Charting the development of hot cocoa from the Mayans to the modern day

What comes to mind when you think of cocoa?

If you were an Aztec warrior in central America six hundred years ago then you might have been thinking of the spicy, and almost certainly cold, beverage that the ruling chief quaffed by the gallon, and that you were sometimes allowed to drink to sustain you on a march.

As an insider in the 16th century Spanish court you might have seen it as a luxury for the privileged few, and would have been craving a steaming hot bowl of cocoa made with water and spices. Or as a well-to-do 17th century Londoner, watching on as the King’s head fell under the blow from an executioner’s axe, you were probably looking forward to a bowl of hot chocolate in one of the leading chocolate houses of the day - possibly made with milk.

As a lowly worker in the late eighteenth century you would have been pleased to see just-about-affordable cocoas on sale in your local grocery or apothecary shops. It would have been a treat for breakfast.

Your Victorian predecessors witnessed the massive rise of cocoa as one of the preferred hot beverages of the masses, and may have enjoyed a steaming cup in a temperance inspired cocoa house. And in the early twentieth century you might have served cocoa for an evening gathering of friends, or supplemented your children’s diet with a nutritious cup of chocolate.

In fact the term 'drinking chocolate' does not seem to have been in common use until the 1890s, presumably because before this drinking would have been the most obvious thing to do with chocolate. In 1896 Fry’s were still calling it cocoa or 'chocolate for drinking'. Even in 1905 one grocer advertised packets of cocoa and packets of 'drinking chocolate' - with quotes around the new phrase.

This museum charts the development of hot chocolate in the U.K. through the centuries, so follow our timeline of cocoa history...


In the 1860s Manchester chemist William Darling adapted the small china pots he used for marketing tooth cleaner as sampler pots for cocoa.

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