Chinese tea gained popularity in Europe in the same period as coffee rose to dominance; the expanding importation of tea to Europe was fostered by the mercantile relationship with China. Over the course of the 18th century, the Chinese had a monopoly on the production of tea and, gradually, tea became from being an occasional drink of the bourgeoisie to a mass commodity consumed in both Europe and North America.
The cultural aspects of the introduction of tea to Europe contrasted with those of chocolate and, especially, coffee. Tea gardens and tea houses became popular in the 18th century and were open to both men and women. The particular popularity of tea in Europe was associated with “civilizing” tendencies, and with the feminine. Tea gardens were associated with domesticity and the family, as opposed to the male, and very public, character of coffee and coffee houses.
The tea ceremony—afternoon tea—became strongly associated with elite femininity in northern Europe, and by the 1740s tea was an important meal in England, the Netherlands, British North America. The tea ceremony began to increasingly reflect the respectability of the bourgeois household.
The Chocolate Girl (known also as La Belle Chocolatière, or Das Schokoladenmädchen) is one of the most famous works by the Swiss artist, Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789), and depicts a pretty maid serving a tray of hot chocolate.
See my post here about coffee and coffee houses.
At first, the consumption of caffeinated drinks were used for medicinal purposes, but soon after their introduction into European life, they were drunk for pleasure, as we all know that caffeine tends to stimulate you quite a bit (ahem!). Caffeinated beverages also tend to stifle hunger, especially hot chocolate! Drinking chocolate was first introduced into Europe by way of Spain who were exposed to the wonders of the cocoa plant from their colonies in the New World. The drink was made by pulverizing the dried beans and boiling them in water with vanilla, cinnamon, or chili peppers.
The first chocolate-drinking establishments were set up in the 17th century and were open to those who could pay the entrance fees. By the 18th century, all European countries were consuming chocolate, but Spain had by far the highest consumption levels in Europe and it was, for some time, reserved for the elite primarily (i.e., the nobility and the bourgeoisie).
Anonymous Interior of a London Coffee House, 1668
The social institution of the coffee house, modeled on Arab practices, began to appear in Europe in the 17th century, and mostly in large cities. These establishments were rather small— they reeked of tobacco smoke and were mostly populated by men.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, chocolate, coffee, and tea all gained widespread, and quite sudden, popularity throughout Europe. The timing of this introduction has more to do with patterns of European consumption than it does with the various ways these crops were encountered by Europeans through colonial expansion. The import of caffeinated goods into Europe such as tea, chocolate, and coffee had profound effects on European bourgeois consumption and and what, indeed, it meant to be bourgeois. The idea of fashion as a means of social discrimination created a market for luxury and exotic goods, and caffeinated drinks were essential to the visible demonstration of possessing the exotic and foreign.
Coffee houses started to appear by the thousands in the 18th century and became the focus of the emerging bourgeois class of urban professionals where politics could be discussed and business deals were made. Men of all social classes were welcomed in the coffee house, as coffee was seen as a drink that promoted sobriety and virtue. Women were not allowed to join in on the fun, even though they were not barred from working at these establishments.
Coffee houses were places in which news was shared between certain merchant and professional classes, and some coffee houses became associated with certain professions. London coffee houses, for example, became the birthplaces of such institutions such as Lloyd’s Insurance and the London Stock Exchange.