Joanna here, talking about chocolate pots in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century, which is a small and very specific topic, but it possesses a certain naïve charm.
The whole sweeping history of chocolate is a huge ocean upon which I do not feel ready to embark when I am still (endlessly) in the midst of moving household. So we’re just going to look in at one of the tiny islands in that sea. If Georgian chocolate drinking were Homer’s Odyssey, looking at chocolate pots would be like visiting Calypso’s Isle. A manageable bite, as it were, and we don’t meet the Cyclops or get turned into pigs, which makes it a good day by anyone’s calculation.
Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.
Hot chocolate wandered into England by way of Spain and France. Like its fellow travellers, coffee and tea, hot chocolate loaded up on sugar, seduced the populace with pretty, delicate cups, and snuggled into the British Isles to make itself at home.
Hot chocolate started out both as a tonic sold in apothecaries and simultaneously a trendy brew served in exclusive cafés.Like most exotic new foods it was an expensive delicacy reserved for the upper crust and the prosperous middle classes.
An Eighteenth Century Yuppie drink, as it were.
In its fashionable debut it came close to being a health food. (Though there were naughty possibilities, of which more below.) The vaguely medicinal bitterness was more than compensated for by the splendid caffeine rush.
Technically, caffeine and theobromine rush. “Theobromine has an effect similar to, but lesser than, that of caffeine on the human nervous system, making it a lesser homologue.” Remember you heard it here first.
The vertues thereof are no lesse various, then Admirable. For, besides that it preserves Health, and makes such as drink it often, Fat, and Corpulent, faire and Amiable, it vehemently Incites to Venus, and causeth Conception in women, hastens and facilitates their Delivery: It is an excellent help to Digestion, it cures Consumptions, and the Cough of the Lungs, the New Disease, or Plague of the Guts, and other Fluxes, the Green Sicknesse, Jaundise, and all manner of Inflamations, Opilations, and Obstructions. It quite takes away the Morphew [ed note. discolored skin], Cleanseth the Teeth, and sweetneth the Breath, Provokes Urine, Cures the Stone, and strangury [ed note. urinary infection], Expells Poison, and preserves from all infectious Diseases. But I shall not assume to enumerate all the vertues of this Confection: for that were Impossible, every day producing New and Admirable effects in such as drinke it.
Antonio Colmenero De Ledesma, Chocolate: or an Indian Drinke
Harking back to the “it vehemently Incites to Venus” part above, in the early days hot chocolate was considered an aphrodisiac. (I think the jury is still out on this so you may wish to experiment.)
The Virginia Almanac of 1770 very kindly warned women against it. “The fair sex to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolate, novels, and the like,” especially in the spring, as those were all ‘inflamers’ and ‘very dangerous.’”
Like much good advice, this was pretty much ignored.
Fortunately, that medicinal value kept hot chocolate respectable. It sneaked out of the cafes and into pretty parlours and homey nurseries.
Moving on to chocolate pots which is kinda our ultimate destination on this tour. First off, chocolate pots in Fine Art:
(Chocolate was sold in thin dark wafers like those on the right in this image, wrapped in paper. And see how the hot chocolate calls forth an image of bread.)
(Here is hot chocolate being so wholesome it's fed to kids. There are lots of fond intimate portraits like this.
Also, this is what you did with the bread.
I have no idea what is going on with the hair on that kid.)
(A still life with bread, water, chocolate pot, and a brown pot of honey.)
When chocolate, tea, and coffee established themselves in Europe, the three drinks adopted three distinct pot styles suited to their idiosyncrasies. You can pretty much tell one sort of pot from the other. Exceptions abound, of course. (Look over there. Do you see those abounding exceptions leaping across the wide grassy plains?)
Tea pots were, frankly, squat. Their near-spherical shape had a low surface-to-volume ratio, (of course,) which minimized heat loss and kept the boiling water hot and maximized the British hot tea experience.
An experience unique to tea, apparently, as are tea cozies. I think.
Are there coffee cozies?
I ask myself why folks were willing to tolerate cool coffee.
Chocolate pots and coffee pots were both tall but the chocolates tended to have the spouts placed low on the body. My guess is this comes from the suspended-particles nature of the chocolate beast. The drink had to be continually stirred to keep the fine chocolate granules from settling. A low spout took in neither the thin liquid from the top nor the sediment from the very bottom.
Chocolate pots tended to have a shorter spout than the long slim column of many coffee pots. That might have been to prevent a narrow spout getting clogged with the thicker liquid.
Coffee pots, on the other hand, often had a coarse filter or small partition with holes that kept coffee grounds from getting into the cup. Filters would have been a clunky, glunky modus operandi for yer thick hot chocolate.
But the great distinction is the hole in the lid of the chocolate pot. This was often in the form of
a hinged or removable finial that allowed insertion of a molinillo or “chocolate mill” for stirring the pot.
Some of these removable finials were attached to the pot with a silver chain.
Molinillo is the Spanish word for the swizzlestick, frother, stirrer, or “mill” that kept the hot chocolate well mixed. There's a trick to it. You roll the handle between your hands to set it spinning.
The molinillo had a wood handle with a wood or metal bit at the business end. It would have been of a length that it could be left happily in the pot while you poured. And in the pot it stayed. Certainly it would have made a great mess if you removed it and set it aside.
This is how a larger mill was used in the preparation of the drink in the kitchen.
“Be sure whilst it is boiling to keep it stirring, and when it is off the fire, whir it with your hand mill. That is, it must be mixed in a deep pot of Tin, copper or stone, with a cover with a hole in the middle of it, for the handle of the mill to come out at, or without a cover. The mill is only a knob at the end of a slender handle or stick, turned in a turner's lathe, and cut in notches, or rough at the end. They are sold at turners for that purpose. This being whirled between your hands, whilst the pot is over the fire, and the rough end in the liquor causes an equal mixture of the liquor with the chocolate and raises a head of froth over it."
John Worlidge 1675
Then there is the complex issue of the sideways-facing handle.
This appears on both coffee and chocolate pots, but rather more often on chocolate pots, I think.The question that comes to mind is . . . why?
Is it just so folks can say “Look. I’m pouring sideways? Isn’t it cool?”
Is it because you might have the molinillo in your way if the handle were in the usual spot?
A last word on hot chocolate its very own self:
What was being served in those Georgian chocolate pots was not our familiar drink. Not exactly. It was made from the whole bean and contained all the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder, the basis of modern hot chocolate, has the fat removed.
The Ur hot chocolate would have been a heartier, higher-fat drink. Historial recipes indicate it was less sweet than the modern version. We’d find it slightly gritty in the mouth-feel experience because the hand-grind process produced fine particles that didn’t quite dissolve. The taste would vary from morning to morning since the beans — like expensive Yuppie coffees — were artisinal, small-estate-grown, and small-batch processed.
And Georgian hot chocolate was spiced with . . . well, lotsa stuff.
Red pepper, aniseed, cinnamon, orange flower water, almonds, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper. Sometimes it was made partly with wine, which sounds odd, frankly.
I haven’t experimented myself, but I bet you could recreate quite an interesting period recipe.
So. What’s your favorite hot chocolate drink? Any thoughts on stepping outside the everyday and heading back to the Georgians spices and peppers for a new take on an old favorite?