Introduced in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate, tea, and coffee were first considered luxury products, often offered as diplomatic gifts. Praised for their therapeutic virtues, but also decried for their potential negative effects, the exotic brews were first consumed as drugs with recommended dosage prescribed by physicians. Their consumption spread during the 18th century with hot chocolate becoming a morning ritual for the French nobility, while coffee was the favored drink of philosophers and politicians in the second half of the 18th century, prized for its stimulant properties.
The new fashion was well documented by artists of the time, such as Jean-Baptiste Charpentier (“La tasse de chocolat”), Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier d’Agoty (“Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry and Zamor bringing her a cup of coffee”), Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, and Francois Boucher.
Displaying a selection of these paintings, as well as period porcelains and faience (thin-glazed pottery), the upcoming exhibition “Tea, coffee, or chocolate, the rise of exotic drinks in the 18th century” at the Cognacq-Jay museum will retrace the story of these imported drinks and their impact on French society.