Colonial American drinking chocolate was very rich and thick because it contained a high level of cocoa butter, the natural fat found in cocoa beans. For individuals looking for the flavor and stimulating effects of chocolate without the heaviness of cocoa butter, there was chocolate tea. While the more popular drinking chocolate was made from cocoa beans, chocolate tea was made from the shells that surrounded the beans. These shells were readily available as a byproduct of the chocolate making process, since they needed to be removed before cocoa beans could be ground into chocolate.
Chocolate tea was made in the same manner as traditional tea, by steeping the shells of cocoa beans in hot water and removing them before drinking. The resulting drink was similar in bitterness and color to coffee, with a chocolate aroma and mild chocolate flavor that became stronger as the drink was sweetened. This drink was believed to deliver many of the health benefits of drinking chocolate without the oiliness, which made it easier on the stomach. For this reason, it was commonly given as a medicinal beverage or enjoyed as a lighter breakfast beverage.
Merchants in colonial America often sold cocoa shells alongside manufactured chocolate cakes, making both chocolate tea and drinking chocolate readily available to consumers. One advertisement from 1770 announced that John Goldsmith, a Boston merchant, was selling:
“CHOICE CHOCOLATE… by the large or small Quantities. Also all Sorts of Groceries. The Chocolate will be warranted good, and sold at the cheapest Rates – Cash given for Cocoa. Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner. ALSO, Choice Cocoa and Cocoa Nut Shells.”
Chocolate tea was a favorite of Martha Washington, who regularly enjoyed it as a breakfast beverage and served it to guests at Mount Vernon. In 1789, President George Washington wrote of his wife that “she will… thank you to get 20lb. of the shells of Cocoa nuts, if they can be had of the Chocolate makers.” After visiting Mount Vernon and being served chocolate tea, Burges Bell wrote in 1794:
“I wd. take the liberty of requesting you’ll be so good as to procure & send me 2 or 3 Bush: of the Chocolate Shell, such as we’re frequently drank Chocolate of at Mt. Vernon, as my Wife thinks it agreed with her better than any other Breakfast.”
Today, chocolate tea is again gaining popularity and is now available in a variety of tea blends. If you would like to try this lighter historic chocolate drink, Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop offers a modern interpretation of Martha Washington’s Chocolate Tea. This blend of black tea and chocolate pieces delivers a sweet and subtle chocolate flavor to your breakfast or afternoon tea, just as Martha Washington would have enjoyed.