On Friday 13th May, I gave a talk to Leeds Museums’ 1152 Club on the history of chocolate, here it is in full.
From ‘Encouraging sensuality and venereal inclinations’ to ‘Making strong men stronger’: The Story of Chocolate in Britain – 1657-1905
When we today picture ‘chocolate,’ we tend to imagine something like this: Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. But, this – Britain’s first bar of solid, smooth, creamy milk chocolate to be produced and popular on a large scale – is something far different from what ‘chocolate’ meant for centuries before. The chocolate that arrived in grocer’s shops across the nation with the introduction of Dairy Milk in 1905 was the product of seismic shifts in everything from manufacturing techniques to cultural attitudes. As international authority on all things culinary Harold McGee writes in his encyclopaedic On Food & Cooking:
‘Chocolate is one of the few examples of a food whose full potential was first revealed in industrial manufacturing. The chocolate that we know and love, a dense, smooth, sweet solid, has existed for only a tiny fraction of chocolate’s full history.’
This is the story of chocolate’s progress from a dark, bitter liquid associated with decadent luxury, the sin and sensuality of the wealthy classes, to something mass marketed and sold as a healthy, hearty and pure product for the ordinary working man.
Chocolate’s arrival in Britain actually came relatively late in the day. While the Spanish were already well aware of the value, both culinary and financial, of chocolate by the middle of the sixteenth century, the English were confused by their early contact with the raw, dark, bitter beans (actually the seed of the cacao plant). In 1579 an English pirate captured a ship carrying cacao beans and promptly burned the lot, thinking they were sheep droppings. On another occasion, the Spanish naturalist Jose de Acosta reports the burning of around two and a half million cacao beans in a 1590 raid by an English pirate on the Mexican port of Huatulco. Nevertheless, the English would eventually become curious about this strange new flavour and in June of 1657 the following advert appeared in the English press.
This, the opening of London’s first chocolate house, came at a time of great social and political turmoil in this country. It was the dying days of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate and was followed shortly by the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II. Like the half-French Charles and his Portuguese wife Catherine of Braganza, the chocolate sold ‘at a Frenchman’s house’ arrived in England from Catholic Southern Europe and came with associations that were an anathema to the prevailing attitudes of puritanical Protestantism under Cromwell’s rule. Chocolate was exotic, an expensive luxury from overseas, associated with the kind of stories of sex and sin that Protestant England liked to tell about the Catholic Mediterranean and their New World wealth.
Just as chocolate arrived from France, so did stories of the decadent and scandalous practices associated with it. In 1671, one notoriously gossipy French aristocrat, the Marquise de Sévigné, wrote, with barely concealed slanderous glee, that ‘The Marquise de Coetlogon took so much chocolate during her pregnancy last year that she produced a small boy as black as the devil.’ The disrepute provoked by chocolate’s supposed ability to arouse unchaste behaviour was packaged together with the alien, foreign product giving free reign to the era’s fears about the lure of exotic eroticism and miscegenation in a complex web of the seventeenth-century’s respectable fears.
Chocolate’s strong, bitter taste, meanwhile, rapidly allowed it an alignment with another favourite trope in the Protestant world’s dramas of the supposedly sinful Catholic one: poison. In 1690, Madame d’Aulnoy (the French writer who coined the term ‘fairy tales,’ although her dark fables are nothing like the family friendly stories repackaged by Disney today) told a story that she had heard during her time in the Spanish court. A lady had taken revenge on her lover by forcing him to choose between a dagger and poisoned chocolate. Despite chocolate’s reputation for concealing the taste of poison, the unfortunate lover complained that the drink lacked the sweetness to conceal this, dying shortly afterwards. The association of chocolate, Catholicism and poison continued long after, with one popular rumour (spread by the diplomat Sir Horace Mann in his letters to the Gothic novelist Horace Walpole) suggesting that Pope Clement XIV had been killed by Jesuits with a cup of poisoned chocolate.
Perhaps fortunately for chocolate’s enduring popularity in England, the climate in which these stories arrived on our shores, and more chocolate houses began to open, was one of increasingly relaxed moral attitudes. The puritanism of Cromwell’s Protectorate seemed to produce an opposing reaction after the Restoration in which, at least among the aristocratic classes, libertinism was increasingly celebrated. Here, chocolate’s supposed aphrodisiac properties became a selling point. This was a concept that was taken up by the first significant piece of writing on chocolate in English, The Indian Nectar, or a discourse concerning chocolate, written by the physician Henry Stubbe in 1662. The previous year Stubbe had been appointed His Majesty’s Physician for Jamaica, the island having been taken from the Spanish in 1655 giving the English their first territory with cacao plantations, and his discourse was intended to be an outline of the various medicinal properties and benefits of his ‘Indian Nectar.’ Primarily, though, his argument sought to chastise his audience for any puritanical objections to chocolate and to extol the positive side of its ‘venereal quality.’ In one of many lengthy and poetic asides on its use as an aphrodisiac, Stubbe would enthuse of its virtues over all other popular stimulants:
‘Chocolate: which, if Rachel had known, she would not have purchased Mandrakes for Jacob. If the amorous and martial Turk should ever taste it, he would despise his Opium. If the Grecians and Arabians had ever tried it, they would have thrown away their Wake-robins and Cuckow-pintles; and I do not doubt but you London Gentlemen, do value it above all your Cullisses and Jellies; your Anchovies, Bononia Sausages, your Cock and Lamb-stones, your Soys, your Ketchups and Caveares, your Cantharidees, and your Whites of Eggs, are not to be compared to our rude Indian.’
The new chocolate houses would become the perfect environments for this new culture of pleasure seeking. The famous diarist Samuel Pepys, for example, was a regular at such establishments. In between his various affairs and mistresses during the 1660s, Pepys makes frequent reference in the diaries to enjoying a ‘morning draught in good Chocolatte.’
Chocolate was not alone, though, in the novel foreign flavours enjoyed by Pepys and his ilk. In fact, it was just one of the three great imported caffeinated beverages to arrive in England at this time. Invariably the trio – coffee from the Middle East, tea from the Far East, and chocolate from the New World – were often viewed as similar products, consumed in similar establishments by similar classes of people. The first coffee house in England had opened in Oxford in 1650 and the first advertisements for tea appeared in 1658, the year of Cromwell’s death. Often you could expect to be able to buy all three in a coffee house, along with ale, wine and cider. As this would imply, chocolate at this point was almost exclusively consumed as a drink (as it had been by the Aztecs and the Maya of meso-America prior to the Spanish conquest). As with tea and coffee, the English tended to dilute the harsher native flavours with copious amounts of milk and sugar (the English had always had more of a sweet tooth than most, and it was not at all uncommon, amongst those who could afford it, to add sugar to wine as well). By the time it arrived in England, the cold, bitter drinking chocolate, flavoured with fiery local spices such as chilli, favoured by the Aztecs had already undergone a certain amount of hybridisation with the tastes and ingredients of their European conquerors, so that the chocolate that arrived in England was already likely to be hot and sweetened.
Although drinking chocolate and drinking coffee were in many ways seen as equivalent activities, however, there remained a level of socio-economic difference between the chocolate drinker and the coffee drinker and the chocolate house and the coffee house. Chocolate was more expensive than tea and this had a direct effect on the type of consumer that it attracted. (Tea, for its part, was the most expensive of the three and, thus, more likely to be consumed in the private homes of the gentry than a public establishment). The German sociologist and cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelsbusch suggests that chocolate was seen as southern, Catholic and aristocratic, while coffee was northern, Protestant and middle class. ‘Coffee gave to the mind what it took from the body,’ he wrote, ‘While chocolate was thought to do the reverse.’ The chocolate house, then, was an establishment for wealthier, but less reputable, types than the coffee house. In 1709, the first edition of the society journal The Tatler reflected this difference in its introductory editorial.
‘All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure, and Entertainment, shall be under the article of White’s Chocolate-House; Poetry, under that of Will’s Coffee-House; Learning, under the title of Grecian; Foreign and Domestic News, you will have from St. James’s Coffee-house.’
The social distinctions of various London establishments are clearly delineated here. The Grecian (a club frequented by Oxbridge scholars) is the place to visit for learning, St. James’s Coffee-house is known for politics, while at White’s Chocolate-House the focus is pure pleasure seeking.
White’s, opened in 1693 by the Italian Francis White (thought to be an anglicised version of the name ‘Francesco Bianco’), had a reputation as the most notorious of all chocolate houses. Its image as a den of iniquity is perhaps best captured by William Hogarth’s 1720s series of paintings The Rake’s Progress. In this masterpiece of sequential art, Hogarth depicts the descent of a merchant’s son from prosperity to the asylum thanks to spending all his money on fine living, prostitution and gambling. The sixth image of the series, in which the protagonist Tom loses his fortune in a gambling den, depicts White’s in all its chaotic notoriety. Hogarth’s depiction of the chocolate house is echoed in the words of the satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, who described White’s as a place where noblemen were ‘fleeced and corrupted by fashionable gamblers and profligates.’ In an era in which the average person was making do on an annual income of around £20-30, the gamblers in White’s Chocolate House would run up debts into the tens of thousands. On one notorious occasion in 1750, the aforementioned Horace Walpole reported the case of a man who had collapsed in the doorway of the chocolate house and immediately become the subject of bets on whether he was alive or dead. On another occasion Lord Arlington bet £3,000 on which of two raindrops would first reach the bottom of a window pane. White’s continues to exist to this day, having turned itself into one of London’s most prestigious gentlemen’s clubs, numbering various royals and Tory prime ministers among its members (if you consider what former member David Cameron supposedly got up to in his youth, perhaps its old reputation for debauched behaviour and frittering away gross sums of money remains).
A century later, when chocolate and coffee houses became increasingly common sights here in the North, however, it was with a very different tone. The Victorian era would bring about a new kind of chocolate and coffee house – the ‘coffee public house’ or ‘workman’s public house’ – the first of which opened in Dundee in 1853, but which became particularly popular and influential here in Leeds by aping the style and social qualities of a traditional pub, but with fortifying beverages sold instead of alcohol. A popular example of such an establishment in Chapel Allerton greeted visitors with the following sign:
‘A Public House without a drink Where men may read and smoke and think Then sober home return.
A stepping stone this house you’ll find Come leave your rum and beer behind And truer pleasures learn.’
So, how did chocolate turn from an icon of uncontrolled licentiousness to something associated with a stern, sensible kind of temperance over barely a hundred years?
In 1789, as the era’s most famous lover of chocolate-fuelled indulgence the Marquis de Sade invited his rioting compatriots to storm the Bastille prison in which he was held, another revolution was going on closer to home – a revolution in technology and production that would transform the average man on the street’s life even more than the political revolution in France. Arguably the great driving force of the Industrial Revolution was the steam engine, particularly James Watt and Matthew Boulton’s 1781 development of a continuous rotary motion engine and, in 1789 while revolution raged in France, a young cocoa maker named Joseph Storrs Fry invested in one of these new engines to drive his cocoa grinding machines. Chocolate had entered the age of mass production and things would never be the same again.
Chocolate production through most of the eighteenth century was much as it had always been. Beans were crushed and ground by hand on a heated stone table before being pressed into soluble cakes of cocoa that could be transported dry and then dissolved in hot water or milk to make drinking chocolate. It was a laborious, slow and costly process and resulted in a drink in which the fatty flakes of ground cocoa were more suspended in their liquid than dissolved. The earliest attempts to mechanise cocoa production began in 1729 when a Bristol cocoa manufacturer named Walter Churchman took out a patent for ‘an invention and new method for the better making of chocolate by an engine.’ The resultant Churchman’s Chocolate was a much finer cocoa ground by a machine powered by a water wheel. It was a popular success locally, but did not really take off until the involvement of the Fry family. A Wiltshire-born Quaker, Joseph Fry Senior opened an apothecary’s shop in Bristol in 1753 and also sold cocoa, which (despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation as a promoter of venereal desire) was sold as a health tonic. By the 1760s, Fry had acquired the rights and recipe to Churchman’s cocoa and started producing his own Churchman’s Chocolate. An ambitious and capable businessman, Fry soon had his cocoa available in fifty-three towns across the country. In 1777, he moved production to a larger premises on Union Street, beside the River Frome, to derive power from the river to drive his cocoa-grinding mills. With the river’s flow proving an unreliable and inconsistent source of power, it wasn’t until his son’s purchase of the steam engine that the Frys’ company was truly able to produce cocoa on an industrial scale, though once they did they would become the country’s biggest chocolate manufacturer, dominating sales until the start of the twentieth century.
The Frys were, as I mentioned, a Quaker family and so were the other two families who would come to be the major players in the chocolate business by the dawn of the twentieth century: the Cadburys of Birmingham and the Rowntrees of York. Like England’s chocolate houses, the Quakers (officially the Society of Friends) emerged in the mid-seventeenth century, the time of the Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate. Along with a number of other dissenting religious groups of this time, they opposed the pomp and ceremony of both Catholicism and the mainstream Anglican church and the luxurious, worldly lifestyle of the wealthy classes. Instead, they advocated a simple, humble life dedicated to honesty, generosity and hard work. As such, this stance excluded them from a university education (Oxford and Cambridge remaining devotedly Anglican institutions) and related careers such as the law and government, while their pacifism meant that there would be no possibility of a military career. Instead, a reputation for scrupulous honesty, a willingness to treat people of all social classes equally and a readiness for hard work, made Quakers largely well trusted as small businessmen. Many of them, therefore, became successful chemists, grocers, drapers and bankers. The Industrial Revolution, however, allowed these small local businesses to become major national and international concerns.
Steam power didn’t just drive the machinery that ground the cacao beans, it also gave us the railway and steam ships, which allowed goods to travel across the country and beyond far more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Bristol, Britain’s second port, was at the heart of this and Fry’s were able to take advantage of the ships bringing in ever more and more chocolate and sugar and shipping out their cocoa. The local naval base also opened up the opportunity for Fry’s to become the sole supplier of cocoa to the British Navy, a contract that virtually doubled their sales. By the 1820s, Fry’s were using around 40 % of all the cacao imported to Britain and their annual sales exceed £12,000. As this should indicate, chocolate was no longer being sold solely to the sort of person that could throw thousands of pounds away gambling on raindrops. The imports of the raw ingredients from plantations within the British Empire and the mass production in Fry’s steam powered factory had made it far more affordable to the extent that it actually became less appealing to the mega-rich as a luxury product. (Chocolate for eating, however, in the form of pastilles, lozenges, mousses and creams, remained an expensive rarity).
The wider availability of affordable cocoa gave it an extra appeal to the Quakers and other dissenting groups that made up the burgeoning Temperance Movement. Beginning in the 1820s, organisations campaigning against alcohol and, increasingly often, for total abstinence sprang up around the country, especially in cities such as this one with a rapidly increasing working class population, many of them belonging to dissenting religious groups. Quakers, who tended to number social activism and reformist ideals along with their strict morals, were often particularly active in temperance groups. The workman’s public houses were a way to promote the temperance ideal to these audiences and cocoa represented an ideal alternative to alcohol to serve in them. Throughout the century, Fry’s, whose commitment to Quaker humility made them suspicious of showy advertising, would announce their product with a simple notice reading ‘Fry’s Cocoa: For use in British Workman Public-Houses &c.’ It might not have been the most catchy of slogans, but it made its point: cocoa was the drink of the temperate working man. A series of new inventions and discoveries across the nineteenth century would only make this more true as, through technological change, chocolate became increasingly democratised.
These changes would see the perception of the home of great chocolate shift from Catholic southern Europe (Spain’s Industrial Revolution would not take off in a big way until the First World War) and towards the industrialising, capitalist nations of North and Central Europe. From now on, it would be Switzerland, Belgium and Holland that would be known for their chocolate, not Spain, and it was because in those countries science and technology had the opportunity to improve on the chocolate that had existed before.
One of the major problems with drinking chocolate is that chocolate in its raw form is incredibly fatty. The cocoa liquor, the product formed from the roast and ground cacao bean, contains 53 % cocoa butter, the fat part. This resulted in a drink that was often oily and greasy. As a result, cocoa producers tended to add a lot of starch in order to absorb the oily fat, resulting in a drink that sounds rather less appetising than the drinking chocolate we are used to today. In recalling the early days of his family business, George Cadbury (who, along with his brother Richard, turned Cadbury’s from a small grocery business that also sold cocoa into Fry’s major rivals) recalled the product sold in his father’s day.
‘At the time we made a cocoa drink of which we were not very proud. Only one fifth of it was cocoa – the rest was potato flour or sago or treacle; a comforting gruel.’
In Holland, however, an inventive cocoa maker by the name of Casparus van Houten had developed an inexpensive method of using a hydraulic press to press the cocoa butter from the roast cacao beans. This reduced the cocoa liquor’s fat content by around half to just 27 %, producing a cake that could be ground into the fine cocoa powder we know today, ultimately producing a much smoother drink. Van Houten took out a patent on his new cocoa press in 1828 and, under his son Coenraad, the Van Houten Cocoa became a huge international success. By the mid-nineteenth century it was outselling the oilier British cocoa not only in London but even here in Leeds.
The Van Houten patent expired in 1838, enabling British cocoa makers to do something similar, but the actual process and cocoa press machine itself remained a closely guarded secret. In 1865, however, the struggling Cadbury company bet all that it had on replicating van Houten’s success and George Cadbury purchased a press from Coenraad van Houten for a price of around £1,000, an enormous sum that accounted for virtually all of Cadbury’s available funds. The resultant Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence was launched for Christmas 1866, but initially struggled to sell. Cocoa Essence’s use of pure cocoa, unadulterated by the likes of potato flour, may have made for a smoother drink with a greater chocolate flavour, but it also made the new cocoa a far costlier expense for the consumer than that of rival Fry’s. In order to alert customers to their new product, Cadbury’s would pursue a path that would depart from the traditional Quaker values of honest, humble simplicity. They would advertise. And not just with a short, to the point notice in small print. This would be a sustained campaign on a large scale.
In York, Joseph Rowntree would describe advertising as ‘mere puffery’ and would instead alert grocers and other potential clients of a new product with a dignified letter, feeling that a good Quaker business should be built on honesty and the quality of its goods not grand and even exaggerated claims. George Cadbury (who had learnt the grocery trade alongside Joseph and his brother Henry at Rowntree’s York grocer’s shop and had seen first-hand the beginnings of their cocoa business) took a different approach. He tasked Cadbury’s salesmen with visiting and winning the endorsements of London doctors and the medical press and, as a result, the new Cocoa Essence received glowing write-ups in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, which referred to how Cadbury’s Cocoa ‘represents the standard of highest purity.’ These testaments to Cocoa Essence’s purity were perfectly placed in a mid-Victorian climate of concern about food adulteration. A series of reports in The Lancet in the 1850s found that, as well as the likes of tapioca, corn and potato flour to add bulk and soak up fat, cocoa often could be found to contain colouring agents made from brick dust, iron and even toxic red lead. Despite legislation against food adulteration these practices continued through the years that followed. So, when Cadbury’s started producing glossy posters with the slogan ‘Absolutely pure, therefore best,’ they were tapping into just what the market was after. Those words soon appeared everywhere from newspapers to buses, tying the name of Cadbury and the idea of cocoa to natural, healthy purity in the minds of an increasingly eager public. The notion of goodness and good health being related to a lack of additives and chemicals remains a reliably successful way of selling almost any foodstuff to this day, but Cadbury’s ultimately discovered that ‘no additives’ didn’t always mean better. Van Houten had developed a further process, known as ‘Dutching,’ in which the cocoa was not just pressed to remove the fat, but treated with the addition of alkaline salts to enable the fat and water to mix even better and create something even smoother than Cocoa Essence. Cadbury’s commitment to the ideal of ‘Absolutely pure’ would mean that it would take until the arrival of Bournville Cocoa for Christmas 1906 before they would produce their own alkalised cocoa. When they did, though, Bournville became the nation’s most popular cocoa powder.
The new cocoa would take its name from one of the company’s boldest ventures, the model community on the River Bourn at which a new factory opened in 1879 away from the slums and pollution of Victorian Birmingham. Around this factory, Cadbury’s would build an Arts and Crafts inspired workers’ village. The new town, whose name changed from the planned Bournbrook to Bournville to capitalise on the ongoing popular associations of France and quality chocolate, would serve as a beacon of the company’s ideals. Bournville was designed to encourage workers to spend their leisure times productively, the houses came with gardens to grow their own produce, and there were football, hockey and cricket pitches, tennis and squash courts, a bowling green and two swimming pools (one for men and one for women) to encourage workers to channel their energies into healthy, wholesome activities. The only thing that didn’t exist there was a pub. For some, the puritanical paternalism of Bournville (and Rowntree’s smaller scale equivalent at New Earswick in Yorkshire) was a little off-putting. One of the very first Bournville workers described it as ‘a decidedly religious atmosphere.’ They felt that Cadbury’s controlled their working hours and now they wanted to tell them what to do the rest of the time as well. It was known that regular and prompt attendance at chapel would enhance your career ambitions, while men and women remained continuously segregated. The company believed that a wife’s place was in the home and, before their weddings, female employees were given a bible, a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a carnation and fired from their role at Cadbury’s. Nevertheless, for the most part, Bournville provided a far higher quality of life than was available for working people in much of the rest of the country and Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s offered their workers reasonable working hours, pensions, welfare, encouraged and supported unionisation, and campaigned for such things to become the standard in all British industries.
As the younger generation of Cadburys and Rowntrees became more prominent in the media at the turn of the century, this became a part of their repeated message. Their products were marketed by links to sporting activities and images of wholesome, masculine hard work. Craftsmen, fishermen and police and firemen all made repeated appearances on their posters, all fueled by the hearty, wholesome energy of cocoa. It was, in short, the drink that made ‘strong men stronger.’ Meanwhile, the Cadburys and Rowntrees, horrified by stories of the British invention of concentration camps during the Boer War, also invested in buying controlling shares in newspapers that would enable them to spread their social and political message at the same time as selling their cocoa. As members of the National Anti-Gambling League, their attempts to withdraw the gambling pages from the so-called ‘cocoa press,’ Daily News, Morning Leader and Star (all newspapers owned or part-owned by the Cadburys and Rowntrees), were met with significant opposition and rapidly dwindling sales. It did, however, go to show that chocolate could not have come further away from its association with the vice-ridden gambling dens of the previous century.
The younger Cadburys and Rowntrees were not just keen to spread their social message, though, they also sought to bring modern science to bear on the final great challenge of Victorian chocolate production: the production of a cheap mass-market form of eating chocolate. Joseph Rowntree’s son Seebohm Rowntree may have been better known for his pioneering social study on York’s Poverty, but as a trained chemist he was crucial to his family business in setting up Rowntree’s first research laboratory. During the early Edwardian period, Rowntree and his team were thought to be close to developing a new kind of chocolate bar, but they were beaten to it by the younger George Cadbury. At the age of just 21, George Cadbury Junior had been pulled away from his scientific studies at London University (where it was easier for a Quaker to gain a university education than the more traditional heartland of Oxford and Cambridge) and told to use his scientific skills to help Cadbury’s chemistry department to come up with a chocolate bar to rival what was being made in Switzerland. By 1900, cocoa was affordable enough to the masses that forty three million pounds of it was sold per year, but eating chocolate still fell far from that figure. It was still an expensive luxury and still lacked the sweet, creamy quality that would appeal to British tastebuds.
Mass produced eating chocolate had its origins, like cocoa powder, in the Van Houten pressing process. By creating such a large amount of fatty cocoa butter as a waste product, chocolate companies had to find a way to use it. It was discovered that, by mixing the cocoa butter back into a mix of the finely ground cocoa powder and sugar, it was possible to create a viscous paste that could be pressed into a mould far easier than a mix of cocoa and water, which made chocolates that were brittle and dry. As in other areas, Fry’s were the early pioneers, creating the first mass produced chocolate bar, that they christened ‘Chocolat Délicieux à Manger,’ in 1849, followed in 1866 by a more popular version in which a sugary mint cream was coated in the chocolate to create a tastier, more affordable product: Fry’s Chocolate Cream. For all that it was a moderate success, however, the chocolate in Fry’s Chocolate Cream remained grainy and bitter. It would take two significant inventions from Switzerland to lead to the smooth, creamy milk chocolate bars of the twentieth century.
In order to make milk chocolate bars, milk needed to be added to cocoa powder while everything was dry. Using fresh milk made it both hard to maintain the consistency of the finished product and would often cause it rapidly to turn rancid. In 1875 Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter was inspired by his neighbour, chemist and inventor Henri Nestlé’s development of a method of creating milk powder from an air pump in order to produce a formula for instant baby milk. Peter discovered that, using condensed milk as it would require less liquid to evaporate, he could make a milk powder that mixed instantly with cocoa powder to make the first ready-made milk chocolate drink. Peter’s cocoa was an instant success, helped by the fact that his home town of Vevey was part of both the route of the Orient Express and close to the increasingly popular Alpine skiing resorts, but the logical next step of using his milk powder process to make a milky chocolate bar proved more challenging, not least because it was a struggle to find adequate financing for the many trials and experiments needed to find a reliable mass-production method with milk (a substance that varied wildly from place to place and season to season). He finally achieved the right technique a decade after his milk cocoa launch and the Gala Peter milk chocolate bar appeared on the market in 1886. By 1895, Peter was producing over ten tons of Gala Peter, much of it for the export market, Britain included.
A further innovation from his compatriot Rudolph Lindt would help establish the Swiss reputation for fine chocolate at the same time. Lindt, something of a social butterfly, on one famous occasion dashed out of his workshop to make it for his Friday night’s entertainments, forgetting to shut down his grinding machine (or so the story goes). By Monday morning, a weekend’s worth of grinding and pressing had allowed the cacao beans to be pounded and churned into a silky smooth texture. From here, Lindt (and his pharmacist brother August) experimented with various temperatures and techniques for his new longer grinding process, attempting to find ways to stir in as much additional cocoa butter as possible to make the eventual chocolate smoother. Lindt’s resultant invention was a technique known as ‘conching’ as the curved iron trough of his new machine was thought to resemble a seashell. As heavy granite rollers slapped the chocolate back and forth against the sides of the trough, it drew in air, making the chocolate airier and more liquid. After seventy-two hours of conching, more and more cocoa butter could be poured in. Cocoa butter’s ability to melt at body temperature meant that this smooth, new chocolate would melt rather than crunch in the mouth and its liquid form made it quicker and easier to pour into moulds rather than the previous chocolate paste that needed pressing into them.
The 1900s saw numerous attempts from British chocolate makers to match the creamy smoothness of Swiss milk chocolate. Fry’s decided to enter the world of more high profile marketing strategies with their 1902 Five Boys brand, which showed a child’s five stages of growing anticipation at receiving a Fry’s milk chocolate bar. The advertising was a success, but the bar itself, based on milk powder, remained grittier than those produced in Switzerland, as indeed did Cadbury’s early efforts. George Cadbury Junior became obsessed with attempting to create a smoother, creamier chocolate bar, working day and night on finding the right temperature and pressure to condense milk just the right amount to be mixed with cocoa in larger and larger volumes without spoiling. He was so focused on the process that one night, sleepwalking, he ‘rose in the small hours and trundled his young wife, Edith, around the bedroom under the impression that she was a milk churn.’ Finally, late in 1904, George and his team found the right method of condensing milk so that he could add a greater amount to his chocolate than ever before. The new bar, with a glass and a half of full cream milk to each half pound bar, was richer and creamier than anything to come before in Britain or Switzerland. Cadbury’s immediately ordered the Bournville factory to start making an enormous twenty tons of the new bar per week. As with Bournville itself, the Dairy Maid, as it was to be called, went through a fortuitous last minute name change when the young daughter of a Plymouth confectioner visited by a Cadbury’s salesman suggested ‘I wonder you don’t call it Dairy Milk, it’s a much daintier name.’
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk first rolled off production lines in June 1905. By the end of the decade, Cadbury’s sales had overtaken Fry’s to become the biggest chocolate brand in Britain, making over £1.6 million per year. While only 3 % of the British population had been eating chocolate in 1900, in the years that followed Dairy Milk’s introduction it became increasingly universal. By the end of the decade eating chocolate sales were nearly on a par with drinking cocoa. At ‘2 oz for 2 d,’ Cadbury’s Dairy Milk had turned what was once an unimaginable luxury associated with the most upper class decadence into an everyday pleasure for every man.