Europe has a Taste for It

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Chocolate: The Food of the Gods


By Chantal Coady

Published 1993

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, all the trade routes had been well established and documented and maps drawn up. Information about the trade winds and other navigational systems were available to sailors. Exporting cocoa beans to Europe became an important trade. Providing they were carefully stowed, the dry beans were able to withstand the long sea voyage. Antonio Carletti, an Italian, took cocoa to Italy in 1606, after his travels in South America, and from there the news about cocoa travelled swiftly into Germany and Austria. At that time chocolate was enjoyed almost exclusively in liquid form, but it was not like the sweet drink of today. Milk was not added to it. Rather it was strongly concentrated with the addition of hot peppers and spices. Cocoa was still a very expensive commodity, and would only have been served in the most aristocratic circles in Europe.
At this time, a considerable amount of chocolate paste was also being exported from the Spanish New World colonies to Spain and Flanders. Not only had it reached Italy, it was also being introduced into south-western France at about this time by Spanish monks and friars. There, however, it appears to have been confined to the monasteries.

We know that by 1631 chocolate was well established in Spain, Italy and Flanders, especially at court, and was already regarded as a wholesome drink. In 1615, Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, had married Louis XIII of France. She would probably have taken with her to France the century-old Spanish chocolate drinking custom. If not, it certainly arrived there in 1660, when a similar dynastic marriage renewed the Franco-Spanish alliance. This was the marriage of Maria Theresa to Louis XIV. She indeed brought her own personal maid from Spain to make chocolate in the Queen’s apartments. The French court nicknamed this maid ‘La Molina’, after the chocolate-beating stick used at that time. La Molina’s tasks were later vividly portrayed by Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti:

What an abominable life a lady’s maid leads! . . .

I’ve been beating chocolate for half an hour, now it’s ready, and is it my lot to stand and smell it with a dry mouth?

Mozart’s opera was written a century later, but the custom of private preparation of chocolate drinks in high-born ladies’ apartments still persisted. Since the Queen took her chocolate in her private apartments, the fashion did not immediately extend to the French court. Perhaps it was considered a coarse Spanish drink. Yet the drink could not be kept under wraps for long, and within a few years it became a well-established and highly-regarded drink, to be consumed in public.

Maria Theresa is said to have declared: ‘Chocolate and the King are my only passions.’ You will note that chocolate comes before the King! This may have been a necessary reversal of the usual order of priorities, as the King gave her little of his attention in the early days of their marriage. His main preoccupation was with gaining territories, by diplomacy or war, his ambition being to extend the ‘natural boundaries’ of France and gain glory and lasting fame. He took his role as head of state very seriously, and was determined, once he was no longer a minor, not to be a puppet. He resolved to be his own chief minister, and worked long hours. In his leisure time he preferred the company of his mistresses.

It was perhaps just as well that the Queen had the consolation of hot chocolate. She was not the last person to use chocolate to assuage life’s disappointments. Furthermore, she even succeeded in winning the King over to chocolate. It was served to his guests on reception days, three times a week, though this practice ended in November 1693 for reasons of economy. When the King was succeeded in 1715 by his five-year-old great-grandson, Louis XV, France was ruled by a regent, the Duke of Orleans. The Duke did not have morning receptions (levées), but took chocolate himself in a large room. Those who were allowed in to greet him referred to it as ‘being admitted to the Chocolate’. At the same time in Martinique (one of the French colonies), chocolate was used to show the passage of time, or the time of day, in expressions such as: T left at the brandy and arrived at the chocolate.’ What a life!
From the court in Versailles the use of chocolate had spread to Paris, and as early as 1687 a Parisian directory noted the names and addresses of three chocolate makers, of whom the most famous was David Chaliou. A chocolate maker in those days was a small artisan producing chocolate from raw materials in his workshop and also selling it in his shop.

The production of cups and pots designed especially for chocolate shows just how popular chocolate was becoming in France. Some were made of precious metals, a good example being a silver chocolate set, decorated with golden flowers, which was presented to the Dauphin by the Siamese Ambassador. This thoughtful gift suggests that chocolate was already known, or at any rate that the custom was understood, in the Orient. In 1689 a newspaper reported that the Queen Mother won silver and earthenware chocolate pots and three chocolate batons (used to stir the chocolate) in a lottery organized by the Duke of Orleans at St Cloud. By 1692 wine merchants were complaining that chocolate, coffee and tea were adversely affecting their trade. No doubt these complaints were wildly exaggerated, but it does show that this new drink had made a significant impact on the national awareness.

By 1690 chocolate had arrived in Hanover, and in 1711, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI transferred his court, and with it chocolate, from Madrid to Vienna. The chocolate makers of Florence and Venice were already famous. Vienna was to share their renown as it became famous for its delicious cups of chocolate served with glasses of ice cold water, as well as, later, the most famous of all chocolate cakes: the Sacher Hotel’s speciality known as Sachertorte.

The first printed evidence we have of chocolate being used in London is the notice in the Public Advertiser in 1657:

In Bishopsgate St is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.

By the end of the Commonwealth in 1659, Thomas Rugge, a London diarist, was writing in his Journal about coffee, chocolate and tea as new drinks in London, and referring to chocolate as ‘a harty drink in every street’. Chocolate seems to have spread rapidly in London during Charles IPs reign. The King’s own physician, Henry Stubbe, was a chocolate enthusiast and in 1662 wrote a book in its praise called The Indian Nectar. His book confirms that chocolate had by this time spread from Spain and Portugal to Italy, France, Germany and England, and even to Turkey and Persia. Stubbe also tells us that there were two qualities of chocolate – ordinary and royal. The royal variety which the King enjoyed was rich in cocoa, and not too sugary. So we see that the recent demand for chocolate with a high cocoa content has been an issue as far back as the seventeenth century.

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