Apr 28, 2013

Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea: The History of Globalization

I have just finished the book “The True History of Chocolate.”

Recently, I have become interested in the history of globalization, especially its origin, so I have been reading books about the history of commodities - such as coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, whale oil, fur etc. - that were produced, traded, and consumed all over the world.

The origin of chocolate is Mesoamerica. In the Olmec, the Maya, and the Aztec civilization, chocolate was quite a precious drink. Basically, only noble people drank it and ordinary people could drink it only during rituals.

After Columbus reached the New World, chocolate spread mainly among aristocratic society and Catholic churches in Europe through Spain.

The episode in this book that I was most interested in is about coffee houses in the seventeenth century in London. In the middle of that century, three of the most major beverage, coffee, tea, and, chocolate, were introduced to England almost at the same time, and people in London drank them in coffee houses.

The origins of three of them are different. As I wrote, the origin of chocolate was Mesoamerica. Coffee is from Ethiopia and tea is from East Asia. It is no coincidence that they arrived at England simultaneously. Coffee, tea, and chocolate were the most important commodities in early globalization, and their arrivals in the seventeenth century symbolized the dawn of globalization in England. 

In the eighteenth century, coffee was most popular in three of them in England. Chocolate was characterized as southern, Catholic, and aristocratic, and coffee as northern, Protestant, and middle-class. Tea was quite expensive before India was colonized and tea plantations were developed in India. The bourgeoisie with “the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism” drunk coffee.

Before the nineteenth century, chocolate was basically drunken. In this century, Van Houten, Henri Nestle, Rudolphe Lindt, John Cadbury, and Milton Hershey, who ironically were not Catholic aristocrats in the Southern Europe but Protestant bourgeoisie in the Northern Europe, invented and manufactured the mass product of solid chocolate.

Next, I will read a book about the history of sugar.


  1. You've pushed all my buttons: books, history and chocolate! I think I need to visit Amazon just after I've finished this comment. Thanks for this tip!

    Chocolate lovers are/were "southern, Catholic, and aristocratic"? Well, I'm very definitely very southern! :)

    PS: Interesting that all three commodities are stimulants that contain caffeine. (I'm talking about black tea, not green tea.)

    1. > You've pushed all my buttons

      Haha, I might fish you.

  2. The history of chocolate and tea was among my first subjects at school with my students! :) It's very fascinating. Cocoa beans were used as a form of currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest and, as you say, at first cocoa drink was for the upper classes only.

    1. Sometimes I'm wondering if I really got a education in Japan, because people in Europe, Africa, America, Australia, and, South East Asia agree with what I write much more than people in Japan. It's really fascinating for me to read comments on my weblog!