Tag Archives: social culture

The Social Drink of the Spanish Elite: Chocolate and its Significance in the Enlightenment Era

The Enlightenment Era, also known as the Age of Reason, took place in Europe and North America prominently in the 17th and 18th centuries. This time period is most known for advancements in philosophy, art, and culture among educated intellectuals. The era is characterized by using reason and logic to question longstanding truths surrounding Christianity and science, as well as prevailing government practices, and freedoms surrounding the human condition (Power, 2002).

In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755 painted by Lemonnier in 1812

It is often overgeneralized that the “salon-like” philosophe social gatherings were similar in structure, however, during this period across Europe, patterns of socialization were unalike and individual in their own respects. Each gathering was unique to its region and largely influenced by cultural tradition with respect to chocolate. Out of all of the different social gatherings observed in the Western World during the Enlightenment Era, chocolate being served as a drink was most prevalent in the Spanish Tertulia social gatherings. Such gatherings played an essential role in shaping European Enlightenment culture, although this influence is often overlooked and underplayed.

Tertulias were social gatherings of the wider Spanish social classes where chocolate was served during the latter end of the 18th century Enlightenment Era (Samper 2001). These gatherings happened periodically, like a modern-day book club would convene, to discuss and debate current political issues, philosophical dilemmas, the arts, or even upcoming social gatherings such as bullfighting. These social gatherings took place in private, and semiprivate areas, and were an important catalyst for political, and cultural change in the Enlightenment era. Tertulias, in particular, were known for sharing and circulating various literary works and art. They shaped patterns of socialization, facilitated the exchange of ideas, and helped the spread of information amongst Spaniards with chocolate playing a pivotal role at such events.

A Gathering in Santiago, 1790 by Claudio Gay in 1854

Chocolate was first adopted by the upper classes of Spain as a type of entertainment drink. It became so popular especially among the noblewomen who hosted each other for social gatherings. This was in part because Spanish noblewomen were marrying French royalty, and the Jesuits were bringing over the custom of drinking chocolate (Llopis, 1998). Chocolate was a regular offering at such tertulias along with various sweets, pastries, ice cream, and shaved ice. Traditionally in Spain, chocolate refreshments were served hot and made with a water base; however, as the Enlightenment era progressed Spaniards started crafting the drink the French way by using milk. Chocolate was a central component to the offerings delivered and was deemed the star of the gathering as it was the trendiest drink to be served.

Hot Chocolate by Raimundo Madrazo y Garreta in 1884

These chocolate drinks were a signal of elegance, sophistication, and extravagance.. These chocolate refreshments were plentiful and free-flowing within the tertulia. Chocolate took on a prestigious, and rich connotation because the chocolate drinks at this time had become an important staple amongst the Catalan nobility. Chocolate was the favorited drink among the Spanish enlightenment socialites from the 16th century until the 18th century, when coffee became popular in a similar fashion to how chocolate had been served at social gatherings. Overall, chocolate was the prevailing favorited non-alcoholic drink of the Spaniards at these tertulias.

When one thinks of the Age of Reason, often the first thing that comes to mind is the French salons. Surprisingly, among the French philosophes, coffee was a more popular drink than chocolate (Coe, 2013). In Tastes of Paradise, Schivelbusch describes chocolate in Europe as being Catholic, aristocratic, and particularly southern, while coffee is described as northern, protestant, and middle class. It was truly at Tertulias in the south of Spain where chocolate drinking was so vital to the Spanish upper class. While chocolate was still being served in different forms in countries such as England, Italy, and America as part of food, medicine, and even poison at the time, chocolate took on a level of popularity in drink form in Southern Spain that was unseen anywhere else during the time. Chocolate drinks were essential to the Tertulias and played a central role in gathering Spaniards to discuss relevant Enlightenment issues.

Works Cited

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

“En Ce Moment Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture.” Lemonnier, Anicet-charles-gabrie ||| History ||| Sotheby’s N08952lot4csp3fr. Accessed March 22, 2019. http://www.sothebys.com/fr/auctions/ecatalogue/2013/old-master-paintings-n08952/lot.93.html.

Gay, Claudio, 1800-1873. Una tertulia en Santiago, 1840 . Disponible en Memoria Chilena, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile http://www.memoriachilena.gob.cl/602/w3-article-99696.html. Accedido en 3/21/2019.

Llopis, Manuel Martínez. Historia De La Gastronomía Española. Barcelona: Altaya, 1998.

Madrazo Y Garreta, Raimundo. Hot Chocolate. 1884.

Power, Marcus. “Enlightenment and the era of modernity.” The companion to development studies (2002): 65.

Samper, María de los Ángeles Pérez. “Spaces and practices of sociability in the eighteenth century: social gatherings, refreshments and coffee in Barcelona.” Notebooks of modern history 26 (2001): 11-55

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

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

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

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

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement

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

Timeline of Chocolate Brand Introduction

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


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

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

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



Picture and Video Source:

Fry’s Chocolate Advertisement:


Taza Chocolate Video:



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

Works Cited:

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

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

Hudson, 2013. Print.

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

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

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

The Elite World of Chocolate: Cultural Significance in Early Europe

Across time and space, from the Aztec Empire to Baroque Europe, chocolate has been associated with upper class culture. While chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century as a medicine with strong curative powers, it evolved into an elite drink during the grandiose Baroque Age. Chocolate was popularized throughout Europe and came to occupy a distinctive place within upper class society because of the complex material and social culture that the aristocracy and nobility created around it.

“It was during the Baroque Age that the beverage [chocolate] made its major journeys, and it was in the Baroque palaces and mansions of the wealthy and powerful that it was elaborated and consumed.” – The True History of Chocolate (Coe and Coe 125)

Europeans crafted specialized objects to enhance the quality and presentation of chocolate. By creating intricate paraphernalia and drinking processes, they elevated the consumption of chocolate to elite ritual ceremony. The development of objects including chocolate pots, cups, and saucers for the preparation and serving of chocolate in Baroque Europe indicate the extent to which the consumption of chocolate was a show of extravagance. The Spanish, Italians, and French developed their own varieties of specialty chocolate-pots in copper, gold, and silver, such as the one in the image below, (Coe and Coe 156) for the stirring, frothing, and serving of chocolate.

Chocolatiére (1774), made of silver and amarath wood

Particularly in France, these chocolatières were prized by the nobility, and the Dauphin Louis XIV himself received chocolatières as gifts from foreign guests, such as the King Narai of Siam in 1686. A body of literature surrounding the correct usage of chocolatières and other objects involved in the chocolate consumption process emerged, and the French debated chocolatière design in cookbooks and culinary treatises. For example, an issue of contention was whether there should be a hole in the chocolatière lid, to allow for the passing of the handle of the moulinet, used to stir the liquid chocolate, or if the lid should not be pierced, as with a caffetière, to avoid the “cumbersome” opening and closing of the pot with a moulinet passing through it (Grivetti and Shapiro 91).

With an elaborate material culture surrounding it, chocolate emerged as a fundamental element of royal and high society across countries including Italy, France, England, and Spain. Chocolate was served at public functions and levees at royal courts across Europe, such as Versailles (Coe and Coe 156).

Social gatherings offered individuals the opportunity to display their collection of objects relating to chocolate as well as their innovative methods of chocolate preparation. Esteemed recipes came to be associated with particular places, such as Francesco Redi’s jasmine chocolate at the Tuscan Court (Coe and Coe 143). These recipes were time-consuming and complex, requiring ingredients unavailable to most individuals. Redi’s chocolate, for example, required ten days to prepare and 250 jasmine flowers per kilogram of cocoa nibs a day for each of these ten days.


The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate (1768) shows a noble family drinking chocolate in a salon, illustrating the type of individuals who consumed chocolate in Baroque Europe.

The upper bourgeoisie class also consumed chocolate in increasing amounts. In England, chocolate was served in traditional coffee-houses, which functioned as important social institutions within English society, by the mid seventeenth century (Coe and Coe, 167).

Chocolate consumption flourished in Baroque Europe because of the extensive material and social culture that developed around it. The luxury item grew in popularity not simply because of its taste or perceived medicinal qualities, but because it offered the European upper class an opportunity to construct a set of customs and social practices around its consumption. Indeed, chocolate became a symbol of wealth, and a vehicle by which one could exhibit his or her privilege. Chocolate was expensive to begin with, and the construction of an extravagant world around chocolate made it even more inaccessible to the lower classes.


Ultimately, mass production technologies transformed chocolate from an elite privilege into a European staple food. However, even today, chocolate remains linked to notions of opulence and luxury.


Works Cited

Charpentier, Jean Baptiste. The Penthievre Family or The Cup of Chocolate, 1768. Digital image. PBS Learning Media. Web.

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

Grivetti, Louis, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009. Print.

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

Van Cauwenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Mar. 2012. Web.