I was inspired to write this post this past Tuesday night, when I decided to prepare for watching The Curse of Oak Island on television by making popcorn and hot chocolate. I’m sure others have done posts about it before, here at Austen Authors, but since it’s been a long time since I’ve read one, I didn’t think it would hurt to do one just to refresh my memory. 🙂
As I expected when I did a Google search, lots of sites talk about drinking chocolate in the Regency, and most of them simply copied and pasted information from other sites. I’m going to attempt to put my own spin on the topic and use my own words. It’s been a year since I’ve written a web post (the pandemic shut down ALL my ability to create, sadly), so I can use the practice. LOL
I think we all know by now that chocolate as we think of it did not exist in the Regency era. There were no candy bars or boxes of chocolates or bonbons. There was chocolate that could be eaten in the form of small balls or disks covered in sprinkles, chocolate flavored ice cream, ices, and custards, a fudge-like confection called chocolate conserve, and something like what we call truffles and that they apparently called chocolate olives back then. Frankly, if it had olives in the name, I’d not have eaten it at all. Blech. Anyway, the point is, Regency folks did have chocolate options; they just weren’t the same as ours, nor probably as readily available to most people.
Drinking chocolate was the most common way, as near as I can tell, for people to consume my favorite food item. Frankly, at this point in my life, it’s the most common way for me to get a hit of chocolate, as well, though I do still now and again take a shot out of the Hershey’s bottle. 😉 Let’s look at what information I could find about drinking chocolate.
I remember hearing that all chocolate was bitter back then. I really kind of doubt it all was, because sugar was available, especially in the houses of the gentry, and there were other sugar substitutes that could have been used, as well, like honey. I’m never going to be convinced no one experimented with recipes back then. So, yes, I’m sure some folks drank it bitter, but I’d bet money there were a lot of cooks hammering chunks off the sugar loaf to add to the mistress’ morning chocolate.
Oh, there’s that, too … I can’t see them making just one cup at a time. The way I understand it from what I have read, it took a lot of work to make chocolate. I know I got tired just reading all the steps! If only the lady of the house drank it, I bet they kept what she did not drink in the Regency equivalent of an icebox and reheated it the next day. Of course, that would mean making it frothy again.
It seems that to be considered good, drinking chocolate had to be frothy. I can’t look askance at that, knowing as I do my fondness for hot mochas – frothy milk, whipped cream, and all.
Drinking chocolate seems to have required special utensils and dishes, too. Also, they added stuff to the chocolate. Some flavorings, like vanilla or bergamot, and other stuff like eggs and bread, which made my eyes widen and my lip curl just a bit. It seems all that was done to thicken it, but honestly, if you’re drinking it, why can’t it be thin? The Regency Redingote tells me that cooks prepared drinking chocolate differently, depending upon when it would be consumed. If the mistress were to request it in her chambers first thing in the morning, the cook would thicken it so it would hold her until she broke her fast. If it were being served with a meal, it would not be thickened.
But, back to the dishes and utensils … the cook would require a whisk-like utensil called a chocolate mill to mix the chocolate. From what I saw in one recipe, she’d use it two or three times per batch, at different steps of the process. The pot the chocolate was put in and the cup it was drunk out of were also special … they were taller, for one thing. The spout on the chocolate pot was set higher in the pot than a standard coffee or tea pot. This pot also had a lid with a hole. The idea here is that you could stick the chocolate mill into the pot, slide the lid over it, and give it a final stir (even while pouring) to make sure it was mixed well and well-frothed. I’m sure I read that there was a cover for this hole so the mixer could be removed and the heat kept in the pot, but I’ll be darned if I can find that tidbit in any of the articles, now. :/
The cups used for chocolate tended to be taller and hold more that those used for coffee or tea. Which makes sense, since even back then, chocolate had to be better than either of the other two most popular morning drinks. 😉 I wonder if any of our Regency folks thought to mix chocolate in their coffee?
For your enjoyment … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIuqi038jVY