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30 May
Wed / 2012

Mocha from Mokha: Your 18th-C. Coffee Break

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How do you take your mocha latté? Nonfat soy, no whip?

Such options were hardly offered at the tables of 18th-century Europeans, nor was the combination of coffee and chocolate that is now referred to as mocha. 

Although the term mocha appears in English period texts, its meaning is somewhat obscure. Historians of the 18th century believe that the word referred to coffee imported to Europe from the Middle East. Hot coffee, tea, and chocolate were novel luxuries of the period, introduced by European colonial holdings in the Far East and the New World. The term mocha was originally associated with the coffee imported from the Arabian Peninsula through Mocha, or Mokha, a port city on the Red Sea coast of present-day Yemen.

It is often thought that due to competition from tea, coffee-drinking declined in England during the second half of the 18th century; however, figures taken from trading archives do not support that argument. Arabian coffee in particular was thought to be of the highest quality, and in England it was sold at a higher price than coffee imported from the West Indies or elsewhere.

On view at Rienzi is a mocha service made by the Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur (KPM), in 1765. The set, listed in manufactory archives as a mocha service, is thought to be incomplete, but includes a coffee pot, creamer, sugar bowl, two cups of different shapes with matching saucers, and a tray. 

Made just three years after the founding of the firm, this mocha service reflects the Rococo style, featuring the scrolling ornament popular in Europe in the mid-18th century. Representations of scènes galantes—maidens and gentlemen in pastoral settings—in the manner of French painters Jean-Antoine Watteau or François Boucher are depicted on each piece in gilded reserves.

It’s a far cry from a paper cup with a cardboard sheath. 

The mocha service, along with other examples of KPM porcelain, are on view in Isla’s Gallery through the end of July 2012.

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About Caroline Cole

Caroline Cole

Caroline Cole joined Rienzi as curatorial assistant in 2010, after completing her M.A. in the history of decorative arts and design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and Parsons School for Design in New York City, and a B.A. from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 

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