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In the mid-seventeenth century chocolate was a new and fascinating product in England, often grouped with two equally exotic drinks, coffee and tea. This article focuses on the early history of chocolate, examining how it was marketed, perceived, and consumed. Chocolate sellers, who included coffee-houses proprietors, frequently made use of print to educate potential customers: the 1640s and 1650s saw chocolate-drinking promoted as medicinal, excitingly foreign, and pleasurable. Further insights into the scientific, governmental, and social factors that drove interest in chocolate during the Restoration can be found in the manuscripts of the first Earl of Sandwich (1625–72).
Despite evidence of considerable industry on the part of chocolate consumers, in the 1690s the success of a new breed of elite chocolate houses led to chocolate becoming strongly associated with leisure and decadence. These cultural associations were promoted in succeeding decades by periodicals, drama, and satirical poems. Throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, consumers’ experimentation with chocolate took place in the context of succeeding government’s fiscal experiments with cacao and chocolate: new tax measures influenced the cost of chocolate and its availability. By consulting a range of sources, from customs records to recipe books, we can track the ways chocolate was used across the decades and the factors in its adoption by different groups of consumers.