The London Chocolate Houses
London arrived rather late to the chocolate party... Cocoa was used as a beverage over 2000 years ago by the Mayans, who, like the later Aztecs, used cocoa as a special occasion beverage, to reward brave warriors and as an aphrodisiac. Both empires also used cocoa beans as currency.
Columbus first brought cocoa back to Spain in 1502 to little acclaim but after Cortes conquered Montezuma and the Aztecs, he successfully introduced cocoa, transformed from bitterness with sugar or honey, to the Spanish court, saying “One of this precious drink allows a man to walk a whole day without taking nourishment.”
Chocolate soon arrived in Britain, being first sold in 1657 in The Coffee Mill & Tobacco Roll. It was all things to all people: to some, as with the Aztecs, it was the viagra of the day; to others including Samuel Pepys, a hangover cure.
London Chocolate Houses also became the fashionable meeting places for the elite of London society, as well as being dens of iniquity for the colourful characters of London. The surviving White’s Chocolate House was like all, an all-male establishment, charging a penny for entrance, whilst The Cocoa Tree in Pall Mall saw Tory strategy developed over cups of chocolate.
The East India Company did trade in cocoa, paying 2 shillings in tax per pound of cocoa imported by 1760, the equivalent to one day’s wages, for these beguiling cargoes of cocoa from far off lands, but in truth was more engaged in tea than chocolate. And industrialisation made chocolate a food for the masses around this time and Chocolate Houses soon fell out of fashion.