bits of british chocolate: london’s first chocolate houses
Clubs of America | May 08, 2016
Chocolate, available only to those housed in the royal courts of Madrid, Spain and Paris, France, took on a distinctly raffish note when it hit the likes of London. It could well have had something to do with the way it was introduced to England — not segregated behind palace walls, but for sale in local shops! That was fitting, as in the seventeenth century, England was often referred to as a “nation of shopkeepers.” In any case, chocolate was a very publicly-available item in London, from its introduction.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, chocolate establishments sprang up, rivaling the coffeehouses for which London was already famous. The two kinds of businesses had a lot in common. Both offered food, as well as their specialty beverages. Lively games of cards, dice and other gambling were always in progress. And the walls reverberated with conversation — lots of conversation — about everything from poetry to gossip to politics to business.
Both coffee and chocolate houses were visited frequently by the well-to-do London men, only on rare special occasions by the less financially fortunate. Sadly, women and children were not welcomed into any chocolate house, as they were considered beneath those of the male gender.
Central to London’s gregarious all- male social life of those bygone days, each patron upon entering would toss a pence* on the counter. This would pay not only for his admission, but for the right to rifle through the stacks of free newssheets, selecting one that would provide fuel for future opinions and conversations.
After choosing his chocolate, he would pay for his decadence, which wasn’t cheap. (The English government, like the Spanish, found chocolate to be a lucrative tax item.) Finally he would join a table of cronies to play and chat, amid mouthfuls of the mouth-watering chocolate treats.
*Until February of 1971, Old English money was the pound, which was divided into twenty shillings, or 240 pence (or pennies). Your favorite Chocolate of the Month Club can’t even wager a guess at how much chocolates cost in those early days in London.
This Month’s Heavenly Selection from Your Favorite Chocolate of the Month Club: “RAY OF SUNSHINE” Center pieces are WHITE & DARK CHOCOLATE SWIRL ALMOND BARQUE Outer pieces include DARK CHOCOLATE LEMON CREAMS & MILK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT CLUSTERS