Similarly to England, in the early eighteenth century Italy saw the arrival and diffusion of the tea, coffee and chocolate, and the latter two in particular become particularly popular, with the creation of ‘botteghe del caffè’ (coffee houses), where you could also taste the miraculous chocolate drink – attitudes towards it were of course mixed, with one physician (Dr Giovanni Batista Felici) at the Tuscan court in 1728 proclaiming chocolate as cause of shortening human lives, and must never be mixed with ‘hot’ ingredients, such as cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cloves, ambergris, and achiote. Because of chocolate ‘certain serious and taciturn persons […] become for a while the greatest chatters, some lose sleep and get hot-headed, others become angry and shout. In children it awakens such an agitation that in no way can they be quiet or sit in one place.’ According to the same doctor, chocolate was only good against consumption or tuberculosis (!), but of course not because something is good for one illness means it is necessarily good for health! About thirty years later (1760-1), again in Italy, in the pages of Gazzetta Veneta Gaspare Gozzi praises chocolate as:
Excellent drink however you prepare it, it is refreshing and energizing, precisely to restore our strength and give more vigour. It manages to contrast our bad moods, fortify our stomach, brain and all other vital body parts, it softens all serious matters falling from our brain to our heart, it helps digestion and against wine-induced stupor.
Gazzetta Veneta obviously was a magazine based in Veneto, the area of Venice, and it was especially Venice in Italy in the 18th century which was particularly associated with chocolate and coffee-houses, and with noblemen and intellectuals sipping their days away at the cafes, with a cup of either hot drink and leafing through newspapers.
It was Carlo Goldoni in particular (1707-1793), a famous Venetian lawyer and playwright who celebrated the drinking of chocolate in Venetian and Northern Italian scenarios in his plays. He is mainly remembered for his reform of the Italian theatre and for his witty comedies, which are still commonly performed in Italy: his characters often sip cups of hot chocolate over breakfast, at the beginning of scenes while waiting for action to take place, or while pleasantly conversing with other characters.
At times, hot chocolate also gives way to comical scenes, as in La locandiera (The Mistress of the Inn, 1753), where two guests (Cavaliere di Ripafratta, a misogynous aristocratic ‘knight’, and Marchese di Forlipopoli, a penniless ‘marquis’ and in love with the innkeeper) at the inn run by the protagonist, Mirandolina, in Florence, ironically “duet” over a cup of hot chocolate. In Act I, Scene XI, the Cavaliere had asked the servant to bring him a cup of hot chocolate with his mail. Just when the servant eventually gives him his chocolate, the Marchese tells him his farmer is giving him quite a lot of trouble, and so the Cavaliere feels compelled to offer him his cup, only to find that is the last hot chocolate at the inn (Act I, Scene XIII):
Enter the SERVANT with the chocolate.
CAVALIER: Oh I am sorry… Get me another, right away. (To Servant.)
SERVANT: At present there isn’t any other in the house, your lordship.
CAVALIER: You must get it. If you would be so good as to accept this… (To Marquis.)
MARQUIS: (Takes the chocolate and drink sit without ceremony, keeping on talking and drinking at the same time.): This overseer of mine, as I told you… (Drinks.)
CAVALIER: And I shall go without. (Aside.)
MARQUIS: He promised to send me by post… (Drinks.) twenty sequins… (Drinks.)
CAVALIER: Now he comes with a second thrust. (Aside.)
MARQUIS: And he has not sent it to me… (Drinks.)
CAVALIER: Maybe some other time.
MARQUIS: The point is… the point is… (Finishes drinking.) Here. (Gives the glass to the servant.) The point is that I’m in great difficulty, and I don’t know what to do.
[…] The Marchese asks the Cavaliere to lend him twenty gold coins, and with his eloquence the Cavaliere manages to only give him one gold coin, and yet what he regrets the most is having had to give up on his cup of hot chocolate:
Act I, Scene XIV.
CAVALIER (alone): Fine! The Marquis wanted to extort twenty sequins from me and then he is contented with one. After all it doesn’t matter much if I do lose a sequin, and if he didn’t pay it back he wouldn’t bore me any more. What displeases me mosti s that he drank my chocolate. What impudence. And then, “I am who I am, I am a gentleman.” Oh most polite gentleman!
The last cup of hot chocolate available at Mirandolina’s inn is indeed most precious and the Cavaliere let the Marchese have it, who did not even say thank you!
In La bottega del caffè (The Coffee House, 1750), hot chocolate is even used in the dialogue between two characters, Eugenio, merchant with a gambling addiction, and Lisaura, a dancer, giving way to a crescendo of sexual innuendos not unlike that of a Catherine and Petruchio (Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew), a great entertainment for the audience at that time, and nowadays (Act I, Scene XII):
LISAURA. I am your most humble servant.
EUGENIO. Dear Madam, when did you get up from your bed?
LISAURA. Just now.
EUGENIO. Have you had your coffee yet?
LISAURA. It is still early. I haven’t drunk it yet.
EUGENIO. Would you like me to order it for you?
LISAURA. Thank you very much, but please don’t worry about it.
EUGENIO. Not at all, I am surprised you haven’t had it yet: hey, boy, bring some coffee, or chocolate, to that lady – anything she likes, I am paying.
LISAURA. Thank you, thank you, but I make my own coffee and chocolate at home.
EUGENIO. Your chocolate must be pretty good then.
LISAURA. Actually, it is perfect.
EUGENIO. Can you make it well?
LISAURA. My servant is quite talented.
EUGENIO. Would you like me to give your chocolate a little whip?
LISAURA. Ah, you shouldn’t worry about it.
EUGENIO. I will come and drink it with you, if you let me.
LISAURA. It is not for you, Sir.
EUGENIO. I like everything; come on, open the door, we’ll spend a nice hour together.
LISAURA. Please excuse me, but I don’t open the door that easily.
EUGENIO. Hey! Do say, would you rather me come for the back door?
LISAURA. My visitors come publicly.
EUGENIO. Come on, open the door, let’s not make a scene.
From this quick exchange between Eugenio and Lisaura, we already understand how it was common to drink hot chocolate in the morning (while it is too “early” for coffee), and that it could easily be made at home (Lisaura has it made by her servant, for instance) or order it (Eugenio offers to get it for her). The whole dialogue then escalates to a vocabulary of sexual hints, with Eugenio insisting on coming into her house, offering her chocolate and to give her chocolate ‘a whip’, with Lisaura always rejecting his propositions, as she is not one to open ‘her door easily’…
Chocolate, over most its history, had been a drink for the elite, rather than for everyone: it was only with the Industrial Revolution that we witnessed to chocolate’s change from a costly drink to a cheap food, and indeed changing from its typical liquid form to the one we know best these days: solid chocolate bars, chocolate pralines, truffles, and so on. Chocolate becomes a food for the masses rather than just the elite. The development of modern medicine also helped with the increase of people consuming chocolate in the nineteenth century: chocolate was finally released from beliefs of its therapeutic virtues, which meant that ‘anyone, anywhere, was able to take chocolate whenever they chose, in any form they preferred […], [n]o longer did they have to fret over whether chocolate or its flavorings were “hot”, “cold”, or “temperate”, “dry”, or “moist” (Coe 241). So if the eighteenth century saw the spread of chocolate as a drink across Western and Southern Europe, the nineteenth century turned chocolate into a much more common food, but mainly in its new, solid form. And yet, despite its increase in diffusion, popularity and affordability, chocolate does not seem to feature very prominently in nineteenth-century texts. Was it perhaps too enjoyable, too “lascivious” almost, for literates from that time, especially in rigid Victorian England?
Goldoni, Carlo. The Mistress of the Inn (La Locandiera). Wisconsin Dramatic Society, 1912.
Italian Style Hot Chocolate
50gr granulated sugar
20gr potato starch
30gr cocoa powder
1- Sieve potato starch and cocoa powder together , then add sugar in a small saucepan.
2- Add milk gradually, and whisk so as to get a smooth mixture.
3- Place the saucepan on low heat and keep stirring with a whisk.
4- Be careful, your hot chocolate should never boil! Your hot chocolate will be ready once it thickens (around 5 mins) – remove from the heat and pour in a nice cup with whipped cream on top, if you like!