The Chocolate Explosion

Appears in

Chocolate: The Food of the Gods


By Chantal Coady

Published 1993

The eighteenth century is often referred to as ‘the Age of Enlightenment’, and certainly it was a time of enormous change in terms of culture, industry, and mobility. In England, as elsewhere, many great inventors were experimenting with new ideas, and one of them was Walter Churchman. In 1728, Churchman invented an engine for grinding cocoa, powered by the water-wheel. In 1729, he was granted a patent by King George II. He established a factory in Bristol, using his new invention, and took advantage of his proximity to the port, where frequent shipments of cocoa beans from the West Indies arrived. It was at about this time that the ‘slave triangle’ began. Glass beads and similar merchandise were exported from Bristol to West Africa, where they were traded for slaves. From Africa, slaves were taken to the West Indies and sold. The triangle was completed with a cargo of hardwoods, sugar and cocoa being shipped back to Bristol, and from there distributed around the country by horse-drawn coaches.
In 1765 James Watt perfected Newcomen’s steam engine, an event which heralded the Industrial Revolution. Almost overnight, production methods changed from small artisan workshops to huge mechanized factories. The industries which changed the most were weaving and spinning, but food production was also revolutionized. Chocolate, in particular, was being transformed by the Quakers into a cheap and universal drink that everyone could enjoy. Imports of raw cocoa begin to rise steeply; in 1830, of the 400 tons of raw cocoa cleared through the British customs houses, 260 tons (more than half of all the cocoa imported) were allocated to His Majesty’s Navy, and the remaining 140 tons were reserved for domestic consumption.

The idea of serving cocoa to British sailors was introduced as early as 1780 by Captain James Ferguson, who had enjoyed drinking cocoa while the fleet was anchored in Antigua, in the British West Indies. He and the ship’s surgeon understood the nutritional value of cocoa, and as a dried provision, it was ideally suited for long sea voyages. Limes provided essential vitamin C, thereby preventing scurvy, while cocoa provided the whole gamut of other vitamins and minerals, as well as valuable and nourishing proteins and fats. The comfort and stimulation afforded by the drink to men taking the night watch must have been considerable. So by 1824, the cocoa issue, or CI, was instituted in the Navy, and each man received his daily ration (a one-ounce block of chocolate), along with his rum and limes. ‘Kye’ was the word commonly used by sailors when talking of cocoa, which may have been a derivative form of CI, or perhaps slang for char, or chai, which came from the Indian word for tea, used widely in the British Army.

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