Hot chocolate is one of the preferred Dutch beverage offerings, especially in these, normally cold, winter months. This tradition dates back to the mid 17th century, when chocolate was for the first time introduced in Amsterdam. There were also special chocolate cups of Chinese porcelain or Delft pottery on the market that found their way to the Amsterdam households.
This chocolate drink has its origins in South America. The Aztecs prepared already in 2000 BC a cold drink of cocoa, water, honey and red peppers. The Spaniards came in 1521 during their conquests through South America with this drink in contact. They called it ‘chocolatada’ and took it back to Spain. There, after they updated the initial recipe it became a hot beverage. Water was replaced with boiling milk and sugar was used to substitute honey for the sweet taste. From the beginning of the 17th century the spread the consumption of chocolate drink went all over Europe. It was drunk in coffee houses or at home. In the second half of that century the well to do people of Amsterdam got to know it. Chocolate was first costly and scarce, such as tea and coffee, they were introduced around the same time but spread within a century in all walks of life.
The known chocolate drink, was in the 17th century still a complicated and time-consuming preparation, which can be traced from recipes of the time. First, cocoa and sugar were mixed with boiling water to make a paste. To this was, as we do it now, added boiling milk, but also many other ingredients such as red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, aniseed and sometimes almonds, so that it eventually became a spicy concoction.
The chocolate drink was drunk from special approximate 7 cm high cups. Originally, these were only of Chinese porcelain, which was imported from Asia by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The increasing chocolate consumption and demand for the appropriate drinking vessels meant that Delft potters expanded their range of earthenware crockery with less costly chocolate cups. They copied accurately the Chinese forms. Painting inspiration was found in the porcelain cups, but also popular were representations of plants and flowers that appeared on Delft plates and bowls.
Archaeological finds of chocolate cups are often rarer than cups for tea and coffee. An exception is the cesspool of a wealthy Portuguese Jewish family who lived around 1700 on Vlooyenburg (Flea Island), the present Amsterdam City Hall. In the cesspool that belonged to the house archaeologists found in 1981, during the excavation of the Stopera (City Hall + Opera are in one building), a whopping 67 cups of chocolate earthenware and eight copies of porcelain. The left cup on the photo is of Chinese porcelain, the next two are made of Delft earthenware. The Delft chocolate cup with its two small ears, has a Chinese origin, although there are no copies of the variant porcelain known from the Netherlands but from shipwrecks in Asian waters. The two-ear earthenware chocolate cups went as imitation porcelain around the world. Through archaeological research in New York it is known that Dutch settlers in the 17th century drunk from these cups and that in some cases Indians were buried with them.