The current perception of chocolate, in its liquid form rather than that of a solidified sweet or confection, is one of relaxation and warmth, the ultimate comfort drink at the end of a hard day at work or having been out and about in the cold. Step back to the transition from Georgian to Regency times, however, and – although it was still deemed to be something of a luxury – it would seem to be far from an aid to relaxation. Both its preparation and consumption appear to have been protracted, complicated and essentially mindful of a whole raft of social conventions which ebbed and flowed in and out of fashion with confusing regularity. 


How the beverage was concocted, prepared and served was a convoluted ritual involving any number of arcane ingredients, specialist utensils, elaborate processes and ad-hoc embellishments to arrive at the point where something worthwhile had been prepared. It was then simply a case of deciding which convention for consumption was best to be followed.


It may be best to blame the Spanish for the confusion; it was they who popularised the consumption of hot chocolate, necessitating the addition of handles to chocolate cups, which had previously been considered perfectly adequate in their original form as handle-free beakers. This was simply an expedient measure to ensure that those minded to consume hot chocolate were less likely to throw scalding liquid over themselves during the procedure, but even this purely mechanical process saw degrees of variance, as fashion first dictated the use of two handles, then one, then – by the third quarter of the 18th century when our example first saw the light of day – a return to two and, as the Regency continued apace one of these appendages fell out of favour, and a singular extremity was deemed sufficient once again.


Then there were the proportions of your cup; as we have noted, early forms were beaker-like – tall and somewhat utilitarian – but as the popularity of the beverage spread, so did the number of its ingredients which were considered indispensable which, in turn, lead to another development. To ensure that your hot chocolate was properly mixed, it was necessary to stir it for some considerable time both during its initial preparation on the kitchen range and once it had been decanted into its serving pot. This extended agitation, not unsurprisingly, produced a substantial foaming ‘head’ of froth, which was considered to be a good thing, and – once prepared – was to be appreciated in one of two ways.


Cast your mind back to the consumption of champagne with its mesmerisingly effervescent nature, and the fact that this gave rise to two distinct types of glass – the wide, flat coupe which would make for a short-lived but more eye-catching display of fizziness, and the narrower flute which would prolong the ebullition, enhance the bouquet, but make it less of a spectacle. Well, there were similarly two basic types of chocolate cup; the first harked back to the original beaker style, taller, narrower and promoting a deeper layer of froth which would remain intact, at least in part, for the protracted consumption of the vessel’s entire contents. Then there were wider, less tall cups, often with flared rims to enhance the breadth of the surface area, which would present a broader, more aesthetic but less substantial body of foam for the discerning consumer to appreciate. 


I imagine that by the time that the choice had been made between a tall cup or a shorter version, one with a single handle, or one with two – or a handle free beaker – and one with a narrow mouth and a deep layer of froth or a wider vessel with a less substantial blanket of foam that it’s entirely likely that you’d have lost interest in the whole procedure and opted for a cup of coffee instead – all very perplexing.


However, being the thoughtful and considerate on-line vendors of fine antiquarian wares that we are, we’ve made the decisions on your behalf and so here is our low-profile, two-handled, thinly-frothed, late Georgian hot chocolate cup (with matching saucer) for your edification and delight…