Monday, January 23, 2012

Those heathenish liquors, chocolate and coffee

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson
A London coffee house in the 1660s. The coffee warms
by the fireplace. The only woman is the barkeeper
(or should I say "barista"). She charged a penny per
entrant, coffee or chocolate extra. The coffee house
became a post office, news and gossip joint, and
a place for social, political, and educational comment.

Three beverages that we consider indispensable to our emotional well-being—coffee, chocolate, and tea—burst upon the English scene within a few years of each other, during the lifetimes of the Dyers of this website. Surely these  expensive and decadent drinks had no effect upon the Dyers’ lives (William Dyer 1609-1677, and his wife Mary Barrett Dyer ~1611-1660), as they had larger issues to deal with. However, it’s possible that their second-eldest son, Major William Dyer, would have had dealings with coffee and chocolate imports when he was customs inspector for the Crown in New York, which began as a Dutch colony. The Dutch East India Company was the primary mover of tea, coffee, and chocolate. I also found images of a chocolate pot owned by the great-grandson of William and Anne Hutchinson, so stay with me.

Make a cup of your favorite hot drink, put your feet up, and enjoy this sometimes-humorous essay.

Rules for Coffeehouses
Click to enlarge
For an interesting history of the introduction of tea/te'/chai to England in the 17th century, visit this link.

The discovery of coffee beans as the base of a stimulant drink probably originated in east Africa, or southern Arabia. Coffee plants were cultivated by the 15th century, for use by coffee lovers in several Arabic countries, including Persia, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Syria. The joy of coffee’s stimulant properties spread quickly, despite the occasional fatwa, prohibition, or persecution by disapproving Muslim and Christian clergy. Link to NPR article on coffee:

After a 1650 debut in Oxford, coffee houses opened in London in 1652. In a short time, 300 of them operated there. (Who would have thought a coffee shop would do well in a university town?) Thousands sprang up around the country.

After King Charles II’s restoration to the throne of England in 1660, many sectors of society, notably the puritans who had controlled Britain in the 1640s and 1650s, exchanged news and fomented plots to bring down King Charles, a not-so-secret Catholic who kept multiple mistresses, to the intense dismay of the puritan, Presbyterian, and even the Anglican reformers. Charles tried to suppress the proliferation of coffee houses, saying they were "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers."

In 1675, a paternal Government issued a proclamation for shutting up and suppressing all coffeehouses. They found, however, that in making this proclamation they had gone a step too far. So early as this period the coffee-house had become a power in the land—as Macaulay tells us—a most important political institution, when public meetings, harangues, resolutions, and the rest of the machinery of agitation, had not come into fashion, and nothing like a newspaper existed. In such circumstances the coffee-houses were the chief organs through which the public opinion of the metropolis vented itself. Consequently, on a petition of the merchants, and retailers of coffee, permission was granted to keep the coffee-houses open for six months, under an admonition that the masters of them should prevent all scandalous papers, books, and libels from being read in them, and hinder every person from declaring, uttering, or divulging all manner of false and scandalous reports against Government or the ministers thereof. The absurdity of constituting every maker of a cup of coffee a censor of the press was too great even for those days: the proclamation was laughed at, and no more was heard of the suppression of coffee-houses. 
Source: Old and New London, by George Walter Thornbury and Edward Walford, p. 533.
Late-morning snack, from the top.
Blueberry-70% dark cocoa nibs, citrus, and mocha coffee.
Under the table, draped across three chairs in the sunlight, are my two cats.

Coffee klatches in the 17th-century were composed of men of certain professions and social classes. Clergy, scientists, artists and musicians, philosophers, stockbrokers, and physicians met to share news, opinions, and discoveries or advances in their professions. In later years, some of the coffee houses which had been exclusive to subscribed members became gentlemen’s clubs.

Women were banned from coffee houses, and soon began to resent their husbands spending so much time away from home. A satirical, pun-filled pamphlet circulated, called The Womens Petition Against Coffee, which was almost certainly written by men—I’d guess at a table in a coffee house! 
Key phrases were:
  • Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water.
  • We can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age…
  • A Betrothed Queen might trust her self a bed with one of them, without the nice Caution of a sword between them: nor can call all the Art we use revive them from this Lethargy, so unfit they are for Action, that like young Train-band-men when called upon Duty, their Ammunition is wanting; peradventure they Present, but cannot give Fire, or at least do but flash in the Pan, instead of doing executions.
The first coffee house in America was not a Seattle Starbucks. It was in Boston, in October of 1676, run by John Sparry. Coffee caught on well, but China tea was the preferred beverage for the next century, leading up to the famous revolutionary event.
Like this article? Like its style?
Then you should buy this nonfiction book about
17th century culture! Click this highlighted title:

The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport


Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is derived, were used as currency from at least 1200 AD, though the bitter drink was cherished as both medication and royal treat since at least 300 AD by the Mayans and later the Aztecs of Central America. In the early 16th century, the cocoa drink was mixed with vanilla, sugar, and spice, and became a favorite of Spanish nobility.

Cocoa beans in their pod.
SO not sheep-dung-like!
For those of a sensitive nature or chocolate addicts, please forgive the graphic nature of this paragraph. In 1579 and 1587, English buccaneers, as part of the naval war against Spain, burned cargoes of cocoa, and not by roasting the beans. After taking over Spanish ships loaded with Mexican cocoa beans headed for Spain, English buccaneers put the cargo to the torch, thinking the beans were sheep dung. I know! Who cannot tell the difference between sheep dung and seed pods?  Source: 

My Facebook friend, Tamsin Lewis, is a member of Pazzamezzo, a musical ensemble
who perform 16th and 17th century music. Subscribe to their YouTube channel to be
notified of new releases. 

The joys of chocolate consumption went through France’s noble and royal classes, and then some brilliant but anonymous Frenchman opened a shop in London in 1657.  ‘In Bishopsgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called Chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time and also unmade at reasonable rates.’ It wasn’t until the 19th century that cocoa butter was extracted for candy-making, so London’s cocoa drink of the 17th century would have been very rich with butterfat—and been enriched by eggs, spices, or sack (sweet wine), with a thick melted-ice-cream consistency.

Apparently, chocolate drink was considered a hangover remedy. In April 1664, socialite Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous journal: “Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.”

In 1670, Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard sold chocolate in Boston. By 1682, Jamaica exported cocoa to Boston, which probably marks the beginning of chocolate production in the American colonies. In 1705, cocoa and chocolate were advertised for sale in Boston at Mr. James Leblond’s warehouse on the Long Wharf.  Source:

Chocolate pot is engraved
with the arms of Hutchinson,
probably for Thomas Hutchinson
(1674/75–1739), a Boston merchant
and member of the Massachusetts legislature.
Thomas was grandson of Edward Hutchinson,
and great-grandson of
William and Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson.

Source: 1
Judge Samuel Sewall of Massachusetts Bay Colony, best known for his participation in the Salem witch trials, wrote about breakfasting on “Venison and Chockalatte” in 1697 with Lt. Gov. William Stoughton. Sewall wrote in his journal, “Massachusetts and Mexico met at his Honour’s Table.” Sewell must have been quite a connoisseur of chocolate, because ten years earlier, he had bought “21 balls of chokolatto,” and over the years, he gave generous gifts of it on special occasions. 

So, have you finished that exotic stimulant beverage yet? I have discovered a company that sells roasted cacao beans that can be brewed in a French press. I’m sure there’s no comparison to a 17th century chocolate slowly warmed at a hearth, with vanilla or chili spice added to it.

1,200-Year-Old Traces of Chocolate Found in Utah
January 23, 2013
(Keith Weller, USDA ARS)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—According to archaeologist Dorothy Washburn of the University of Pennsylvania and her husband chemist William Washburn, traces of theobromine and caffeine have been found in 1,200-year-old bowls from an archaeological site near Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. These are the oldest-known ingredients of chocolate to be found in North America, and their presence indicates that people living in the northern Southwest had access to cacao beans from Mesoamerica. It had been thought that the two regions had little interaction with each other at this time. And while in Mesoamerica chocolate was processed into a drink sipped by the elite, Utah’s chocolate eaters were “ordinary people” who lived in a village of subterranean pit houses. Washburn and other researchers now want to know how important cacao was to these people and how often they ate it. 

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)


  1. I really enjoyed this article, Christy. (as I sat drinking my morning coffee trying to wake up). Happy chocolate and thoughts.

  2. Always enjoy the research, sources, and additional links.


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