Tag Archives: Spanish mancerina

A Royal Indulgence: The Elite Origins and Introductions of Chocolate

Hundreds of years before Cadbury, Hershey and the like transformed chocolate into a mass-produced and affordable dietary staple, chocolate was a royal indulgence. Reserved for the most prestigious social classes in Mesoamerica, sumptuary laws in New World governed who was able to consume it and, according to some accounts, consumption of chocolate without sanction by commoners was punishable by death (Presilla, 18). The value and reverence the Aztecs had for chocolate made a strong impression on early travelers, who readily shared the frothed-beverage with their commissioners in the Old World, making the ruling elite of the 16th century among the first Europeans to regularly imbibe.

Elite Origins in Mesoamerica

Chemical analysis has allowed researchers to place chocolate over 38 centuries back, although not much is known about the drinking habits of early cultures such as the Olmecs and Mayans (Coe, location 464-578). The only surviving written evidence for classic Mayan use of cacao has been found on elegantly painted and carved cylindrical vases and vessels in the tombs and graves of the elite (Coe, location 578). Some of these excavated vases are externally marked with Mayan hieroglyphs denoting cacao, and internally bear chemical traces of alkaloids found in cacao and dark rims on the interior that suggest the contents were once liquid (Coe, location 625). There is not enough evidence to concretely conclude that chocolate was chiefly drunken by the ruling class, but the inclusion of chocolate provisions for the afterlife of the elite suggests Mayans placed a high level importance on the drink.

A Mayan lord sits raised above a servant on a platform next to a frothing pot of chocolate, forbidding the servant from touching the container. (Mayan Civilisation)

Much more is known of the chocolate consumption habits of the Aztecs than the Mayans. Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina (c. 1398-1469 AD) issued a series of laws stating that “he who does not go to war, be he son of a king, may not wear cotton, feathers or flowers, nor may he smoke, or drink cacao” (Coe, location 1372). Only members of the royal house, the lords and nobility, long-distance merchants who endured dangerous lands and battles with foreign groups, and warriors were allowed to drink chocolate in Aztec society (Coe, location 1324). In Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, Sahagún describes how stringently this hierarchical framework for chocolate consumption was followed by the Aztecs; cacao was very valuable and rare, and was proverbially referred to as “Yollotli eztli”, or the “price of blood and of heart”, because if people of the working class drank it without permit, it would cost them their life (“si alguno de los populares lo bebía, costábale la vide si sin licencia lo bebían”) (Moreno, 500).

Chocolate’s link to luxury and power in Aztec culture is further enforced with the cacao bean’s role in the economy. The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency: a rabbit cost about ten beans (Coe, location 832). When the elite drank chocolate, they were quite literally drinking money. This did not go unacknowledged by the Europeans, who quickly realized that cacao was as valuable to this group of people as gold and gems (Presilla, 18). Watch this video to learn a little more about cacao beans in Aztec culture and the introduction of chocolate to Europeans (Youtube).

Royal Introductions in Europe

In 1544, chocolate made its first documented European appearance in Spain. Dominican friars brought Mayan nobles to the courts of Prince Philip, who presented some of the wonders of the New World to the king: quetzal feathers, painted gourds, and containers of beaten chocolate (Presilla, 24). Forty years later in 1585, the first official cacao bean shipment reached Seville from Veracruz (Coe, location 1848).

A Spanish mancerina with a metal tray. Mancerinas were also made with porcelain trays to match the cup. (Tamorlan)

The Spanish altered the chocolate recipe slightly – preferring it hot as opposed to cold, as the Aztecs had taken it. The Aztecs would add ingredients they were familiar with such as vanilla, herbs, flower petals, and honey, and the Spanish did the same with sugar, cinnamon, hazelnut, anise, and almonds (Presilla). The Spanish sipped it out of mancerinas, a plate or saucer with a ring in the middle to hold a small cup and prevent it from slipping, rather than jícaras. One thing that didn’t change, however, was the elite ties of chocolate; making and drinking chocolate “involved special pains and paraphernalia” (Presilla, 25).

During the 17th century, chocolate spread throughout Europe. It was highly valued as an exotic, tasty alternative as well as a health-promoting drug and was treated differently than other foods. During the reign of Charles III of Spain, chocolate was sent directly to the “royal keeper of jewels” rather than the kitchen (Presilla, 32). France mimicked Spain’s royal consumption of chocolate, reserving it strictly for the aristocracy while England allowed it to hit the free market (Coe, location 2412). Any Englishman or woman was able to consume it so long as they had enough money to pay for it.

A woman drinks chocolate. Notice her elegant clothing and the chocolate paraphernalia on the tray next to her. (Raimundo)


Castriocto, Alessandro. “File:João V – Duque de Lafões.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. 1720. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

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

Mayan civilisation. “File:Mayan People and Chocolate.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Moreno, Wigberto Jiménez and Sahagún, Bernardino de. Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España: Libros I, II, III, y IV. Linkgua digital, 1938. Online.

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

Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta. “File:Raimundo Madrazo – Hot Chocolate.jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Salvor. “File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jph – Wikimedia Commons”. 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Tamorlan. “File:Macerina-Barcelona-03.Jpg – Wikimedia Commons”. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

YouTube. “This Is México – Cacao”. Royal Channel Cancun, 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.

Chocolate Consumption and its Impact on Historic European Customs

The introduction of chocolate to Europe plays a significant role in the transformation of customs and beliefs that are currently associated with it. As chocolate expands into European countries, it has major implications on matters of class and politics. The development of these beliefs is best viewed through a historical narrative of chocolate’s evolving role in European society.

Until the 16th century, drinking chocolate was an unknown custom to Europeans. Although Christopher Columbus allegedly encountered cacao beans on one of his missions to the Americas, it was Hernan Cortes who was the first European to taste chocolate (Presilla, 2009). Initially, he found the drink “more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 110). However, through their relations with the Aztecs, the Spanish became aware of the value of cacao beans (Presilla, 2009).

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported into Europe and quickly became popular among the elite. While it was still served as a beverage, the Spanish altered its taste by adding honey or sugar to reduce the bitterness (Presilla, 2009). This “Hispanicized chocolate” expanded into England, Italy and France quickly after its discovery (Presilla, 2009, p. 25).

Although the taste of the chocolate was slightly altered, Europeans continued to associate drinking chocolate with high social standing (Presilla, 2009). Drinking chocolate was still considered a luxury and was primarily consumed by the elite. This is mainly because it took a great deal of effort to produce the beverage. Furthermore, it was custom to drink chocolate from luxurious utensils, such as the Spanish mancerina and French trembleuse cups and saucers (Presilla, 2009).

These images symbolize the integration of drinking chocolate into elite customs as well as the formal nature by which chocolate was consumed. Thus, the consumption of chocolate in Europe was historically associated with matters of wealth and class that provides meaningful insight into the customs that developed as a result.

While chocolate consumption is Europe became a custom tradition among the elite class, it was also associated with political issues (Coe & Coe, 2013). This is particularly prevalent in England as the chocolate beverage became popular during a time of “political and social upheaval” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 161-162). There were tensions that existed between the king and parliament that were exacerbated by regular meetings that would take place at English coffee-houses. These coffee-houses hold political significance as their popularity threatened the King’s authority and he tried multiple times to have them shut down.

Along with coffee and tea, chocolate beverages were sold at these coffee-houses and all three items were highly valued among the customers. Since chocolate beverages were frequently consumed during political meetings at the coffee-houses, it became symbolic of a democratized England.

In conclusion, a historical analysis of chocolate’s consumption in Europe highlights associations with matters of class and politics. Along the way, its consumption was specified to the elite classes and held certain political affiliations, particularly in England. As a result, certain customs and beliefs became tradition among European societies that have played an integral role in shaping our current fascination with chocolate.

Works Cited

1. Coe, S., & Coe, M. (2013). Chocolate conquers Europe. In The true history of chocolate (Third ed.). New York: Thames and Hudson.

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