Regency Chocolate:   The Correct Accoutrements

Last week, I wrote about how drinking chocolate was made during the Regency and the ingredients used to make it. This week, I will tell you about the various specialized implements and other accoutrements which were invented for the making and serving of the luxury beverage of drinking chocolate. These items were considered essential kitchen equipment and meal service pieces in all the best homes. Not only were the ingredients for drinking chocolate expensive, so, too, were the objects associated with its production and consumption. Many historians have concluded that due to the great cost of both the ingredients and equipment required for the preparation and serving of drinking chocolate, this luxury beverage was limited only to those of means. But was it?

And now, a chronicle of correct chocolate accoutrements and the conflicting evidence left us in wills, inventories and newspaper reports about the true social standing of chocolate drinkers.

The first implement specifically invented for the preparation of drinking chocolate was the molinillo, a special whisk or stirring stick which created the all-important frothy head on the top of a cup of chocolate. The Mayans and the Aztecs had been able to achieve the much-loved froth by pouring the chocolate drink at the distance of a few feet, back and forth between two cups several times, but the Spanish conquistadores never got the hang of that technique. Therefore, they invented the molinillo, a wooden stick approximately a foot long, having a slender handle for most of its length, finishing with a bulbous knob into which were cut a series of grooves and ridges. Modern molinillos often have one or more rings as part of the stirring head, but that is a twentieth-century embellishment. Up until the last century, molinillos had no rings, and looked much like the top two molinillos to be seen in this photograph. The bottom molinillo in the photo does have a ring at the base of the shaft, just above the head, but this type of molinillo would not have been made or used during the Regency.

When drinking chocolate migrated to France in the seventeenth century, the molinillo came along. But it soon changed its name to the French version, molinet, though it retained its shape and purpose. When drinking chocolate crossed the Channel to England later in the century, so did the molinet, but the aristocratic English, long enamored of all things French, chose not to change the name. However, it was often known below stairs as a "chocolate mill," though it bore no resemblance to the coffee mill, which was used to grind roasted coffee beans. In England, the molinet, as it was elsewhere, was made of even-grained hardwood, which was turned on a lathe, then sanded smooth. They might have been painted or varnished, but more often were left unfinished, as wooden spoons are even today. Most wood-turners of the time turned molinets from any scrap hardwood they might have leftover from the making furniture and other wooden furnishings as a means of making a little extra income. The molinet was used by placing the carved head into the chocolate mixture, then the handle was rolled rapidly between the palms to vigorously churn the hot liquid in order to blend the chocolate, milk and other ingredients together. The molinet was used once again, just before serving, to raise a froth on the chocolate.

The chocolate grater was the next item of importance in the kitchen of a household which regularly enjoyed drinking chocolate. The chocolate lozenges or tablets which were purchased by most households to make drinking chocolate were anywhere between two to four inches across, one to two inches thick and were quite hard. Only a portion of a tablet would be needed to make a single cup of chocolate, but they were not easily cut. Since the finished cup of chocolate would taste better the smaller the chocolate particles used in its preparation, the preferred method was to rub the tablet against the chocolate grater to produce very small particles of chocolate. I have not been able to find any pictures of antique chocolate graters, but based on the few vague descriptions I have read, they were probably about the size and shape of a nutmeg grater, with slightly larger grating holes, most commonly made of tin. It was possible to make drinking chocolate without a grater, but it was more laborious. The chocolate tablet could be shaved with a knife, but due to its hardness, that was both difficult and dangerous, as there was always the risk of being cut during the process. If a large amount of drinking chocolate was to be made, the tablet(s) could be crushed to powder with a mortar and pestle, but it would require a significant amount of strength to accomplish the task due to the hardness of the tablets. In most households, only one or two cups of drinking chocolate might be made of a morning, for any ladies in the house. Therefore, the chocolate grater was the most appropriate tool for the purpose.

A sturdy cooking pot or saucepan would also be necessary for heating the chocolate mixture. But in this case, nearly any saucepan would serve the purpose, so long as it had a bottom which was thick enough to spread the heat evenly, especially if the chocolate was made with milk or cream, which would scorch easily. There were some household hints books of the eighteenth century which recommended heating the chocolate mixture in an "open," meaning wide, pot or a saucepan, particularly if bread was to be added to the mixture. But these cooking pans would also have to be fairly deep to prevent the chocolate mixture splashing out of the pot when the chocolate mill was used to blend it. To the best of my knowledge, no contemporary records have been found which list any kind of cooking pans specifically labeled to be used for the heating of drinking chocolate. During the Regency, the person preparing the drinking chocolate would choose any available cooking pot or saucepan of the capacity needed to brew the quantity of chocolate wanted at the time.

Though the kitchen equipment needed to make drinking chocolate was not inexpensive, the most costly chocolate accoutrements were the items needed to serve it. Once the chocolate was removed from the heat, it would have been poured into a chocolate pot for serving. Chocolate pots looked generally like coffee pots, but with some subtle differences. The most distinguishing feature of a chocolate pot was the hole in its lid. This hole would be of a slightly larger diameter than the handle of the molinet, for the purpose of the hole was to insert the molinet handle through it, then close the lid, allowing the chocolate to be vigorously stirred to achieve the desired frothy head without making a mess. The hole in the lid would be covered when the molinet was removed either by a flat sliding cover, or a small knob or finial made in a number of various shapes. These knobs or finials could be pulled out like a plug, might be hinged so they could be tipped out of the way of the molinet handle, or they might unscrew but remain attached by a small chain so they were not misplaced. The base of the spout on a chocolate pot would usually be set higher on the body of the pot as it allowed the sediment to settle more easily and the chocolate would flow more smoothly when it was poured. The handles of chocolate pots were of two general types. If the handle was of the loop type, it was usually set into the body opposite the spout. But the other type, a straight handle, often with a slight knob at the end, was usually set at a 90 degree angle from the spout. It is believed that this second type of handle was somewhat more popular, as it provided a better grip to facilitate the continued stirring of the chocolate as it was being poured to ensure a good froth. Chocolate pots in general tended to be much taller than teapots and slightly taller than coffeepots, as well as having slightly more capacity.

When drinking chocolate was solely the province of the aristocracy, chocolate pots were first made in England, most often of silver, with handles, and sometimes the top finial on the lid, made of fine hardwoods, including ebony, walnut, and mahogany. The removable finials were also occasionally made of ivory. Most aristocratic owners of these silver chocolate pots had their family crest or coat of arms engraved on the body of their chocolate pots, just as they did with other important pieces of family silver. When the chocolate pot crossed the Channel into France, it got a new French name, chocolatière. Regardless of their name, chocolate pots or chocolatières were very much the same in both design and materials. By the early eighteenth century, chocolate pots were also made of porcelain, both in Europe at the great porcelain manufactories like Meissen and Sèvres, and in China, for export to Europe. Because a hole in the lid of a porcelain chocolate pot would take a lot of punishment from the agitation of the molinet, most early porcelain chocolate pots had silver lids very like those on all-silver chocolate pots. Some porcelain chocolate pots also had wooden handles, especially those with the straight handles. But porcelain chocolate pots were much more fragile than those made of silver and there was frequent breakage. However, as drinking chocolate began to be enjoyed by a wider range of classes, especially in England, chocolate pots were also made of pewter and earthenware, which were both much more sturdy, and somewhat less expensive. The early chocolate pots tended to be pear-shaped, with a large, bulbous bottoms and very often also had three or four small curved feet. By the end of the eighteenth century, chocolate pots, in keeping with the new Neo-Classical style, were most often taller and more cylindrical than had been their predecessors and were more likely to have flat bottoms than feet. Most chocolate pots made during the Regency, whether of silver or pewter, porcelain or earthenware, would have been made in this new style. There would, of course, still have been many chocolate pots of the older styles in use in the households of the aristocracy.

Once the chocolate was in the chocolate pot, fully mixed, frothed and ready to be served, drinking vessels would be needed into which it could be poured for serving. Chocolate cups, like chocolate pots, tended to be slightly taller and larger than coffee cups. They were also more varied in shape, though they were nearly all made of earthenware and later of porcelain. The earliest chocolate cups were tall beaker-like vessels, with flaring brims and no handles, very like the cups used by the Aztecs. Such cups had been fine for a drink served at room temperature, but when the Spanish began taking their chocolate hot, cups with handles became an increasingly favored convenience. However, handless cups continued in use well into the eighteenth century, as they were particularly popular with merchants, who could increase their profits by more compact packing and less breakage. But by the 1760s, chocolate cups were more likely to have handles than not, but by then they were also just as likely to have two handles as one. By the beginning of the nineteenth century two-handled chocolate cups were falling out of fashion, and by the beginning of the Regency, nearly all chocolate cups made, both in England and on the Continent, had one handle. The shape of chocolate cups had also become fairly consistent by the Regency, either being cylindrical, with straight sides, or having a U-shape profile with a slightly flaring rim. In addition to being a bit taller, with a larger capacity than coffee cups, chocolate cups tended to have another distinct feature. Many chocolate cups had lids, which were intended to keep the chocolate hot. Most chocolate cups also came with saucers as part of the set.

There was another specialized item that might be found in a chocolate service. This piece had been invented by a Spanish grandee, in Mexico, in the seventeenth century. Known as a mancerina, it was named after the man who had invented it, Pedro de Toledo, 1st Marquis of Mancera, who served as Viceroy of Peru from 1639 to 1648. A mancerina was a rather deep, wide saucer, in the center of which was a cup holder which would keep the chocolate cup steady so that its contents would not be spilled by someone with trembling hands. There are two different stories about the invention of the mancerina. One is that the Marquis was inspired to develop it after noticing that a guest at one of his receptions accidentally spilled her chocolate because she found the jícara, the traditional chocolate cups of the time, clumsy and difficult to handle. The other story, perhaps less gallant, is that the Marquis himself was afflicted with palsy, and developed the mancerina to enable him to enjoy his drinking chocolate without embarrassing spillage. In either case, the mancerina eventually found its way to France, where it was called a trembleuse. When the trembleuse moved on to England, it lost its French name and became known as a chocolate stand. Chocolate stands were more common in southern Europe, but they were occasionally found in England, perhaps brought back by those who encountered them on the Grand Tour. They were especially useful when serving a lady’s morning chocolate in bed. The center cup holder kept the cup steady and the surrounding saucer provided ample room for a couple of slices of toast or a few digestive biscuits.

A Regency chocolate service set would typically consist of four or six single-handled cups, with saucers, and usually with lids. Chocolate stands were also available with some chocolate services, but chocolate stands might not be purchased for every cup in the set. A pair of chocolate stands might be purchased with a set of four cups, on the assumption that they would only be used by the ladies. Matching porcelain chocolate pots were also available as part of a chocolate service, although households with a large collection of family silver might prefer to use their silver chocolate pot rather than acquire one of porcelain. However, one of the things that made chocolate service sets so expensive was that they could not be purchased on their own. They were only available as part of a larger tea and/or coffee service, which included specialized pots and cups for each type of beverage, as well as specialized pieces like the slop basin and the sugar bowl. These hot drink services could be acquired from a number of English potteries, most of which had agents or representatives in the larger towns and cities. These agents would have pattern books of all the pieces made by the pottery they represented, from which the customer would pick out the pieces they wanted. The agent would send their order off to the pottery where it would be assembled and shipped to the buyer. Alternatively, an affluent and very patient buyer could place their order with an agent or merchant who imported porcelain from China. In that case, they could choose the shapes for the pieces they wanted, but they could design whatever pattern they wanted on the pieces, such as a family crest or coat or arms, a landscape scene of the family seat, or any other image which pleased them. However, they would have to be willing to wait for at least two years before they could take delivery on their new drink service, as it would take that long to send the request to China and ship the finished set back to England. Just as with European potteries, in China, chocolate services were only made as part of a larger hot drink service, typically including tea, coffee and chocolate. They were also quite expensive because each set was essentially custom-made.

Recently, I read a book about the history of consumption in northern Europe over the course of what is known as the "long eighteenth century," which is the period between 1650 and 1850. Historians consider this the period when European culture moved from the early modern era of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, to the modern era, which began in the mid-nineteenth century. Throughout this period, part of the probate process in most countries included taking an inventory of the contents of any home or business so that all property was recorded to ensure that it could be properly distributed to the heirs. All of these inventories were filed as part of the probate records, and hundreds of thousands of them are still held in courthouse archives across the Continent and North America. A group of scholars entered a large selection of these inventories, from people of all economic levels, into a massive database in order to be able to analyze what type of objects people had acquired and retained over the course of their lives. One group of historians chose to analyze the objects used to make and serve chocolate. They came to the conclusion that people of the lower classes did not enjoy drinking chocolate because so few of them owned items like molinets, chocolate graters, or chocolate pots and cups. Nor did they find many listings of chocolate tablets or lozenges in the inventories of these people of limited means. On the Continent, the use of the correct preparation equipment and serving pieces for drinking chocolate was quite rigorously observed. Thus, these inventories may well have spoken accurately for the poorer classes of most of Europe, but they may have obscured the facts when it came to English chocolate drinkers. Other historical references indicate that the English were much less rigid about what they used to make and drink chocolate. For example, an article about an attempted murder in the Pennsylvania Gazette, in the late eighteenth century, reported that the culprit had tried to murder the family by poisoning their morning chocolate, which was prepared in a skillet. There are other contemporary accounts, in letters, journals and diaries which suggest that, in England, people with limited means might have occasionally enjoyed a cup of drinking chocolate, not just at the local coffee house, but at home. These folks probably splurged from time to time on a costly chocolate tablet, took it home and prepared some drinking chocolate for themselves, making do with whatever equipment they had on hand to make and serve this special treat. Records show that drinking chocolate was sipped from a number of vessels, from porringers to tankards, and anything else which might have been available when the chocolate was ready to serve. And who is to say they did not enjoy their cup of chocolate every bit as much, if not more so, than those aristocratic chocolate drinkers who demanded the use of all the correct preparation equipment and serving vessels.

Those among our Regency ancestors who were regular chocolate drinkers were most certainly of the upper, or at least the wealthy classes. They would have had all the latest preparation equipment in the kitchens of their homes and would have ordered expensive tea and coffee services which included chocolate sets as well. But unlike the traditional practices on the Continent, it seems fairly clear that those among the English lower classes who enjoyed drinking chocolate did so, at least on occasion, regardless of the fact that they did not own all the "correct" accoutrements needed to make and drink it. Ah, the power of the love of chocolate!

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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10 Responses to Regency Chocolate:   The Correct Accoutrements

  1. As always, I never fail to be entertained and educated by your wonderful posts on Regency Romance era England.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Teresa

  2. Pingback: Regency Chocolate:   Pale – Thick – Frothy | The Regency Redingote

  3. Kristine says:

    What a fabulous post, full of important details and much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you found the post useful. I find that truth is so often stranger than fiction that this kind of information might be useful to a Regency author seeking to add a bit of authentic business to a novel.

      One thing I neglected to add is that in most European countries, the lady’s maid was expected to both prepare and serve her lady’s morning chocolate. But that does not seem to have been such a hard and fast rule in English households. Just as in the use of chocolate accoutrements, they seemed fairly independent of European chocolate traditions.

      Regards,

      Kat

  4. Pingback: Fireplace Furniture:   Furnishing the Focus of the Regency Room | The Regency Redingote

  5. Pingback: Subtlties:   From Dining Table to Dressing Table | The Regency Redingote

  6. Cari Hislop says:

    Brilliant post! I have a chocolate drinking scene in an unfinished story…I will now have to rework it slightly. I loved your report on the lower classes chocolate drinking. Poisoning someone in their morning chocolate…that’s just evil-evil!!!

  7. Pingback: Syllabub:   The Head Wins | The Regency Redingote

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