What’s this thing? This is a Spanish chocolatera. The French called it a chocolatière. The embodiment of the merging of Old and New World cultures, this vessel was invented by Europeans for the making of hot chocolate, a New World food. The artifact shown on the left is what remains of a copper chocolatière that was excavated at Presidio la Bahia.
Indigenous Mesoamericans, such as the Mayan and Aztec people, were the first to consume chocolate in liquid form as early as 1400 BC. They used tall, slim clay pots to hold the chocolate, mixed with water and chilis, and poured it from one pot to another to make it frothy. Some early indigenous chocolate pots were 3 feet tall! Chocolate was so important to both the Mayan and Aztec civilizations that the cacao seeds, from which chocolate is made, were used as currency.
In the seventeenth century, Spanish explorers introduced chocolate to Spain and the rest of Europe, where it quickly gained popularity. Chocolate, and chocolate technologies, were adapted to suit European tastes. By the late eighteenth century, Europeans were preparing their hot chocolate with milk and sugar in specially designed pots such as this one. The French developed smaller chocolate pots made of metal and porcelain, which were quickly emulated by the Spanish and English. Most European chocolate pots were designed with a tall and slim body, a wooden handle at 90 degrees from the spout, and a lid with a hinged finial that provided an opening for the molinet, or whisk, to froth the chocolate.
Soon the consumption of chocolate, and the increasingly elaborate pots in which it was made, became associated not only with global trade, but with luxury and wealth.
Another example of the globalization which followed the Columbian Exchange is the existence of Chinese porcelain amongst Spanish artifacts at the Presidio la Bahia. Porcelain was invented in China more than 2,000 years ago. It was desirable because its dense nature made it ideal for food and liquid storage, and its composition allowed for infusing it with bright colors. Chinese porcelain obtained through Spain’s vast trade network was a luxury item used by officers and friars at the presidios. Majolica was developed as a more affordable emulation of that porcelain. Majolica pot sherds are frequently associated with Spanish archaeological sites such as Presidio la Bahia.