s pride after a soccer game victory, and an afternoon with mom. Whether it be in candy bars, brownies, or cake, chocolate has a strong hold in the American identity and its classic recipes. But, if we know that chocolate originally belonged to the Mesoamericans, how did it become so incorporated with our own household pantries? We can better understand how this happened by briefly looking at the production and consumption side of cacao in relation to its sister good: sugar.

Chocolate for the Elites

While Americans today can buy convenience store chocolate for change in their pockets, early consumption of cacao was largely reserved to the upper classes. Predating to the Aztecs, cacao was taken as a frothy drink and used in fertility and sacrificial rituals, to fortify warriors, and to mark status.[1] As currency and tribute, workers would offer the drinks to lords visiting the cacao orchards. The nobility used cacao beans as currency, and so consuming them was a show of luxury and power. Later, the Aztec political tribute system surrounding cacao cultivation was extended by the Spanish to help subjugate the native population after 1521. Through this, chocolate continued to be recognized as a manifestation of political power. This association traveled with the beans sent back to Spain.

Chocolate’s high value bounced across Europe and remained an indulgence for royalty and nobility there. While originally sought by the Spanish as a form of medicine or nutritional supplement, chocolate drinks quickly became symbols of decadence. For the Mesoamericans, cacao drinks were more savory than what we are used to today, accenting them with achiote, vanilla, and ear flower. Although they did sweeten their chocolate with honey and fruits, “the Maya and Aztecs” had nothing approaching the European sweet tooth” that was looming in the future.[2]

Cacao and Sugar

There was a similar but distinct parallel in consumption between cacao and sugar. Similar to how chocolate was reserved for the rich, sugar was also scarce. First used as a spice, medicine, and sweetener, cane sugar was used in small amounts for the royal court around the 12th century.[1] As time passed, the royal court increasingly demanded more and more sugar as sweeteners and decorative pieces to entertain their guests. Coinciding but separate demand for chocolate and sugar by the privileged became supported by plantation work in colonies abroad, and the British colonies in America gradually became exposed to both foods. Chocolate first arrived in the British American colonies around 1670 and spread throughout New England’s wealthy just as it had done in Europe.[2] Consumption gradually rose, and America’s own chocolate industry was born from the strained “relationships with the British colonial government.”[3] With the Industrial Revolution, new technologies helped improve the efficiency of production of both goods, making them cheaper and more accessible by the public. In return, as the public’s appetite grew, larger amounts of the raw materials were grown. Cacao plantations relied even more “heavily on the slave labor prevalent throughout the European colonies, which kept prices down.”[4] 

Innovation and proliferation of sugar and chocolate merged in the American diet via the rise of chocolate giants. Hershey started “producing milk chocolate bars en masse in 1893 with German machinery purchased at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.”[5] Mars created chocolate bars in the 1920s with nuts and nougat. Both are examples of companies who remained competitive by making products with less cacao solids and cheaper ingredients, such as sugar. Mass-market chocolate came to dominate by playing on tastes for sugar and fat, despite pure dark chocolate being costlier and more valuable.  Here, while having traveled similar historical paths, chocolate and sugar crossed each other and became inextricably linked. More efficient production of both aided its adoption into an existing social structure associating female homemakers with sweetness.

Entering the Realm of the Homemaker

A 1905 advertisement for Peter’s Original Swiss Milk Chocolate

The American home was influenced by a division of labor inherited from the United Kingdom. In England, the late 19th century saw a decline in bread consumption and increase in meat and sugar consumption. [1] During this period, the man tended to be the breadwinner and therefore meat was reserved for him to provide him the energy to carry out manual work. In contrast, women and children would eat meat once or twice a week, and so their caloric intake was supplemented with sugar.[2] It is this relationship between sugar and women that would likely grease the wheels for incorporation of chocolate into the American diet. The 1905 advertisement above[3] draws on historic ideas of health. As mentioned before, cacao’s high fat content and concentration of iron, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals was recognized as far back as Spanish conquest and the Mesoamericans. Sugar was given to children as an energy boost. For these two reasons, mothers might be more inclined to buy it for their children as it was “as wholesome as bread and butter.”

A 1904 advertisement for Royal Chocolate, found on in the
The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics

Furthermore, incorporation of chocolate in homemade desserts was sustained by the rise of home economics. This movement placed the mother as responsible for running her household like a business. Eleanor Lucas writes in Practical Ideas for the Housewife that women are “the torch-bearers” for the “lamp of love and the lamp of science” that “should burn in every home.”[1] She asserts that household economics “is no petty effort to make the home prettier and the food more palatable, but a movement to safeguard the integrity of the home.”[2] A common belief was that the costly living expenses of the working classes were the result of “badly selected items of the daily regimen, of wasteful methods of preparation, of un-thrifty and hand-to-mouth methods of buying.” As such “housekeeping and cooking educators partnered with industry in the name of ‘domestic science.’”[3] Guides such as The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, gave homemakers household tips and recipes that increasingly incorporated the use of chocolate into desserts. These recipes included chocolate and cocoa, chocolate blanc mange, chocolate blanc mange with corn starch, chocolate icing, and chocolate pie with meringue.[4] These cookbooks also contained advertisements like the one above for cocoa powder that appealed to the desire to be efficient and economical.[5] In sum, it was a series of coinciding and often shared forces between chocolate and sugar that allowed both to be so prevalent today.

Works Cited

Alberts, Heike C., and Julie L. Cidell. “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States.” Geography 91, no. 3 (n.d.): 218–226.

“Brownies.” US History Scene (blog). Accessed March 16, 2019. http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/.

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

Hill, Janet McKenzie. The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. Boston Cooking-School Magazine, 1904.

Lucas, Eleanor. “Practical Ideas for the Housewife.” The Designer and the Woman’s Magazine XXVI, no. 5 (n.d.): 449.

Mintz, Sidney W. (Sidney Wilfred). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:EBSCO_9781101666647.

“Nestle TV Commercial For Chocolate Chip Cookies.” iSpot.tv. Accessed March 16, 2019. http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7kif/nestle-chocolate-chip-cookies.

Period Paper. “1905 Ad Lamont Corliss Co Milk-Chocolate Cookies Child Food Products New EM2.” Period Paper. Accessed March 16, 2019. https://www.periodpaper.com/products/1905-ad-lamont-corliss-co-milk-chocolate-cookies-child-food-products-new-york-104294-em2-572.

Direct Citations

[1] Lucas, “Practical Ideas for the Housewife.”

[2] Lucas.

[3] “Brownies.”

[4] Hill, The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, iii.

[5] Hill, xxiv.

[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 144.

[2] Mintz, 146.

[3] Period Paper, “1905 Ad Lamont Corliss Co Milk-Chocolate Cookies Child Food Products New EM2.”

[1] Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 83.

[2] “Brownies.”

[3] “Brownies.”

[4] “Brownies.”

[5] Alberts and Cidell, “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States,” 224.

[1] Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 95.

[2] Coe, 112.

Chocolaterie Through the Ages

    From its inception to the Second Industrial Revolution, the practice of preparing and serving chocolate can be defined by two essential qualities: the impression of luxury, and cookware designed to reflect the labor required to produce it. Throughout its history, methods of preparing and serving chocolate have changed along with the culture around its consumption, as chocolate moved from connoting wealth and power amongst Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, to serving as a social vehicle for the 17th century Western elite (Martin and Sampeck 39-43; Righthand). In each case, chocolate was a symbol of status, and the vessels used to store, cook, and serve it reflected that symbolism. From earthen vessels and molinillos to matching ceramic chocolate sets, the various methods of storing and serving chocolate in Aztec Mexico, seventeenth-century Europe, and post-Industrial Revolution America reveal the changing ways that chocolate’s status as a luxury item was entrenched visually as well as economically.

    Cacao’s status as a food of the elite originated in the culture behind its production and consumption in Mesoamerican tradition; in this case, the manual labor required to make chocolate drove its elite status – labor symbolized by the instruments used to prepare and store it (Coe 220). The cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao, is native to Mesoamerica and was adopted by the Olmecs, the Maya, and eventually the Aztec as a currency, spice, dietary staple, and most importantly as the primary ingredient in chocolate, a drink featuring spices such as vanilla and ear flower which served as a beverage of warriors amongst the Aztec (Coe 181-220, 1274). Chocolate was associated with the display of wealth and power; because cacao is a fickle fruit, requiring significant labor to grow and then process for consumption, restricting chocolate to those in positions of power – noblemen and warriors – was a testament of the power and social clout of the drinker (Coe 220, 1088). The physical embodiment of that clout were the vessels used to store and prepare cacao and chocolate. The Aztec king Motecuhzoma the Younger stored over 960 million beans in large, guarded bins coated with clay, and two thousand containers of chocolate daily were transported for consumption by his guard (Coe 1182-1194). Additionally, the preparation of cacao required an tool known as the molinillo, or chocolate mill, a slender, curved stick with a knob at one end, used to froth the cacao before drinking. Building and using molinillos required significant skilled and artisanal labor, as can be seen here (constructing the molinillo) and here (using the molinillo to froth chocolate), which depict the modern incarnation of the tool (Lange 131). To the Aztecs, the higher the amount of froth in the drink – and the more work performed with the molinillo – the greater the quality of the chocolate; this froth was highly prized and even consumed independent of the chocolate drink (Coe 1195, 655). Because of the labor it represented, the molinillo thus served as a cultural, culinary, and anthropological vehicle for enhancing the impression of luxury and labor which chocolate cultivated through its place of honor in Aztec culture.

    Chocolate was appropriated into European culture relatively quickly after its discovery during the Columbian exchange, and its luxury status was defined by the wealth and social connections required to procure chocolate – wealth then represented by the wares used to serve and prepare it. As the Spanish encomienda system ensured that cacao was available to the European elite, chocolate became renowned as a foreign curiosity, a medicinal stimulant, and a luxurious indulgence all at once; drinking chocolate became a public social endeavor representative of class and wealth (Martin 40-41). For example, it was introduced to the court of Versailles at the wedding of King Louis XIII, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French monarchy cultivated a reputation both for opulence and a love of chocolate (Chateau de Versailles). Their influence popularized the French chocolatiere set, captured in this painting of the Pentheviere ducal family (PBS Learning Media). As pictured in the painting, such sets were made of ceramic, porcelain, and precious metals, a clear use of wealthy containers to augment the status of the drink they contained (Martin 42; Lange 132). Such sets were outsourced throughout Europe, as far as colonial America, where they were happily put to use by people such as Thomas Jefferson (Lange 133). Interestingly, while the design of European chocolate vessels were Mesoamerican in nature, including tall spouted pots, steep-sided cups, and molinillos, the materials used were distinctly and ultimately representative of a Westernized ideal of monetary wealth.

    After the second Industrial Revolution, and with it several innovations in the processing of cacao, chocolate became readily available to the public; “vessels” for holding chocolate were replaced by branded wrapping and packaging that ultimately represented chocolate’s universal appeal and accessibility. The invention of the hydraulic press, along with van Houten’s method of alkalizing cocoa, made chocolate more shelf-stable, cheaper, and thus more accessible to the working class (Lange 138). Higher demand drove chocolate companies such as Hershey to homogenize and brand their products through standardized processing methods, as a means of promoting these brands to the working class public (Counihan and Esterik 84-85; D’Antonio 106-109). In this case, chocolate’s value was indicated by size and complexity – for example, Milky Way bars were filled with nougat and caramel, making them larger than pure chocolate bars and thus of greater value, despite actually being cheaper to produce (Brenner 54-55). Yet, like many other once-luxury items such as tea and sugar, chocolate had become a product for the masses, not one for the elite, and chocolate producers deliberately designed their marketing and packaging of chocolate to reflect this shift (Counihan and Esterik 84-85). The loss of elaborate, personalized tools for making and consuming chocolate paralleled this transition of chocolate in the Western cultural psyche – the iconic, cheap packaging of Hershey’s and Mars candy bars indicated that chocolate was no longer a food of the elite, but rather accessible to the average, working class family.

    The role of chocolate in global culture has changed vastly from its origins as a bitter, frothy drink of the May and Aztec elite, and the way that chocolate is stored, prepared, served, and distributed has changed in tandem. When chocolate was an item of luxury, reflected by the labor required to produce it or the wealth needed to procure it, in Aztec and seventeenth-century Europe, respectively, carefully designed and expensively produced containers and preparatory cookware developed to suit and complement chocolate’s coveted societal place. However, with the advent of new processing methods, and an economic shift towards mass production for the working-class, chocolate’s packing and distribution has changed to give it the impression of universality, and to render it a symbol of the quotidian, in a branded, neat, and instantly recognizable package.

Works Cited

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate : inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. 1st ed., Random House, 1999.

Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. PBS Learning Media, 2018, https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/xir101763fre/the-penthievre-family-or-the-cup-of-choc-xir101763-fre/.

Coe, S. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. Kindle edition.

“¿Cómo sacar espuma al chocolate caliente? Secreto de Cocina, Yuri de Gortari.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocina Identidad, 8 April 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgObquFVkhM.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey : Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

“Hot Chocolate in Versailles.” Chateau de Versailles, 2019, http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/key-dates/hot-chocolate-versailles.

Lange, Amanda, and Grivetti, Louis Evan. “Chocolate Preparation and Serving Vessels in Early North America.” Chocolate, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2008, pp. 129–142.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60. DOI: 10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37

“MOLINILLO TRADICIONAL.” YouTube, uploaded by Cocinando con Rita, 28 June 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV78m1W4K2I.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian.com, 13 February 2017,
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/ .

The Revolution of Industry and Chocolate

In the 18thcentury, the transition from using human, animal, or water power to the burning of fossil fuels brought about a period of great change.  This change was called the Industrial Revolution, and was built on large deposits of coal and iron that were used to fuel advances in the technologies and factories responsible for manufactured goods. What headlined this Revolution was the arrival of an improved textile industry, steam powered transportation, and mass production. What is less discussed, however, is the effect that the Industrial Revolution had on the chocolate industry.

Previously, chocolate was considered in Europe and America as an exclusive drink for the elite and wealthy; either consumed in a cup at breakfast or during the day as a snack (Martin 2010).  Chocolate maintained a very polarizing reputation for its multifaceted uses. Some, like Benjamin Franklin, believed that it could be used as a treatment for smallpox (Martin 2010). Others associated it with being an aphrodisiac and others believed that the “exchange of chocolates between a man and woman was tantamount to a declaration of love,” (Quélus).  The reputation of chocolate and the invention of new production technologies enabled this exclusive commodity to become available to all people, leading to an increase in popularity of the product and profit from its sales.   

above is a picture of a conch used in Switzerland, Ammann was one of the first manufacturers to make conches available to chocolate produces in the late 19th century

The cocoa press and the conching machine are two of the biggest innovations that empowered the chocolate industry during the Industrial Revolution.  In 1828, Coenraad van Houten patented the cocoa press. This press burned coal to produce heat that would create enough steam and pressure to power the machine, which was a type of hydraulic press.  This process would separate fat from roasted cacao beans, and this butter would be pulverized into a fine powder called cocoa that would later be used to create solid chocolate (Coe & Coe). The cocoa press allowed a quick, inexpensive method of creating a chocolate drink, and this invention began the process of opening the window of accessibility.   The Conch Machine was the next invention to increase the accessibility of chocolate while also approving its taste and appearance. Invented in 1879 by Rodolphe Lindt, the conch was a machine that was built to give chocolate a texture that was easier to mold and preferable the solid chocolate currently in the market eaten (Giller 2017). This chocolate was described as gritty and crude, while the chocolate produced by the conch was tasty, smooth, shiny, and had a superior aroma.  The original conch consisted of a granite parts that would mix ingredients from as little as six to eighty hours at a time.  Secrets of the conch were so sought after that many manufacturers like Lindt either kept their methods a secret or to claimed the details of the process were “proprietary” (McClements 654). 

The final innovation that truly transformed the chocolate industry was the use of the assembly line.  The video above shows how manufacturers specialized the production of chocolate.  While some workers, like Lucy and Ethel, wrap the chocolates, other workers further down the assembly line will package the wrapped chocolate. Tasks were separated and specialized like this to create the most efficient production process possible.  In 1903, Milton S. Hershey founded a chocolate company that would be known for employing these principles from the Industrial Revolution.  Hershey’s Kisses offered a consistently identical product that could be efficiently mass produced.  Customers were guaranteed that when they unwrapped the foil, they would be met with a tasty milky chocolate that would satisfy the customer every time.  These principles put in place by Hershey showed the beginnings of the chocolate industry as we know it as today. 

Hershey’s Kisses, wrapped and unwrapped. 

This except from the popular television show, “I love Lucy” also shows that chocolate has played a role in the culture of our society.  While the video makes most viewers laugh at the small expense of manufacturing companies, its true purpose is to promote chocolate.  Richard Cadbury revolutionized the chocolate industry with his chocolate’s association with heart boxes and Valentine’s day. In 1859, Cadbury introduced his own brand of chocolate, and over the next decade he began to package his chocolate into heart shaped boxes. Heart shaped boxes were previously used for betrothal jewelry, sewing materials, and porcelain. By filling these boxes with his chocolate and associating them with Valentine’s Day, Cadbury had struck cacao gold. Sales skyrocketed because of the already present reputation of chocolate as being more feminine, an aphrodisiac, and a token of love.  Over a hundred and fifty years later and chocolates are still associated with Valentine’s Day, are still gifted to women, and still presented in heart shaped boxes.  

  A picture of a heart shaped Cadbury Chocolate box that are still sold today

In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution made chocolate accessible to more than just the elite and rich of Europe and America. Inventions during the Revolution increased the efficiency of producing chocolate as both a drink and a solid, while the assembly line further increased the mass production of identical products. Without the Industrial Revolution, we would not experience the same chocolate industry that we have today.


Giller, Megan. (2017, 3) Why ritual chocolate uses vintage machinery. Accessed, (2019, 3) http://www.chocolatenoise.com/chocolate-today/2017/3/28/why-ritual-chocolate-uses-vintage-machinery

Coe, S.D. & Coe, M.D.  The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Goody, Jack.  “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.”  2013.

Martin, Carla D. 2012. “Brownies: The History of a Classic American Dessert.” http://www.ushistoryscene.com/uncategorized/brownies/

McClements, D. Julian. Understanding and Controlling the Microstructure of Complex Foods. Woodhead Publishing 2007, 654.
Quélus, D, & Brookes, R. The Natural History of Chocolate: The second ed., Printed for J. Roberts, near the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane.



Lucy and the Chocolate Factory high res – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkQ58I53mjk



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 Role of Coffee in the Enlightenment Revolution

              Since the 15th century, coffee has been a recurring commodity with significant influences on various cultures, playing an unexpectedly important role in the Enlightenment revolution. Legend says that coffee was first discovered when a goat herder noticed that after eating berries from a certain tree his goats became so energetic that they didn’t want to sleep at night. Upon trying the berries, the herder felt its energetic effects and shared them with his local monastery. According to the origin story the berries were met with disdain and one monk threw them into a fire. However, upon smelling the aroma of the roasting beans the monks decided to give the novelty a second chance. Like the tea-drinking Buddhist monks of east Asia, they found the coffee to keep them awake during spiritual practice and the commodity became commonplace [1]. While this origin story is likely apocryphal, it offers a useful insight into the early potential and unique aspects of coffee, namely offering an energetic effect with benefits beyond just luxury and taste.

               While one would think that the influence of coffee has little historical significance, being simply one commodity among many, it has likely played an incredibly influential role in history and the development of the world we know today. Coffee is a high-impact commodity because of the effects it has on people as a stimulant, namely increasing short-term cognitive and physical performance, inducing higher levels of collaboration and socialization, and producing greater motivation [2]. Because of these effects, coffee stimulates high levels of collaboration between individuals, increasing the rate of technological and scientific advancements, as we will see through the enlightenment revolution occuring during the 18th century.

                So how exactly did coffee help bring about the “Age of Reason” in 18th century Europe, and the great advances in politics, philosophy, science and communications? To answer this, we must first understand the psychological effects coffee has on people. Caffeine has been found to improve performance on sustained attention tasks, as well as on logical reasoning and semantic memory evaluations [3]. Additionally, according to a recent study from UC Davis, individuals who consume coffee have higher levels of participation in group activities and a higher affinity for socialization [4]. The study also showed that groups that consume coffee have an overall higher performance and are more likely to enjoy the social interactions, continuing to engage socially afterwards. These psychological factors can help explain the initial institutionalization of coffee as a social lubricant in Arabia and later Europe, with coffee houses emerging as hubs for socialization resulting from the increased affinity for socialization caused by caffeine.

                Now that we’ve covered the basic psychological effects of coffee, we must look at pre and post-enlightenment Europe. Before coffee became mainstream, beer was often the beverage of choice because water was often too polluted to drink. Many Europeans drank beer almost continuously, often beginning their day with “beer soup”, causing much of the population to be intoxicated on a regular basis [5]. However, thanks to the Turks’ imperial ambitions, coffee was soon introduced to Europe and eventually replaced beer as the drink of choice. Those who drank coffee would begin their day alert and stimulated rather than relaxed and inebriated, and the quality of their work would improve. As coffee became more and more common in Europe, coffee houses started becoming a staple throughout the region, creating social and collaborative spaces that hadn’t existed before [6].

                Soon more people began going to coffee houses which generated levels of collaboration never seen before, becoming places not just for enjoying a cup of coffee, but to exchange ideas. During this time coffee houses were places where men (almost exclusively) would often converse with complete strangers, engaging in serious conversation and conducting business which was not possible before in alehouses, which were noisy and rowdy places as a result of the intoxicating effects of alcohol. One could gain admittance by purchasing a cup of coffee for a penny and could then join the conversation groups, which resulted in coffeehouses often being called “penny universities” [7]. As a result, great thinkers were now not thinking alone, and could share their ideas with other experts while under the stimulating effects of coffee, which increased their levels of social collaboration and logical reasoning- essential aspects of enlightenment thinking. Additionally, coffeehouses were one of the few places where rank or status was not important, so conversations were truly of a democratic nature creating an alternative learning environment to institutionalized education [8].                

               While it’s impossible to pinpoint all the ideas that were born out of coffee house discussions, we can find various examples throughout history where coffee houses served an important role in the development of great ideas. For example, before World War I, everyone who was going to be anyone hung out in Vienna’s Café Central; Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky often played chess there, and incredibly influential individuals such as Lenin and Hitler would also visit. Additionally, the Vienna Circle would have meetings there, which consisted of a group of philosophers and scientists who made great advances in their fields. And who could forget Café de la Régence in Paris, where Karl Marx first met Friedrich Engels, who would go on to be the founders of communism. Below is a painting of a regular afternoon at the café, with men playing intellectually stimulating games of chess over coffee, developing their own knowledge of the game by collaborating with others [10].

                Overall, we see that coffee has had a great effect on western culture during the enlightenment era, encouraging collaboration and discussion which contributed towards the advances in science and technology we have today. But now the emergence of coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts seems to threaten the coffee culture that has been so influential in the past. The former sells itself as a place for productivity, while the latter as a grab-and-go coffee alternative, leaving little room for intellectual discussion [9]. Will coffee house culture dwindle and disappear completely as a result of the information revolution that allows for long distance collaboration and discussion? Or will the Third Wave coffee movement prove to be a success, acting as a hub for face-to-face discussions and sharing of ideas? In any case, it’s clear that coffee will continue to play a large role in our lives for years to come, whether it be by making us more social, alert or just less tired.


  1. [Multimedia Source] Goodwin, Lindsey. “Did Coffee Originate in Ethiopia or Yemen?” The Spruce Eats, TheSpruceEats, 6 Nov. 2018, www.thespruceeats.com/the-origin-of-coffee-765180.
  2. [Scholarly Source] Shukitt-Hale, Barbara et al. “Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging” Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands)vol. 35,6 (2013): 2183-92.
  3. [Scholarly Source] Smith A, P, Kendrick A, M, Maben A, L: Effects of Breakfast and Caffeine on Performance and Mood in the Late Morning and after Lunch. Neuropsychobiology 1992;26:198-204. doi: 10.1159/000118920
  4. [Scholarly Source] Unnava, Vasu, et al. “Coffee with Co-Workers: Role of Caffeine on Evaluations of the Self and Others in Group Settings.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 32, no. 8, Aug. 2018, pp. 943–948, doi:10.1177/0269881118760665.
  5. [Multimedia Source] Diamandis, Peter. “From Beer to Caffeine: The Birth of Innovation.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Aug. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-diamandis/from-beer-to-caffeine_b_5538535.html.
  6. [Multimedia Source] Hicks, Stephen. “Coffee and the Enlightenment.” Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., www.stephenhicks.org/2010/01/18/coffee-and-the-enlightenment/.
  7. [Multimedia Source] “The Enlightenment Coffeehouses.” Conversational Leadership, 1 Mar. 2019, conversational-leadership.net/coffee-houses/.
  8. [Multimedia Source] dailysabah.com. “Coffee: The Drink of the Enlightenment.” DailySabah, http://www.dailysabah.com, 5 May 2015, www.dailysabah.com/feature/2015/05/01/coffee-the-drink-of-the-enlightenment.
  9. [Multimedia Source] Simon, Bryant. “Five Myths about Starbucks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-starbucks/2017/11/30/2786c776-d528-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html.
  10. [Multimedia Source] virtuel, L’auteur. “Au Café De La Régence Avec Diderot Et Philidor Le Subtil.” Les Lettres D’ivoire, 19 Apr. 2018, cervieres.com/2018/04/19/au-cafe-de-la-regence-avec-diderot-et-philidor-le-subtil/.

The Industrial Revolution: Chocolate for All!

Take a moment to Imagine not having access to the luxury of indulging in chocolate. It’s hard to believe that prior to the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was considered more of an elite privilege that was practically out of the common man’s reach. This was partially due to the fact that the cost of growing and producing chocolate was extremely high –  it was a laborious and time-consuming task, and only the earnings of the elite could support consumption on a regular basis. The Industrial Revolution birthed the modernization and development of chocolate production through mechanization, completely changing the effects around consumption. The Industrial Revolution lowered the production cost, increased efficiency, and improved taste, texture, and appearance of the product as a whole. Today, chocolate is everywhere! From well-known candy bars such as Hershey’s, and Mars (currently known as the Milky Way bar), to chocolate syrup mixed into mocha’s that is available at almost every coffee shop. For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to touch on a few of the incredible advances in the chocolate making industry made possible by the Industrial Revolution: the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar.

Often referred to as the “food of the gods,” cacao was used by the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish to create a chocolatey drink that would most likely taste pretty bitter and unappealing compared to the endless forms, tastes, and textures available to us today. However, by the time the Industrial Revolution occurred, a man by the name of Rudolf Lindt was also craving something different – an indulgence that was far less coarse and gritty. He craved a chocolate that was smooth, offering that irreplaceable melt-in-your-mouth texture. Thanks to Lindt, his dream became a reality using a machine called the conche. The conche was developed in 1879 and radically changed the texture, taste, and appearance of chocolate. Instead of grinding the chocolate using a metate (just like the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish), the conche continuously stirred the chocolate while using heat to create a creamy, melty, heavenly texture. Rumor has it that Lindt discovered this technique by accidentally leaving the conche running for a few days at a time. In my opinion, what started out as an accident actually turned in to one of the tastiest chocolate making discoveries.

This youtube video, “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar”, demonstrates the use a conche. As you can see, the chocolate is being stirred and particles are being polished in order to achieve that flawlessly smooth texture we experience when eating a Lindt truffle.

Another important improvement in the quality and texture of chocolate came about by the development the winnowing machine. As Kristy Leissle explains, “Prior to the Industrial Revolution, cocoa beans had to be broken and winnowed by hand” (Leissle 50). The process of winnowing by hand was extremely tedious and oftentimes excruciating, due to the fibrous husks that could easily cut the laborers’ hands and slip underneath their fingernails. Leissle goes on to explain the modern process as much more forgiving and user friendly. “Today, a machine usually cracks the beans, loosening or removing parts of the shell and breaking the seed into smaller pieces, which are then called nibs. A winnower sorts the nibs into piles of similar size, most often by vibrating them through screens with varying mesh” (Leissle 50). The winnowing process is crucial because when shells are not properly removed the taste and texture is compromised. The process is further explained and demonstrated in the video below.

This video from Craft Chocolate Tv explains/demonstrates modern day cracking and winnowing with the help of a winnowing machine.

One of the most impactful inventions in the chocolate industry was developed during the 18th century – The Hydraulic Press. Coenraad Johannes Van Houten’s hydraulic press completely transformed chocolate by pressing the chocolate liquor with immense force until two products appeared: cocoa butter and a solid cake. This process came about in 1828 when Van Houten decided that he wanted to create a powdered chocolate with a much lower fat content than what was already available. So, “For this, he eventually developed a very efficient hydraulic press; untreated chocolate ‘liquor’ –  the end result of the grinding process – contains about 53 percent cacao butter, but Van Houten’s machine managed to reduce this to 27-28 percent, leaving a ‘cake’ that could be pulverized into fine powder” (Coe & Coe 234). Applying this type of pressure with the hydraulic press made the production of chocolate much faster and more cost effective. Additionally, the Dutch chemist used alkaline salts to improve the flavor and prevent bitterness, which was well received by the masses.

Photo from world standards images — hydraulic press invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten

Lastly, I would like to discuss the important concept of wedding of chocolate and sugar. This marriage of these two products played a huge part in the development and appeal of chocolate. Sugar was so important that “During the period 1750-1850 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar… A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz 148). Manufacturer’s such as Cadbury and Fry began to flourish. As a result of utilizing sugar instead of other more expensive ingredients (such as vanilla), chocolate became available to the different classes due to the significant cost reduction. It also boosted chocolate’s appeal to children through advertisements using images of smiling kids like the boy featured in the picture below.

Fry’s chocolate advertisement is trying to demonstrate how their chocolate can please everyone — even an unhappy child previously throwing a tantrum. This advertisement appeals to both parents and children.

Because of the Industrial Revolution, chocolate went from being an expensive drink that appealed to an elite group of wealthy individuals, to a treat that men, women, and children could enjoy regardless of the social class they belonged to. As mentioned above, the conche, winnowing machine, hydraulic press, and the marriage of chocolate and sugar all played a role in making chocolate appealing and readily available to a much broader audience.

Works cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

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


Cracking & Winnowing Cacao – Episode 3 – Craft Chocolate Tv CraftChocolateTV – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R35XDPNy93Q

Fry’s Chocolate advertisement.JPG.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 28 Nov 2016, 03:40 UTC. 15 Mar 2019, 19:52 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Fry%27s_Chocolate_advertisement.JPG&oldid=222289146>.

Van Houten’s Hydraulic Press, http://www.worldstandards.eu/images/cocoa%20press.jpg

KADZAMA. “Production of Dark Chocolate Bean to Bar / Melangeur 50 Kg | KADZAMA.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhIF_V2Y7Zo.

Primary Uses of Cocoa Within the Pre-Colombian Mayan Civilization


Given the fact that cocoa has an extensive and, often times, perplexing history, it is often time the case that the many different uses for cocoa are analyzed in order to determine cocoa’s true significance and impact on some of the world’s earliest documented civilizations. In today’s modern world, it has become the norm to view chocolate as either a simple snack, or as nothing more than a gift that one might give his or her loved one as a means for celebration on a special day. However, once one begins to delve deep into the cocoa’s earliest roots, it can immediately be seen how it not only played a significant role in how different civilizations, such as the Maya, viewed cocoa, but also, how it was able to, in part, dictate a large part of how their civilizations were organized and governed. Despite how common chocolate is today, such is the case that some of the main methods by which cocoa was used in the Mayan civilization, to our knowledge, include using cocoa as a means to flash their wealth, marry other individuals, and as an exchange of currency throughout society.

Cocoa as a Portrayal of Wealth 

Despite the fact that a number of civilizations drank cocoa for a multitude of reasons, whether it was cleansing of the body or as a means for socializing, there is strong evidence that points to the notion that one of the most common uses of cocoa in both the the Mayan civilization was both as a tool for the elites to convey both power as well as a negotiation tool (Dorie Reents-Budet). In order to do this, it was not unusual to see wealthy elites flash their wealth in front of their peers by taking part in gift presentations that common individuals would not be able to afford. By doing this, elites were able to claim a stake in society and were often times able to make a point in regards to the amount of wealth that they had. Of course, in civilizations such as the Maya, more wealth, in this case, also meant more political power, thereby being granted the ability to enact change within society due to this certain wealth. As such, it is therefore argued in many historical contexts that cocoa was able to play a lead role in appealing to the wealthy, while it was more likely the case that the common, everyday individual did not have much access to cocoa throughout his or her lifetime.

Portrayal of a Mayan Polychrome Vase being utilized for the purpose of serving chocolate during a presumably elite occasion (McNeil, Collections of New Orleans Museum of Art. Photograph copyright Justin Kerr).

Cocoa as a Means for Marriage 

The notion of cocoa became incredibly central to the idea of a Mayan marriage with the introduction of a ritual referred to as the tac haa, which is to be translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink” (Martin “Mesoamerica”). The fact that tac haa was considered to be a key component in order for a man to be able to ask a father whether or not he would be able to marry the father’s daughter is a strong indicator of just how significant cocoa was throughout this time period. Equally as important to point out is the that “these feasts celebrated significant political events, such as royal marriage or military victory; in that context, serving cocoa was a way to display wealth, and therefore power” (Leissle 36). Within this context, it can be seen that cocoa’s role in Mayan civilization extended from being able to inquire about marrying a specific woman all the way to conveying to outsiders the amount of power that they had via the celebration of the marriage.

Portrayal of the ritual of tac haa taking place, in which a man would request to discuss a marriage with the father of the woman he wished to marry (Martin).

Cocoa as a Means for Currency 

Perhaps one of the most indicative aspects of the Mayan civilization that points to just how central cocoa was to society is the way in which they started to use cocoa as a means for currency. In terms of using cocoa as a means for currency, individuals would use cocoa beans as a method to be able to exchange or purchase goods, such as food or other amenities (Museum of the National Bank of Belgium). In addition to being used as a currency, individuals would often times take their cocoa beans and make a drink referred to as Xocoatl. The fact that cocoa was able to be used as currency within the civilization shows the heavy importance that individuals would place on cocoa. Not only that, but it is also able to show that they not only saw cocoa as a simple food that grew on trees, but rather, as nothing short of a lifestyle design.

Modern-day portrayal of how Xocoatl might have been made during the time of the Maya’s existence (Geographic).

Works Cited 

Dorie Reents-Budet, “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya,” in Chocolate in Mesoamerica .

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa, Polity Press, 2018.28:48.

Geographic, National. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making | National Geographic.” YouTube, YouTube, 13 Oct. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l3TFieqIvk.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard College: Cambridge, MA. Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mcneil, Cameron. “Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” 2009, doi:10.5744/florida/9780813029535.001.0001.

“Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.” A Tasty Currency: Cocoa – Museum of the National Bank of Belgium, www.nbbmuseum.be/en/2013/03/kakao.htm.

The Intertwined History of Chocolate and Slavery

Slavery has played a role in the European production of Chocolate since the inception of the industry. Although slavery and the acceptance of slavery has changed quite a bit since the Spanish first instituted the encomienda system to provide cheap labor for the production of chocolate, it still remains a major cost cutting measure that some chocolate farmers employ to produce cacao at market rates. In recent years some consumers have become increasingly concerned about the ethics of the food and products that they consume, which has opened the door more expensive fully vertically integrated chocolate producers that can guarantee that their products are ethically produced. These companies are generally small because their business model generally requires their chocolate to be more expensive than their bigger competitors. As consumers become more ethically conscious about what they consumer bigger companies could adopt this business model and still be able to compete in the market.

The first Europeans to make chocolate where the Spanish in their Central and South American colonies. Since the process of picking and processing the cacao was very labor intensive the Spaniards relied on several different forms of slave labor. Initially they the used Native Americans through the Encomienda system (Sampeck, 44). This was because the natives already had many of the skills required to harvest and process cacao and there were plenty of them living in the area. In the encomienda system the natives technically were not slaves, in the sense that the land owners did not own them, but the landowners were the only place that the natives could get living essentials and the only way to get those were to work the landowners land (Sampeck, 45). During this time slavery was generally accepted and the Europeans were also trying to convert the natives to Christianity, so they thought that they were doing them a favor.

The encomienda system fell out of favor quite soon though, because many of the natives were killed by disease and there were not enough of them to work the farms. The production remained in Central America at the time, but the labor shifted to enslaved Africans (Sampeck, 45). Since enslaved Africans were constantly being shipped in their numbers were not being decreased by European diseases or the high mortality rate while working on plantations. They also did not run away as much because they did not know the land as well as the natives did.

As Chocolate production became more globalized the amount of slaves used in its production increased. Between the years 1500 and 1900 between 10 and 15 million slaves were transported across the Atlantic to the Americas. 60% percent of the slaves went to the Caribbean where English colonies produced quite a bit of sugar, which is an important ingredient in chocolate. After the slaves arrived they were generally expected to survive only 8 (Sampeck, 47). In the beginning this system was very profitable and was moral tolerated. The fact that this system was profitable tells you that a single slave cost less than 8 years worth of wages, although such a number it completely ridiculous it is worth remembering that these slaves were made to work extremely long hours without much rest in between.

Rugendas, Johann Moritz. Punitions Publiques Sur La Place – Stª Anna. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Moritz_Rugendas_in_Brazil.jpg.

In the early 1800 the world began to slowly phase out and abolish slavery. At this time to keep chocolate production profitable producers moved production to places that had a similar climate to Central America, but had more cheap labor. The Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe became the biggest producer of cacao in the world during the early 1900 and this is where we can see a company struggling between competing in the Chocolate market and utilized slave labor to do it (Satre, 13). The labor used on this island was not the traditional slave labor that was common in American colonies, this labor instead was indentured servants with exploitative contracts. This was an important distinction because slavery was illegal in Portugal, but these workers were technically free and could return home as soon as their contracts expired. None of these workers ever chose to return home. A large plantation on the island even admitted to having a 25 percent child mortality rate (Satre, 11). The Cadbury company was a large chocolate company in England run by quakers, who supported many anti-slavery causes. This company bought 45% of its cacao from the island of Sao Tome and Principe. After the company heard about the possible use of slave labor in the production of their chocolate they send a person to investigate that claim (Satre, 13). After extensive investigation Cadbury eventually concluded that the working conditions at their chocolate supplier were unacceptable, but when they confronted the Portuguese they were told that they were free to buy their chocolate elsewhere. The problem with that is that Cadbury would have to pay more for the same product (Satre, 24). Although the company might have been able to afford this increase in costs Cadbury decided that the slavery in Sao Tome and Principe was not as bad as American slavery and certain farmers there promised to improve conditions. However as the social climate changed and the evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe mounted Cadbury eventually decided to boycott them (Higgs, 153). Although slavery was not generally accepted at the time people did not feel very strongly about exploitative labor practices.

Koppehel, Sebastian. Tony’s Chocolonely. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tony’s_Chocolonely_01.jpg.

In modern times consumers feel very strongly about slavery and exploitative labor practices, so companies cannot admit to knowing about slavery and keep buying from those same suppliers. However there are about 2 million children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa in the Cocoa industry. Many small craft companies such as Tony’s Chocolonely are controlling their entire supply chain to make sure that the chocolate is ethically produced (Appiah). This increases costs for the company, but in today’s woke culture people are willing to pay significantly more for products and are cruelty free and ethically sourced. Currently this is only profitable for small companies that are trying to make a statement, but as priorities change more larger companies might be able to take control of their supply chains and provide ethically sourced chocolate.

Fair Trade. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FairTrade-Logo.svg.

Slave labor has played a major role in the history of the chocolate industry. Without slaves chocolate would have been a much more expensive commodity and might not have risen to the same popularity that it enjoys today. As the culture changes more companies are trying to make ethical chocolate that does not require and coercive labor practices and slavery. At this point this is mainly done by small companies, but as this trend grown larger companies are starting to consider imposing stricter standards on their supply chains.

Works Cited

Appiah, Lidz-Ama. “Slave-Free Chocolate: Not-so-Guilty Pleasure.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 June 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/02/world/tonys-chocolonely-slavery-free-chocolate/index.html.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” Socio.hu, no. special issue 3, 2015, pp. 37–60., doi:10.18030/socio.hu.2015en.37.

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

A Sweet Taste that Inspired a Culture and the Bitter Suffering that Created It

From the Amazon basin to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to us. Chocolate as we know it today, however, is very different from what it used to be in the 16th century. Though we celebrate its sweet taste and how it positively affects our brains, not everything about chocolate is sweet, including its history:


It all started in Latin America

When Europeans arrived in the New World, they found a hundred or more cultigens – the most important beverage source being the cacao tree. The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, originated in South America, where the Olmec were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate was consumed during rituals and used as medicine. Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods.

Chocolate arrives in Spain

In 1528, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés introduced Cacao to Spain (Coe & Coe, 2013). After the addition of sugar, the drink quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Chocolate was even loved by Catholic monks who drank it to aid religious practices.

Due to its rising popularity, Spain set up cacao plantations in its West Indies colonies to meet demand. As cacao drinking began to spread across Europe in the late 17th century, French, English, and Dutch plantations were also established in the West Indies and South America. As with other colonial plantations in the New World, the production in these plantations used slaves from West Africa (Mintz, 1986).

When the cocoa press was invented in 1828 by J. van Houten, it enabled the extraction of cacao powder from cacao butter, thus the first chocolate bar was created in the mid-19th century (Coe & Coe, 2013). Those developments resulted in the affordability of chocolate for the mass market, which further increased the demand for cacao.

In Africa, it was only in the late 19th century that production began on any significant scale, with the first large scale production from Portuguese plantations on the island of São Tomé & Príncipe. Despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875, these plantations became notorious for using workers who were slaves in all but name.

Cacao and Colonialism

Back in the 15th century, when the Portuguese discovered the Azores, Madeiras, Cape Verde Islands, and São Tomé & Príncipe, they were all uninhabited. After discovery, the Portuguese soon began cultivating the islands for sugar; however, the sugar plantations required a large labor force. With the Portuguese population being too small to provide a large number of colonists, it was ultimately the slaves that filled that demand – and so began the African habitation of the islands.

Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to the two islands, mostly from Angola. It was the early 1900s, and Portuguese colonizers in the small country were reveling in the fact that they had turned the island into the world’s largest producer of cacao.

Angolan forced laborers working on cacao plantations on São Tomé & Príncipe (Rhodes House archive).

During the coffee boom of the 1850s the Portuguese began cultivating both crops intensely off the back of slave labor. Portuguese colonies abolished slavery in 1858, yet the laborers continued to be exploited. Many were “contracted” from the Portuguese colony of Angola where recruiters followed the old slave routes deep into the interior and the recruiting process was rumored to be forced (Nevinson, 1906). Workers were paid for their work on the islands, but wages were low and the death rates (as much as 20%) were high. Alcoholism was widespread as a result of soulless work, depression, and cheap imported Portuguese wine.

Laborers signed 5-year contracts, which were automatically renewed, and no workers ever returned to their homeland. In the early 1900s, the English challenged Portuguese policy implying that workers were not allowed to leave freely, making them slaves on the islands. Its suspicious labor practices had already made São Tomé & Príncipe one of the world’s biggest producers of cacao.

Cadbury Brothers began importing cacao beans from São Tomé and in 1901, William Cadbury heard that the island’s cacao was produced by slave labor, after coming across an advertisement for the sale of a São Tomé plantation. Included in the sale were the plantation laborers, indicating that the workers themselves were considered property. Cadburry joined with Frys, Rowntrees and the Stollwerck chocolate firm of Cologne, and together sent Dr. Joseph Burtt to investigate conditions on the islands and in Angola (Kiesow, 2017). Burtt reported that Angolan people were taken to the islands “against their will, and often under conditions of great cruelty”, and that it was almost unknown for them to return to their homeland (Higgs, 2013).

The dark and cruel reality of chocolate was, however, soon revealed to the rest of the world. In Harper’s Magazine, Nevinson (1906) described the São Tomé of 1904 as, “a hot-house climate of burning heat and torrents of rain.’ The type of conditions that, ‘kills men and makes the cocoa tree flourish.” Nevinson (2015) later said the death rates were highest among child slaves, with most dying within a few years because, “it was very difficult to convince them to live through the misery and homesickness” (Nevinson, 2015).

As Western consumers reacted with shock and disgust to those news, much of the production moved from São Tomé to the plantations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which did not make use of slave labor. As Ghana and the Ivory Coast had increased their cacao production to meet demand, many of the plantations were unable to sustain themselves and the once glorious plantations fell into disrepair across the islands.

Independence from Portugal finally came about in 1975, making São Tomé & Príncipe one of the last few African countries to throw off the shackles of colonial rule.


São Tomé & Príncipe remains one of the world’s poorest countries. However, despite the islands’ reputation for quality cacao, one would not find chocolate for sale at the local Mercado Municipal. To associate cacao purely with pleasure would do an injustice to the island’s history. If one were to savor a rich piece of chocolate while reflecting on the trials of slavery and those who once worked on cacao fields, chocolate would surely take on a bitter taste.

The good thing is that the island nation’s cacao industry has moved on from its dark history. Organic cacao farming, today, is a sustainable type of farming, both for farmer’s incomes and for the environment. The growing demand for organic cacao (cacao beans that are not treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides) has presented a whole new opportunity to São Tomé & Príncipe.

One interesting fact to note is that none of the primary crops grown by slaves, such as cacao, coffee, sugar, and tobacco, were necessary to sustain human life. Can we therefore argue, that slavery is a very early byproduct of a consumer culture that revolves around the purchase of goods that bring us pleasure but not sustenance?


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

Higgs, C. (2013). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, slavery, and colonialism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kiesow, S. (2017). Cocoa culture on São Tomé and Príncipe: The rise and fall of cocoa on the islands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Agricultural History, 91(1), 55-77.

Mintz, S. (1986). Sweetness and power. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Nevinson, H. (1906, February). The slave-trade of to-day. Conclusion. The islands of doom. Harper’s Magazine, Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/1906/02/the-slave-trade-of-to-day-conclusion-the-islands-of-doom/

Nevinson, H. (2015). A modern slavery – Scholar’s choice edition. Wolcott, NY: Scholar’s Choice.