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The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D.…

The True History of Chocolate (original 1996; edition 2000)

by Sophie D. Coe

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457535,934 (3.85)14
The story begins some 3,000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico and Central America with the chocolate tree, Theobroma Cacao, and the complex processes necessary to transform its bitter seeds into what is now known as chocolate. This was centuries before chocolate was consumed in generally unsweetened liquid form and used as currency by the Maya, and the Aztecs after them. The Spanish conquest of Central America introduced chocolate to Europe, where it first became the drink of kings and aristocrats and then was popularized in coffeehouses. Industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made chocolate a food for the masses, and now, in our own time, it has become once again a luxury item.… (more)
Title:The True History of Chocolate
Authors:Sophie D. Coe
Info:Thames & Hudson (2000), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library

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The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe (1996)



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Showing 5 of 5
A good read and a thouroughly researched book; I would recommend this to anyone who is interetsed in chocolate, food history, the history of trade and exploration with the Americas, or all three! ( )
  hsifeng | Jan 22, 2010 |
I finished The True History of Chocolate today when I was trying to take a nap. I liked it and I'll be trying to find a cheap used copy. The authors are a married couple, the wife being the food historian who traveled around to various libraries and archives over a few years to collect the materials for this book. Unfortunately, she died before it could be written and her husband completed it after she apparently dictated the rough outline and part of one of the chapters. That information is in the introduction to the second edition that I read.

The book is very readable and engaging, full of anecdotes and excerpts from a range of primary sources, as well as an array of illustrations. They trace the origins of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, and the history of its use as beverage, medicine, and food, from pre-Columbian cultures (Olmec, Maya, Aztec, etc.) to modern day chocolatiers, ending with the beginnings of fair-trade chocolate bars under the Green & Black label. The book is divided into eight chapters (my summaries, not actual chapter headings): 1. cacao biology and ecology, 2. early cultivation and production (Olmec and Maya), 3. Aztec, 4. Conquistadores and their criollo settlements, 5. its introduction and adoption in Europe during the Age of Exploration and Baroque era, 6. cultivation and trade during the Colonial era, 7. Enlightenment and Revolutionary Eras, 8. modern industrial processes and development of chocolate candy industry.

I learned a lot about the plant itself and how chocolate is made, as well as about indigenous cultures and the saddening details of conquest and colonization. The book included images of Mayan archeological artifacts and ideograms and the most recent archaeological findings that date cacao use much earlier than previously thought. They also discuss the origins of the word "chocolate."

Traveling to Europe, the question of hot chocolate during fasts came before the Pope more than once. The authors detail this religious and political debate, as well as the sociopolitical roles of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate as the beverages associated with particular movements or classes. I learned something new about White's, the exclusive club known for its gambling that is prominently featured in many novels set in the Regency era: it was opened as White's Chocolate-House in 1693 by an Italian immigrant.

The authors also include a variety of recipes from different time periods. They also describe the first experiments to incorporate chocolate into food and the possible origins of mole poblano, of Mexican cuisine fame.

The book also covers the history of commercial cacao plantations, from Maya days in Meso-America through its establishment in tropical zones worldwide to its recent introduction to Hawaii. The different plant varieties are covered and what kind of beans they produce in terms of quantity and quality. The invention of the Dutch cocoa process and modern machines are detailed.

The only complaints I have are minor quibbles. The prose is very engaging and personable because it is generally quite subjective. Sometimes that subjective (read, judgmental) tone was annoying and somewhat snide. The text also frequently included self-referential asides. I didn't need to be told multiple times that there was more on a particular topic ahead or already described elsewhere.

So this book is a fairly comprehensive look at a single species of food plant and its cultural importance over time in a variety of contexts. The text is accompanied by substantial notes and an extensive bibliography that allow the reader to chase down the original sources if so desired. And a note on the book's title: it pays homage to one of those sources, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, a first-hand account written by a retired conquistador to refute all of the myth-building taking place in his lifetime. ( )
  justchris | Jul 28, 2009 |
This wonderful book by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe spends a lot of time talking about pre-Colonial Mesoamerican culture. It's awesome. The Coes did a lot of research on the Mayans and other cultures in the same area, and as a result the book is highly educational about more than just chocolate. But even just as foodie history, it stands out. Great book. ( )
  SwitchKnitter | Jul 10, 2009 |
Extremely well researched and very informative. Dry to read most of the time, but if you want to really know about the history of chocolate, you won't find anything better than this book. ( )
  vsmoothe | Jun 3, 2006 |
Lots of information about the history of this substance. An enjoyable read. ( )
  drinkingtea | Apr 27, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sophie D. Coeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coe, Michael D.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Coe, Michael D.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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My late wife Sophie Dobzhansky had been thinking about writing a history of chocolate for a long time, as an outcome of her general interest in the food and drink of the pre-Spanish peoples of the New World.
"Oh, Pangloss!" cried Candide, "what a strange genealogy! Is not the Devil the original stock of it [syphilis]?"
"Not at all," replied this great man, "it was a think unavoidable, a necessarily ingredient in the best of worlds; for if Columbus had not in an island of America caught this disease, which contaminates the source of life, frequently even hinders generation, and which is evidently opposed to the great end of nature, we should have neither chocolate nor cochineal."
Voltaire, Candide

All our ancient history, as one of our wits remarked, is no more than accepted fiction.
Voltaire, Jeannot et Colin

Voltaire should have known better. There is not a shred of evidence that Columbus ever contracted syphilis in the New World (though some of his crew may have), nor did he know anything about chocolate (as we shall see), let alone cochineal, a fine red dye derived from the bodies of Mexican scale insects.
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