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May 20 2017

Chocolate cups and trembleuse saucers

What makes chocolate cups different from teacups or coffee cups?


It’s been a rough month around here. My father’s had a major health crisis that resulted in three hospitalizations in as many weeks. He had surgery, then had complications and his complications had complications, literally. 

How does one cope with such things? Chocolate. In frequent, therapeutic doses.

It can’t possibly surprise you that somehow chocolate lead me on a trip down the research rabbit hole and I had to share what I found.

During the regency era, there were three particular luxury drinks: tea, coffee and chocolate. (I talked about tea recently, you can find that HERE.)  They were in high demand, but expensive to acquire and, in the case of chocolate, difficult to make. 

Preparing drinking chocolate took at least thirty minutes and a number of specialized tools for both preparation and serving. A specialty chocolate grater would be used to shave chocolate from a solid tablet of chocolate and spices like cardamom, aniseed, cloves, and bergamot. The powdered chocolate would be added to a large pan or chocolate pot containing water, milk or possibly a mixture of water and wine or water and brandy then brought to a boil, while constantly stirring to prevent scorching. A special tool, known in England as a chocolate mill (in France a molinet, in Spain a molinilla) would be used to beat in thickening agents and create a froth.

Drinking chocolate, which was most typically enjoyed at breakfast and in the evening before bed, was thick, even syrupy, very different from tea or coffee. Its thickness, and the need to preserve the froth on top meant that special cups were required to properly enjoy sipping the chocolate through the milky froth on top. Here’s where it gets particularly interesting–to me at least.

Chocolate cups were taller and narrower than coffee or teacups. This would force the foam into a thick layer on the top and keep it from dispersing so quickly. Their unique shape also gave them a high center of gravity, which in English means it made them more likely to spill, especially if one’s hands were less than steady.

That problem gave rise to a whole new style of china. The trembleuse or tasse trembleuse originated in Paris in the 1690’s and was designed to allow those with trembling hands to drink with greater ease. It consisted of a cup, often with a lid and two handles, and a saucer with ether a deep well or a raised rim that steadied the cup and kept it from tipping.

Below are a few examples of the myriad of forms these cups might take.

All this begs the question–at least to me–were coffee and teacups also so carefully designed in the service of their specific beverage? Absolutely.  

Because tea steeps near boiling, it must be slightly cooled before drinking. A tea cup has a wide open rim that tapers down to a smaller base and a handle designed to hook a single finger, all purposed to help cool the tea and prevent burns.

 In contrast, coffee tastes best when served hot. Since it brews at around 180F, burns are not as much a concern as is keeping the beverage hot. So coffee cups have a more vertical, cylindrical shape and a bigger handle to accommodate two or three fingers which helps them conserve the beverage’s temperature.

Not only were the cups for all these beverages different, the pots that brewed them were as well. But that is a post for another day–watch for it next month!

I’ll leave you with an image of one of my favorite chocolate cups, decorated with phoenix and DRAGONS! I keep thinking this would make a lovely wedding gift for Elizabeth and Darcy-what do you think?

Chocolate cup with DRAGONS

8 comments

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  1. J. W. Garrett

    I loved that last design with the dragon. You certainly lucked up on that one. HA! How excellent, and yes, it would be a perfect gift for D&E. As I looked over your post and the many different designs and styles it reminded me that our forefathers were interested in beauty, functionality, purpose and dang… they were so smart. Everything was designed so specific as to what was needed. I find that so fascinating. Wine glasses are like that also. The style, shape and type are designed to enhance the flavor and drinking experience. These cups were designed the same way. How creative and thanks for the post. I find it oh so interesting. Have a blessed day.

    1. J. W. Garrett

      Oh, I forgot… many prayers for you, your father and your family. Forgive me… I hope all goes well. Blessings to you and yours.

  2. Lauren Gilbert

    My grandmother had a beautiful chocolate pot and matching cups with saucers. Like the cups, the pot was taller and more slender than a teapot.

  3. Susanne Barrett

    Very interesting!! Hot chocolate is one of my favorite drinks, but I rarely indulge except for a peppermint hot chocolate or two during Christmastide. 😉

    With shaky hands due to rheumatoid arthritis, I really ought to use a trembleuse on a daily basis, even for tea which is my usual morning beverage. (I love the scent of coffee but not the taste…blech!) But instead I have a square Tardis mug with lid that I quite enjoy although I can only fill it partway because it’s so heavy. It’s better to leave the waiting tea in the pot with a wildflower-patterned cosy where it remains warm enough until I need to refill my Tardis. 😉

    If you want a peek:

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/e5c5/?itm=290027607585_product_type_home_%26_office_product_type_coffee_mugs_%26_travel_mugs&rkgid=3189406729&cpg=ogpla&source=google_none&adpos=1o1&creative=184914023680&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=Cj0KEQjw0v_IBRCEzKHK0KiCrKMBEiQA3–1NlRUachdXvQ7mprIYLMzUtDRsnGoAiA9ZOWEfvTbq7waAr3X8P8HAQ

    Geekily yours,
    Susanne 🙂

  4. Catherine

    Prayers sent for your dad’s quick and FULL recovery, and for the whole family in helping him and each other through this time of turmoil!

    Keep on eating and drinking chocolate; there are few situations not improved by chocolate. And tea.

  5. Carole in Canada

    Yes! That would be a lovely wedding gift! I love hot chocolate and the making of it back then certainly seems to have more flavour to it. The cups are gorgeous and such creativity when it to designing them.

    Wishing your dad a full recovery…

  6. Sheila L. Majczan

    Yes, joining in wishes for your father’s health to recover completely. Found the explanation about the cups interesting, especially as I drink all those beverages. Love the dragon one, which would be ideal in the dragon series as a gift or set for ODC. Thanks for sharing.

  7. C. Allyn Pierson

    Fascinating, as always, Maria Grace!! The dragon china would be perfect for someone who is a fan of both JA and GOT!!! Hope your dad is doing better soon and life gets back to normal.

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