Dufour's Safari of Sociability

December 6, 2016

 

If the first edition of Dufour’s treatise presented itself as an introduction to hot beverage history for an uninitiated elite French audience, the enhanced edition of 1685 expanded its target readership considerably. The New and Curious Treatise on Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, a Work Equally Necessary to Physicians and All Those Who Care about Their Health announces its timeliness and its relevance to just about everyone. The preface leaves aside arguments about Providence and plant distribution to instead highlight more recent testimony, including Dufour’s personal knowledge of the drinks.

 

Dufour’s first edition broke important ground in the way beverages were depicted in Europe, but it had a limited print run and was not translated. The second edition had major impact, eventually appearing in English, Latin, and German. A new frontispiece (above) provides an allegorical illustration of Dufour's new grouping of drinks. This inaugural representation of native consumers of coffee, tea, and chocolate uses recognizable stereotypes of dress to evoke three different world areas: the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas. Placed around a table together, the drinkers look for all the world like they have met up in Louis XIV’s living room to hang out. As this volume includes advice about how to serve hot drinks to guests, as Katharin Jensen and Emma Ruppenthal show in an earlier post, these allegories will indeed be invited to take their place at the French table in the subsequent chapters.

 

Depicting as it does the unique world map created by Dufour’s first treatise, the frontispiece has a lot to teach the reader. Its seating arrangement from the viewer’s left to right follows the order in which the beverages are listed in Dufour’s title and in which the drinks were know to Europeans. Each steaming beverage has its own vessel and equipment, a cultural trope that comes up in Sévigné—one must have a chocolatière—and echoes through subsequent treatises and recipe books of the period. Cool technology and servingware were both required and inspired by the desire to drink exotic beverages as they would have been consumed in the source culture (next week’s post).

 

Spoiler alert: some of the wisdom about how drinks were consumed had nothing to do with the source culture. To give one example, Dufour recommends the unlikely choice of a chique (a luxury mug made from the inner shell of the coconut), as the best vessel in which to serve chocolate, although he finds that porcelain--a Chinese art--will also do. Mesoamericans used a hollowed jícara, a type of gourd.

 

Further, the positions of the bodies in the frontispiece and their implied relationships are suggestive of the way France regarded these world areas circa 1685. Standing to the left in the image, a turban-wearing drinker with a full beard, dons accessories France associated with the Ottoman Turk,

 

and his face that makes him look older than the other two figures. The Asian drinker seated in the middle wears a conical hat, a thin cascade of moustache and beard, and a busily patterned gown that evokes the portrait of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722). On the table sits his ceramic tea pot (the coffee and chocolate pots are on the floor at the feet of their drinkers), perhaps a sign of his cultivation or perhaps his claim over the space. The standing figure on the right, an iconic stereotype of the great variety of Native Nations that covered two continents of the Americas, wears only feathers — a headpiece, skirt, and ankle bracelets.

 

 

All three drinkers are distinguished, each in his own racialized way. Reading for the ideology the image promotes, one notices several curious details beyond the stereotypes. First, the representative of the Americas, whose clothing looks least sophisticated, drinks out of the most decorative and also the largest cup, perhaps a reminder of the immense wealth of the Aztec culture or the quantities of chocolate Montezuma II was rumored to drink. The Arabian drinker holds his cup knowingly with a delicate grip, his little finger conspicuously extended from the vessel. Finally, the body of the Chinese figure in the center faces the viewer, but also holds his cup protectively, arm cocked away from instead of toward the table and the viewer.

 

If their postures can be said to dramatize the French trade around 1685, then chocolate appears least costly and most available, coffee most socially sophisticated, and tea hardest to acquire. The socioeconomics bear out this cultural interpretation of Dufour’s international drink summit. By mapping the world metaphorically according to its favorite drink, the frontispiece helped shift the theme of the new volume from the idea of God’s pharmacy to a kind of safari of sociability that Parisians could do right at their own dining room tables and in their city cafés.

 

As a combined force, hot beverages and their far-flung cultures offered much more than the local ethnic intrigue that first brought each of them separately to European attention. Dufour’s inaugural move to group the nations and the drugs together for France would stick, and the very next writer to explore the beverages, Nicolas de Blégny, capitalized on the chic urban habits they inspired to promote Paris as a fashionable destination.

 

 

Parts of this post were adapted from Christine A. Jones, "Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43:3 (2013): 623-653.

 

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