Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: Connecting the World Through Trade

Bibiotheque Nationale de France

In the seventeenth century, cultures seemed worlds apart, as depicted in the image of the “Four Continents” below. Europe, Asia, Africa, and Mesoamerica each occupies her own corner of the globe and each enjoys her own flora, fauna and, it turns out, beverages. However, Philippe Dufour and his translation of the treatise by the godfather of chocolate wisdom, Antonio Colmenero, helped link the Four Continents together.

Before Dufour became known, Europe thought of coffee from North Africa and Arabia, tea from China, and chocolate from Mesoamerica--drinks from four corners of the globe. Once he published his knowledge about them all in his treatise, he tied these drinks together in a delectable matrimony. The union also brought together the people, so that the corners of the world looked much closer to each other. Once these three drinks were joined together in Europe to create a signature trio, they would forevermore be seen together.

Andrea Pozzo, ceiling of St. Iganzio

Detail of America (lower left in large image)

Dufour’s treatise begins with coffee, the most well-known hot drink of the mid-seventeenth century, making this the first treatise to treat that drink in France. Dufour claims to have learned about it from the work of an unnamed physician, whom he identifies later as Simon Paulli, and Fietro del Lavallè, whom he identifies as an Italian known as the “illustrious Traveler” (5).*

One of the first hot drinks to hit the public market struck with a force: “...there is neither rich nor poor that drinks less than two or three cups a day, and ‘tis one of the things wherewith the husband is obliged to furnish his Wife” (6). It did not matter what the social class; everyone was drinking it. There were different levels and categories of coffee just like there were, Dufour reports, for tea and chocolate. The expensive coffee was elite and for the rich, while lesser coffee was reserved for everyone else. This treatise suggests that even in a society where women were not empowered, husbands were obligated to provide their wives with the trendy beverage.

Such a man could find it in the tavern: “There be many publick Taverns of Cahue where they boyl it in great Kettles; in these places all sort of people may come, without distinction of Religion or quality, and ‘tis no shame to frequent these places, since many go only to recreate themselves…” (6). Taverns of cahue, or Turkish coffeehouses, were locales with eclectic crowds. (Curiously, the Turkish word for ground coffee, cahue, bears a striking resemblance to the French word for crowd or rabble, cohue.)

In taverns like these, where people of all social stripes would gather, coffee was drunk alongside alcohol. Religions and beliefs that would normally be the cause for disagreements could be set aside when drinking a cup of coffee. Dufour concludes by writing that it is not bad to frequent these places because everyone is in them, so shaming is not necessary. In taverns, each person is just someone looking to have a hot drink and a good time; such was the leveling power of coffee.

The next hot drink mentioned by Dufour is tea. He came across this beverage from voyage accounts of the Bishop of Beryte and Father Alexander of Rhodes, along with the medicinal observations of Amsterdam physician, Nicholas Tulpius. But he has his own opinion on why the Dutch love tea: “One of the things which in my opinion do very much contribute to the great health of this people, which oftentimes appears to the very last, in their old age, is Tea, whose use is exceedingly common through all the East, and begins to be known in some Countrys of Europe, by the means of the Hollanders, who bring it from China, and sell it at Paris for thirty Franks the pound which they buy in this Country for eight pence or ten pence...” (8). Tea was just as renowned as and more lucrative than coffee. Its accessibility paired with the many health benefits it offered made it a commodity in high demand, thus richly priced. Holland’s Dutch East India Company sourced it cheaply in China, and then sold it to France for many times more. While the state coffers increased, so did the profits and fame of the beverage.

Rounding out the triumvirate of beverages is none other than chocolate. Unlike its brethren from Arabia and China, chocolate had only been documented in France since the 1640s through the little-known treatise by René Moreau. Like its fellow hot beverages, chocolate was rapidly becoming a household name among the French elite. The medical recognition of chocolate as a confection with curative properties was what led Dufour to categorize coffee, tea, and chocolate together for the first time.**

According to wisdom Dufour gleaned from Colmenero via Morreau (whose translation he amended), there are four kinds of cacao trees that produce the succulent fruit. The first three are the largest and produce the most amount of cacao beans. “The fourth sort is the least of all, so it is term’d Tlalcacahuaguahuitl, that is to say, a little low Tree of Cacao, the which bears a fruit less than all the rest, although there is no difference between them as to the colour: Now all these fruits are of the same quality, and of the same use, although they make use of the last principally in drink, the others serve rather for money and change” (11). The first three trees, he recounts, were used for currency in Mesoamerica to make trades and profits in the world of merchants of the time, which suggests that cacao was part of the ‘global’ Mesoamerican economy before it was ever trafficked by Europeans.*** But it was the fruit of the fourth and smallest kind of cacao tree that was used to make the distinguished drink; and it was that fruit for which European countries sent armies and traders to forcibly source cacao.

Circa 1671, when Dufour compiled translations of earlier treatises, the people of France had begun to find their way around the infinite wonders of chocolate, and its influence had spread, just as coffee and tea had. In direct echo of what he quoted from Paulli, who published the early treatise on coffee, he notes this about chocolate: “So great is the number of those persons, who at present do drink of Chocolate, that not only in the west Indies, whence this drink has its Original and beginning but also in Spain, Italy, and Flanders it is very much used, and especially in the Court of the King of Spain; where the great Ladies drink it in the morning before they rise out of their beds, and lately much used in England, as Diet and Phisick with the Gentry” (10).

In this sentiment, he does not quote from Antonio Colmenero, the first major theorist of cacao in Europe, but from Thomas Gage, who had produced a treatise in 1648 based on his travels to Jamaica. In other words, he picks up from Gage something that earlier theorists of cacao could not have known: by 1670 drinking chocolate had become a staple in everyday life across many geographic locations such as the Americas and then taken by Europe across the ocean to gain more power and revel in all of chocolate’s glory. Indeed, chocolate was known as the drink of royals in the Court of the King, which proves its value to the citizens of Spanish society and serves here as an invitation to high French society to revel in it too. After all, it was as fashionable as coffee!

Vignette above the section on chocolate, Trait nouveau et curieux, 1685

By bringing together coffee, tea, and chocolate the merchant Philippe Dufour engaged in more than just a trade and business venture. The treatise encouraged the French to put drinks from Mesoamerica, China, and the Middle East on the same dining table, creating a buffet of world drinks. Coffee was consumed by anyone and everyone. Tea provided competition among countries that served to augment its reputation across the globe. And the availability, of chocolate thanks to the various cacao trees, made it an essential commodity that soon became commonplace but still retained its significance as a royal drink.

Dufour presented the drinks in this specific order first because it follows the order in which the drinks became European beverages, and also because coffee and tea paled in comparison to the newly imported marvels of chocolate. The last place in the title suggests that chocolate served as the bridge that connected the three of drinks together. Without chocolate, the affiliation of all three drinks would not have created a world map of wonder drugs. Coffee, tea, and chocolate changed the way Europeans lived because they could now find the three of them on the same table, a culinary revolution in and of itself, all because a man wanted to make a trade.

*All pages references are to John Chamberlayne’s translation of the 1671 Dufour, published n 1685, three years after he published his own Natural History of Coffee, Thee [sic], Chocolate, Tobacco.

**In point of fact, Dufour likely got this idea from Simon Paulli, as well. Paulli wrote a treatise on tea in which he mentioned both coffee and, very briefly, cacao. His relatively obscure 1661 treatise, known for most of the century through Dufour’s publication, would only be published in English as late as 1746. Dufour was the first to put the beverages on equal footing and certain to illustrate various world cultures drinking their beverages together.

***See the article by Gabriela Piril on Mayan cacao tributes.


Dufour, Philippe. The Manner of Making Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate. As it is Used in Most Parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Trans. John Chamberlayne. London: Christopher Wilkinson, 1685.