Chocolate and Coffeehouses in Colonial America
In the 1700s, chocolate was not only enjoyed at home with family and friends, but was also commonly served at local public coffeehouses. By the 18th century, public houses such as taverns and alehouses were well established as places to socialize while drinking alcoholic beverages, but coffeehouses were a more recent development. The introduction of coffee, tea, and chocolate to England created demand for this new kind of public house where people could meet and enjoy drinks that were stimulating rather than intoxicating.
Coffeehouses became increasingly common in England throughout the latter half of the 1600s and began appearing in the American colonies during this time as well. One of the first coffeehouses in the colonies was opened in Boston in 1670, when Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard were granted a license to open a public house to serve coffee and chocolate.
Chocolate served at coffeehouses was prepared as a drink in the same manner that it was in private homes, which meant it could differ depending on the time of day and the preferences of the consumer. For a filling breakfast, eggs and milk could be added to the hot chocolate. For a treat later in the day, wine might be mixed in to create an alcoholic chocolate drink.
Coffeehouses were not only places to enjoy a favorite hot beverage. They were also social centers where people could gather to talk about the latest news. Printed documents and gossip were both available in abundance at the local coffeehouses, providing customers with plenty of information to discuss and debate. In addition, much like today many coffeehouses displayed paintings and prints on their walls, bringing visual culture to spaces of written and spoken knowledge.
The sobering nature of the drinks served at coffeehouses made them preferable to taverns as locations to conduct business. This brought together community members from a variety of backgrounds and classes to share stories and opinions with each other. The democratic setting of the coffeehouse played a significant role in the spread of information in the American colonies, shaping the political landscape of the 1700s one cup of coffee, tea, or chocolate at a time.