Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Divine Drink


Object: Chocolate Pot
Accession #: 1995.0007
The chocolate pot was invented in the 17th century to serve the growing popularity of hot chocolate. The first chocolate pot recognized as such was made by George Garthorne in England in 1685.  John Coney, a silversmith out of Boston, Massachusetts, is accepted as the first to make chocolate pots in North America around 1701.  

A chocolate pot has a shorter spout than a coffee pot and does not have a filter.  Chocolate pots also have a hinged lid with a “removable finial” for a stirring rod.  It was necessary for the chocolate to be stirred before it was poured because hot chocolate was thickened with cocoa butter.  The stirring rod, called a moussoir in French and a molinet in English (for little moulin or mill), was rolled between the palms of the hands to stir the chocolate. The French deviced the pot to serve chocolate in and be able to keep stirring it while keeping it hot.

It is possible that Mrs. Randolph owned a chocolate pot like this one in Wilton’s collection today, which she used to serve chocolate to her guests. This chocolate pot is a hexagonal-shaped silver chocolate pot with a boxwood handle and inset George II coin. Unfortunately, as one historian notes “By the 1820's, a process introduced to remove the fat from cocoa made the drink less heavy and thereby rendered obsolete the special accouterments that gave chocolate pots their beauty.”

                                      A Lady pouring Chocolate ('La Chocolatière')
                                                           Jean-Etienne Liotard, c. 1744

In a letter to King Charles I of Spain, explorer Hernán Cortes wrote that, “[this] divine drink...builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”  The Spanish explorer brought chocolate back from his encounter with the Aztec who used chocolate as both a food and currency.  Chocolate mixed with sugar was introduced in Spain 100 years before coffee and tea.  Originally, chocolate was a drink served cold, “thick enough to hold up a spoon.”  It was the Spanish who came up with the idea of serving chocolate hot.  Hot chocolate spread to the rest of Europe when Maria Teresa (former Spanish princess), wife of Louis XIV, acquainted her court with it in 1660.  Chocolate grew in popularity because “to courtiers it was a symbol of chic” and “the drink [was] often figured in the era’s depiction of elegance.”  Thomas Jefferson predicted, “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.”  The year 1755 is believed to be when chocolate arrived in the colonies because that was when colonists began to go into the chocolate business for themselves.

Chocolate was sold in the form of blocks, sticks, small rolls, or cakes wrapped in paper.  These blocks or sticks were ground to powder and added to the chocolate pot with hot water.  The moussoir or molinet was used to froth the chocolate which sometimes had spices added to it such as anise seed, pepper, ambergris, and cinnamon.  Elizabeth Raffald, an English businesswoman and author, wrote in her book The Experienced English Housekeeper in 1769 on how to make hot chocolate,  "Scrape four ounces of chocolate and pour a quart of boiling water upon it, mill it well with a chocolate mill, and sweeten it to your taste, give it a boil and let it stand all night, then mill it again very well, boil it two minutes, then mill it till it will leave a froth upon the top of your cups."

Chocolate was not just commended for its ability to satisfy one’s sweet tooth but also was seen as good for one’s health.  People drank chocolate as a medicine, known as a “confection.”  An English physician stated in 1662 that made up chocolate blends that could be taken as medicine and one ounce of chocolate had more fat and nourishment than a pound of meat.  Another physician from Holland, Amsterdam wrote, “Chocolate is not only pleasant of taste but is also veritable balm of the mouth, for the maintaining of the glands and humors in a good state of health.  Thus it is, that all who drink it, possess a sweet breath.”  In fact, it was a physician who began the giant chocolate industry of the United States.  It was Dr. James Baker of Dorchester, Massachusetts joined with chocolate maker John Hannon of Ireland in 1765 and sold chocolate.  Dr. Baker put up money to rent space in a gristmill where Hannon ground cocoa beans using water power.  A customer could buy their chocolate with cash or the factory would make it out of the customer’s cocoa beans.

                    Advertisment for Dr. Baker's              The Chocolate Girl
                    chocolate                                           Jean Etienne Liotard, c. 1743-1745

However, not everyone could afford chocolate.  One historian agrees, “Chocolate, always expensive, was taken at breakfast by fashionable society.”  The Chocolate Girl was done by Swiss artist Jean Etienne Liotard who had a chambermaid bring his morning chocolate and, impressed by her beauty, had the young lady pose for this painting.  The chocolate houses which opened in London in the 17th century never took hold in America, but as one historian states, “the leisured classes in Virginia took their chocolate at home.”   So it would not be at all surprising if as a guest of Mrs. Randolph, you might have been offered this “divine drink” which she would have served in a chocolate pot much like this one.

Bardi, Carla and Claire Peterson. The Golden Book of Chocolate: Over 300 great recipes.
            Barrons Educational Series, Inc. New York, 2008.
Deitz, B Paula. “Antigues; Chocolate pots brewed ingenuity”. NY Times on the Web. 19
February 1989. 8 March 2012. <
Morton, Marcia and Frederic. Chocolate: An Illustrated History. Crown Publishers, Inc. New      
            York, 1986.
Wees, Beth Carver. "Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate in Early Colonial America". In Heilbrunn  
Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. 8 March
 “Chocolate Pots”. Gourmet Sleuth. 8 March 2012.
“Primary Source of the Month: Chocolate Pots”. Colonial Williamsburg. 8 March 2012.
“Eighteenth Century Chocolate: Chocolate as a Drink”. The Confectioners Mill Preservation
Society. <>

Images Credit: