Chocolate’s Claim to Fame

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Map of 16th Century Europe
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The compass represents the repeated attempts at finding a western route to China and the resulting discoveries.

Although Chocolate touched many European countries, the global powers of Spain, France, Italy and England were greatly effected, along with the American colonies, by this revolutionary product. The Spanish are responsible for bringing cacao over to Europe.  Spain’s exploration of Mesoamerica began when Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs.  Of course he discovered the Aztecs while looking for a faster way to China, which was a common theme among many European explorations.
So not only did chocolate become a major fashion symbol in the Eastern world, it was discovered because of the lust after Chinese luxury goods.   Chocolate was able to reach the Old World due to the adaptation of the Aztec’s chocolate wafers, which made transporting it much easier (Coe, 115).  A lot was going on in Europe, but that didn’t stop chocolate from taking over.   Many stimulants were found in the New World but only tobacco and chocolate were embraced by the European culture (Smith, 12).  Each culture added their own twist to the cacao brought over from Mesoamerica to make it more palatable for their particular tastes.  In most societies chocolate was only for the elite so new modes of preparation and consumption were created to satisfy the upper class’s need for high-end luxury good.  The following will show how each country adopted chocolate into their lifestyles.


Spain

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The Spanish did not like chocolate at first because it was very bitter and spicy.

Although Cortes promoted chocolate as a “divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.  A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food” (Szogi, 45), chocolate was not at first accepted by the Spaniards.

“It [chocolate] seemed more of a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity.  I was in this country for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it, and whenever I passed a settlement, some Indian would offer me a drink of it, and would be amazed when I would not accept, going away laughing. But then, as there was a shortage of wine, so as not to be always drinking water, I did like the others.  The taste is somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body, but does not inebriate, and it is the best and most expensive merchandise, according to the Indians of that country.”

-Girolamo Benzoni, 1575

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It was thanks to sugar that chocolate became one of the most popular commodities in Europe.

However, chocolate soon became one of the most luxurious items in Europe as well when sugar was added.  The Spaniards had a major sweet tooth since the introduction of sugar in the medieval times, so as the Spanish men began to take  indigenous wives, there was a blending of not only culture but the way chocolate was made (Coe, 111).  Chocolate began to be consumed hot, rather than cold, and was flavored with cinnamon instead of chili powder (Coe, 115).  The following recipe shows how there was a mixture of European and Native spices and ingredients within the production of chocolate.

Recipe of Antonio Collmenero de Ledesma 1644 (Coe, 136)

100 cacao beans

2 chilies (black pepper may be substituted)

A handful of anise

“ear flower”

2 mecasuchbiles (mecaxochitl)

(lacking the above two spices, powdered roses of Alexandria may be used)

1 vanilla

2 oz cinnamon (60g)

12 almonds and as many hazelnuts

1/2lb (450g) sugar

Achiote to taste

Beyond how chocolate was made, the way it was consumed changed as well.  In the Baroque Age of Spain chocolate became a common occurrence among the Spanish royals and nobles, and in the beginning they probably followed the Mesoamerican way of drinking chocolate from gourds or clay (Coe, 137).  However, around the mid-17th century, the Marques de Mancera was horrified at this messy way of drinking chocolate and thus invented the mancerina.  This was a plate or saucer with a ring in the middle that would keep a cup in place to reduce spillage (Coe, 137).


France

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Chocolatieres could be made from porcelain, and often would have elaborate designs. This is a porcelain pitcher, it lacks the chocolatiere’s characteristic lid.

Early Modern France (mid  17th century) just got done with the Thirty Years’ War and was one of the wealthiest countries on the continent (Grivetti, 157).  The Versailles palace, built by King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, modeled the highest of luxury and refinement (Grivetti, 157).  There was the arrival of specialized dining rooms, elaborate table cloths, the popularization of the fork, and adoption of tea, coffee, and chocolate (Grivetti, 157). Chocolate arrived in France with the intermarriage of  the granddaughter of King Philip II of Spain, Anne of Austria, and France’s King Louis XIII, who was fourteen at the time, in 1615.   Although the public was at first skeptical of both Anne and chocolate, for France had been warring with Spain, thanks to Cardinal Richelieu, the kings adviser, chocolate caught on (Off, 38).  Another player in the promotion of chocolate in France is the Sun King’s wife, the Spanish Maria Theresa( Off, 40).  Because of her, chocolate spread through the woman at court.  The chocolate was made with vanilla extract, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and sugar.  Chocolate was so important that it would only be served in delicate porcelain cups and saucers made specifically for drinking chocolate (Off, 40).  As chocolate became more and more popular, new vessels and terms were created.  A prominent example is the chocolatiere, which is similar to a coffee pot with an unattached cover or a hinged lid.  However, the chocolatiere’s lid has a hole, into which the mouinet or  moussoir, a wooden stirrer, is inserted to stir the hot chocolate from the bottom (Grivetti, 158).   The stirring was essential because chocolate often settled on the bottom and the froth that was created was considered appealing (Grivetti, 158).  They also had handles that were placed at a ninety degree angle to the pot, and depending if it was a right-handed or left-handed pot, the handle would unscrew clockwise or counterclockwise respectively (Grivetti, 158).  Chocolatieres were often made from metal, specifically silver, but were also sometimes made of tin-lined copper, pewter, and ceramic (Grivetti, 160).  It had to withstand the heating and stirring required to create the froth (Grivetti, 160).  By the middle of the 18th century France became the center of luxury production in Europe, especially in chocolatieres, which were in high demand (Grivetti, 163).  Chocolate appeared in many portraits and was often showed being served by servants to women in their private chambers (Grivetti, 168).  Chocolatieres were so important that Marie Antoinette brought her personal one with her, as she attempted to escape France during the French Revolution in 1791 (Grivetti, 169).  Here is a few examples of French recipes:

Disdier’s Chocolate 1692 (163, Coe)

Recipe 1(very good)

2lb (900g) prepared cacao

1½ lb (680g) cassonade (sugar)

6 drachm (¾oz: 20g) powdered vanilla

4 drachm (½oz: 14g) powdered cinnamon

Recipe 2 (excellent)

2lb (900g) prepared cacao

1¼lb (570g) sugar

1 oz (28 g) powdered vanilla

4 drachm ( ½ oz: 15g) powdered cinnamon

Recipe 3 (high taste, for those with no fear of overeating)

more of a “Spanish Style”

2lb (900g) prepared cacao

1lb (450g) fine sugar

3 drachm ( 1/3 oz: 9g) cinnamon

1 scruple (1/24 oz: 7g) powdered cloves

1 scruple (1/24 oz: 7g) Indian pepper (chillis)

1¼ oz (35g) vanilla


Italy

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The Italian chocolate was often very flavorful thanks to Redi. This picture shows a standard cup from which chocolate was drank from.

Italy did not fully unify until 1870 because during the Baroque Age there were many wars and different parts of Italy were controlled by different countries (Coe, 140).  Therefore many powerful families used marriage to create alliances and as they did so important items of elite culture, especially culinary items, were intermixed (Coe, 141).  Chocolate gained quick acceptance in Italy, and Francesco Redi, who disproved spontaneous generation, is responsible for many variations of chocolate recipes (Off, 139).  Redi created novel, perfume-laden flavors of chocolate (Coe, 148).

“Chocolate was first introduced from America by the court of Spain, where it is made in all perfection.  And yet, to the Spanish perfection has been added, in our times, in the court of Tuscany, a certain I know not what of more exquisite gentility, owing to the novelty of divers European ingredients; a way having been found out of introducing into the composition of fresh peel of citrons and lemons,  and the very genteel odor of jasmine, which, together with cinnamon, amber, musk, and vanilla, has a prodigious effect upon such as delight themselves in taking chocolate.”

-Francesco Redi (Coe, 148)

Redi was very secretive with his recipes, but after his death in 1697 Antonio Vallisnieri found this secret recipe (Coe, 149).

The Renowned jasmine chocolate of the Grand Duke of Tuscany,1701 (Coe, 149)


Ingredients

 10lbs (4.5kg) toasted cacao beans, cleaned and coarsely crushed

Fresh jasmine flowers

8lbs (3.6kg) white sugar, well dried

3oz (85g) “perfect” vanilla beans

4-6 oz (115-170g) “perfect” cinnamon

2 scruples (1/12 oz, 2.5g) ambergris

Method

In a box or similar utensil, alternate layers of jasmine with layer so the crushed cacao and let it sit for 24 hours. Then mix these up, and add more alternating layers of flowers and cacao, followed by the same treatment.  This must be done ten or twelve times, so as to permeate the cacao with the odor of the jasmine.   Next take the remaining ingredients and add them to the mixed cacao and jasmine and grind them together on a slightly warmed metate, if the metate be too the odor might be lost.

Recipe for Chocolate Sorbet, Naples, 1794 (Coe, 220)

2½lb (1kg) chocolate and 1½ (680 g) sugar are to be put to boil with 4lb (3.2 pints or 1.5 L) water and ½ oz (14g) powdered vanilla.  When all has been dissolved, the liquid is passed through a fine sieve and returned to the fire to thicken (when sufficiently thick it will coat the spoon).  Then it is ladled into a vase with the addition of a piece of cacao butter and allowed to cool.  Finally, the vase is buried in snow layer with salt, and frozen.


England

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English chocolate eventually evolved into a more casual, democratic drink. This picture represents this casualness, along with the stout, short design of English chocolate pots.

Cocoa arrived in London around the same time as tea, and coffee (Off, 39).  At first, most likely due to the high amount of work included to make chocolate, it was 10 times the price of tea and coffee, which limited it to the upper class (Grivetti, 225).  The first casual encounters with chocolate was probably pirate raids of Spanish ships in the mid-17th century (Grivetti, 583).  Chocolate made a major appearance in England after the English took Jamaica, which had many cacao plantations, from the Spanish in 1655 (Coe, 169). Shortly after the first chocolate advertisement appeared in the Needham’s Mercurius Politicus in June 1659:

“Chocolate, an excellent West India drink, sold in Queen’s-Head-alley, in Bishopsgate-street, by a Frenchman, who did formerly sell it in Gracechurch-street and in Chlement’s-churchyard; being the first man who did sell it in England.  There you may have it ready to drink, and also unmade at easie rates, and taught the use thereof, it being for its excellent qualities so much esteemed in all places.  It cures and preserves the body of many diseases, as is to be seen by the book, who hath it there to be sold also.” (Coe,169).

This shows how England was becoming a land of shopkeepers and private businessmen, in contrast to the countries like France which were authoritarian and full of monopolies (Coe, 170). Coffee and chocolate houses began to rise in popularity, often becoming centers for political discussion (Grivetti, 584).  Along with the coffee houses and the rising middle class in England, chocolate began to not just be limited to the elite, but to anyone who was able to pay for it, as was such in other countries (Coe, 170) .  The coffee houses allowed for a more social sphere where even common folk could drink chocolate. (Off, 40).  According to Carol Off, chocolate coincides with the birth of many revolutionary theories about social structures, human rights and natural justice, and that it played a role in the Enlightenment (Off, 40).  Along with the coffee houses, chocolate began to have less sophisticated ways of preparation.  In England the chocolate and water were usually boiled together (Coe, 173).  Philippe S. Dufour was a Huguenot refugee who immersed himself in English culture.

Durfour’s Method (late 1600’s)

Take a cake of chocolate, and either pound it in a mortar or grate it into a fine powder.  Mix this with sugar, and pour it into a little pot in which water is boiling.

Then, take the pot from the fire, and “work it well with your little Mill; if you don’t have a mill, pour it a score of times from one pot into another, but this is not as good.”

Finally, let it be drunk without separating the “scum” from it.

The first chocolate pots were found in England around the mid-17th to mid-18th century (Grivetti, 177).  These pots were often silver,  decorated with raised metal ridges along the top and bottom and had handles 90 degrees from the pouring spout (Grivetti, 177).  English chocolate pots eventually evolved into short, stout, and sparsely decorated pots made out of copper, pewter, porcelain, or silver (Grivetti, 179).  It was often drank from dishes instead of cups (Coe, 175).


America

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Although much smoother, these spoons represent the America’s use of chocolate mills.

Chocolate, coffee, and tea all were introduced into North America around the late 17th century, and replaced much of the ale beer and hard cider as breakfast drinks (Grivetti, 129).  In the early colonial America, chocolate recipes usually start off with chocolate itself as most of the chocolate imported had the cacao bean already roasted and grinded (Grivetti, 130).  It was bought in “cakes of chocolate” or tablets, usually premixed with other spices (Grivetti, 130).  Chocolate once again was very expensive so only the upper and middle classes could afford it (Grivetti, 130).  Those who did get chocolate either cut or scraped the cake of chocolate and mixed it with water, milk, or wine and then boiled it (Grivetti, 130).  Eggs were also sometimes added to increase froth and nutrition (Grivetti, 130).  The cakes of chocolate were also often at least 50% cocoa butter so the creation of chocolate mills helped mix the thick drink (Grivetti, 131).  The chocolate mills were often about a foot long and made of wood (Grivetti, 130).  On one end there was a notched knob, which was put into the drink and the handle was spun between the hands to get a uniform consistency (Grivetti, 131).   An example of a colonial recipe is as follows:


Average Chocolate Recipe in 1800’s  (Grivetti, 129)

2oz of chocolate

8 eggs

1/2 lb of sugar

1 pint of white-wine

1 oz of mace or cinnamon

1 gal of milk

All boiled together over a gentle fire


 

To continue to Chocolate: The Dark Side click here

Suggested Readings:

  1. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
  2. Grivetti, Louis E., and Howard Shapiro. Chocolate History, Culture, and Heritage. Somerset: Wiley, 2011.
  3. Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New Press, 2008.
  4. Szogyi, Alex. Chocolate Food of the Gods. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.