How the First Chocolate Cafés Changed Society

In the 17th century, a new phenomenon emerged in London that would forever change the social fabric of the city and introduce a newfound obsession with chocolate—the birth of chocolate houses. These establishments, inspired by the already thriving coffee houses, revolutionized social gatherings and created a cultural shift with the rise of chocolate as a prominent beverage.

 In this detailed article, we delve into the fascinating history of chocolate houses, exploring their origins, their impact on society, and the significant role they played in transforming the perception and consumption of chocolate.

The Origins of Chocolate:

To truly understand the birth of chocolate houses, we must first trace the origins of chocolate itself. Chocolate has a rich and ancient history that dates back thousands of years to the Mesoamerican civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs. They revered cocoa beans, using them to create a bitter beverage with spiritual and medicinal connotations.

The Introduction of Chocolate to Europe:

The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492 opened the doors to new culinary treasures, including cocoa beans. It was the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, who encountered cocoa beans during their expeditions in the early 16th century. Fascinated by the rich flavor and cultural significance of chocolate to the indigenous people, they brought cocoa beans and the knowledge of chocolate-making back to Europe.

Chocolate's Arrival in London: 

It was not until the mid-17th century that chocolate made its way to England. The first recorded mention of a chocolate beverage being served in London was in 1657, when a shop called "The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll" advertised "chocolate to be sold" in a newspaper. From there, the popularity of chocolate grew rapidly, leading to the establishment of dedicated chocolate houses.

The Rise of Chocolate Houses: 

Modelled after the already flourishing coffee houses, chocolate houses began to appear in London in the late 17th century. These establishments quickly became gathering places for the elite and upper classes, providing a space for socializing, intellectual discussions, and the indulgence of chocolate. They were often lavishly decorated and offered a sense of exclusivity and refinement.

The Allure of Chocolate: 

The allure of chocolate extended beyond its rich and complex flavour. The process of preparing the perfect cup of chocolate became an art form. Skilled chocolatiers would grind cocoa beans, mix them with spices, and carefully heat the mixture to create a luxurious and velvety beverage. Patrons marvelled at the skill and craftsmanship involved, elevating the act of consuming chocolate to a sensory experience.

Socializing and Intellectual Discourse: 

Chocolate houses quickly became hubs of social activity and intellectual discourse. Writers, artists, politicians, and other influential figures flocked to these establishments to engage in conversations, share ideas, and network with like-minded individuals. They became meeting places for clubs and societies, fostering discussions on literature, politics, and the arts. The exchange of knowledge and ideas that took place within the walls of chocolate houses played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the time.

Chocolate as a Symbol of Status: 

Partaking in the experience of a chocolate house became a symbol of status and sophistication. The high cost of chocolate, coupled with its association with luxury and indulgence, made it an exclusive beverage enjoyed by the upper classes. Visiting a chocolate house allowed individuals to demonstrate their wealth and social standing, while also immersing themselves in the refined culture and pleasures associated with chocolate.

Chocolate's Medicinal Properties: 

During this period, chocolate was also believed to possess medicinal properties. It was considered a restorative tonic, believed to provide energy, improve digestion, and even enhance one's mood. Physicians of the time often prescribed chocolate as a remedy for various ailments. This belief further elevated the status of chocolate, reinforcing its association with well-being and pleasure.

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The Influence of Chocolate Houses on British Culture: 

As the popularity of chocolate houses grew, so did the demand for cocoa beans and the establishment of trade networks. The British Empire, with its vast colonies and trading routes, played a significant role in the production, transportation, and consumption of chocolate. The profitability of chocolate contributed to the growth of the British economy and the nation's global influence.

The Legacy of Chocolate Houses: 

Over time, the popularity of chocolate houses began to decline as coffee houses gained prominence and chocolate became more accessible to the general population. However, the cultural impact of these establishments and their contribution to the perception and consumption of chocolate cannot be overstated. The legacy of chocolate houses lives on, reminding us of the historical significance of chocolate as a beverage and its enduring allure as a symbol of indulgence, refinement, and social interaction.


The birth of chocolate houses in London during the 17th century marked a significant turning point in the history of chocolate and society. These establishments transformed the way people socialized, indulged, and perceived chocolate. They fostered intellectual discourse, provided a space for networking, and created a sense of exclusivity and refinement. The cultural impact of chocolate houses continues to resonate to this day, reminding us of the deep-rooted connection between chocolate, social interaction, and the evolution of societal norms.