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When and Why Chocolate, circa 1700

Limonadier, ière. Marchand qui vend de la limonade, de la liqueur et plusieurs autres sortes de liqueur, comme eaux de cerises, verjus, groseilles, framboise, du sorbet, de l’orangeade, etc.

–Antoine Furetière, Le Dictionnaire universel, 1690

Merchant who sells hard lemonade, eau-de-vie, and many other types of liquor waters, such as cherry, verjus (the “green” juice of unripened grapes), red currant, raspberry; and sorbet, hard orange-ade, etc. This word is new in our language as the guild of distillers was only established under the ministry of Cardinal Mazarin. –The Complete Dictionary

Said guild formed in the 1670s to protect a select group of French artisans who had knowledge of distilling hard alcohols, making preserves from fruit, and icing fruits for sorbet. Named for the hard lemonade that was a staple of the trade, the distiller made eau-de-vie and waters steeped with all sorts of fruits. Knowledge of distillation also extended to what today we would call brewing.

Although Furetière does not mention them explicitly, the repertoire of liquor recipes possessed by a limonadier included methods for making the hot drinks from around the world: coffee, tea, and chocolate. Physicians and home-makers had similar same recipes, as treatises and family cookbooks written in women’s hands attest, but guild members had the right to sell the beverages in public shops. By 1680, Parisians could consume distillations of all sorts, as well as chocolate, in public watering holes. That is how baristas came to Paris.

Nicolas Larmessin, The Coffee-Man's Outfit, c.1695

Such was the fanatic public desire for alcoholic and exotic hot beverages that by the turn of the century, the knowledge of the limonadier was no longer protected. In 1705, distiller Pierre Masson published a handbook designed especially for baristas hoping to profit from the sale of liquor, fruit confections of all kinds, and hot beverages. He called it, appropriately, Le Parfait Limonadier, The Master Distiller.

While the drinks had been grouped together as similar drugs since at least 1670, shortly before the establishment of distilling as a protected trade, European physicians had always understood them to have different effects on the body. In the early days of chocolate writing, for example, the body’s ailment or frailty dictated how chocolate was prepared and served. Once those formally prescribed medicines went public and were consumed as social beverages, their medical effects took a back seat to their taste and convivial pleasure-making. No one need wait to be ill to drink coffee, tea, and chocolate when they could order it off a menu any time they pleased.

That said, Pierre Masson had big plans for the barista, who could do more than serve the drinks willy-nilly without regard for health. To supplement recipes for the traditional distillations and iced desserts in his handbook, he dipped into the first guide to feeding and directing a royal household. He must have liked what he found because he lifted those hot beverage preparations fro Audiger—word for word.

Nicolas Audiger’s 1692 guide to royal home economics, The Well-Run Household (1700 title page pictured above) offered advice on everything from how to serve a lady to how to break in an apprentice. More than set of guidelines, his advice outlined when and why things were done to govern a royal, aristocratic, and even simpler manor houses. When it came to hot beverages, he made the novel gesture of explaining to chefs not only why it made sense to prepare each one, but also how to weave them into the day’s meal schedule so that the body would reap the most benefit from them. Alcohols, fruit desserts, and hot beverages were important enough to the daily life of a well-heeled Parisian to occupy an entire section of his guide.

While Audiger makes the hot beverages the last section of his guide, Masson leads with it in 1705, giving the drinks pride of place in the barista’s handbook. What’s more, while Audiger appended his thoughts on hot beverages to a tome on elite household management, Masson boiled down knowledge pertinent to his fellow distillers and café owners. Isolated and condensed, the wisdom served a much wider public. If a Parisian followed the art of consumption as Audiger outlined it, she would take tea to start the day and after meals, coffee to fight fatigue and aid digestion, and chocolate for sustenance and overall good health.

There is no introduction to the hot beverages as a class of drinks, but they are alike in that they are unlike anything else in these recipe books. Audiger may have put that section at the end because he describes them as dietary supplements and even antidotes for fine living when it reduces the body to sated fatigue. After consuming all the waters, ice creams, syrups, and compotes he teaches chefs to make, gourmands needed coffee, tea, and chocolate. Audiger begins with tea, then chocolate and coffee, and gives each one a role in restoring the body. Tea and coffee have a lot in common.

Tea clears the “smoke”—cobwebs or fog—from the brain. Taken in the morning, it stimulates the senses and improves the appetite. After lunch would be the time enjoy the similar benefits of coffee. Prepared as he instructs, coffee refreshes—cleans—the blood, which should give a person energy. Packing more punch than tea, according to Audiger, coffee stimulates the senses, then minimizes the dizzying “vapors” associated with drinking wine and helps “people with a lot to do” stay awake through the day. Tea and coffee both also aid digestion, which would explain their addition to the early meals.

Chocolate has a different repertoire of benefits, most of them related to how it warms and stabilizes the body, making it most effective as a dietary supplement. There are benefits along the whole path chocolate takes through the consumer. After soothing the vocal cords, it fortifies the stomach and chest. Then, radiating out, the chocolate drink restores the body to its natural temperature and balances the humors.

Tea preparation was the simplest: boil water, add and steep leaves, serve hot with sugar on the side. Coffee preparation involved a number of steps: roast and crush beans, boil water, add beans, head almost to a boil, simmer, adding new water, serve with sugar. It was nonetheless even more complicated to prepare the chocolate drink. First, chocolate was not a raw ingredient but a composition of cacao and spices, all with their own medicinal benefits. Audiger suggests the following combination:

Spanish cacao, vanilla, clove, massie (probably corn meal), cinnamon, and sugar.

The paste prepared from crushing these ingredients together could be stored as serving-size tablets, like coffee beans and tea leaves, for future use. Second, timing mattered because chocolate was served frothed. Making the drink involved grating a tablet as finely as possible and adding the powder to boiling water, with sugar, if desired. Then the finesse beings: stir vigorously with a chocolate stick; heat the liquid again until it rises and remove before it boils over; stir vigorously again with a stick until it has a head and pour into one glass; repeat until everyone is served. Can be made with milk instead of water.

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