From Montezuma to the Milk Tray Man, indulge your inner chocoholic from bean to bar with Clare Wilson‘s best chocolate destination guide
For a taste of real chocolate exploration, head to the Paria peninsula in north-east Venezuela, where Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas. The world famous Chuao Plantation (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) on the northern coast grows rare pure criollo beans.
Criollo beans produce the finest flavours of the three varieties of cacao grown around the world, and make up 5% of the world's cacao crop. Chuao criollo beans are, reputedly, the world’s best cocoa.
As well as chocolate, Venezuela has idyllic beaches, rum distilleries, and amazing wildlife in the rainforests and the Orinoco delta.
Belize entices visitors with unexcavated Mayan ruins deep in the jungle, a great setting to enjoy and celebrate cacao – the food of the gods. Green and Blacks use cocoa from Belize for their Maya Gold bars, the first UK chocolate product to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark. Discover the world-famous chocolate's origins here in Belizian paradise.
For something feistier, join in Toledo’s annual Cacao Fest in May to celebrate all things chocolate, from its importance in Mayan culture, to contemporary conservation and production in modern Belize. There's live music and dance performances to enjoy.
You can also head out on the Cacao Trail to visit local communities and try your hand at making chocolate.
When the Spanish conquistadors raided Montezuma’s treasure chambers, they found precious cacao pods instead of gold, showing just how much chocolate means to Mexico. Head to Oaxaca (in the south of the country) to see the country’s cocoa plantations, and to try savoury mole (mo-lay) dishes – a kind of Mexican sauce usually made with chilli peppers and of course, made with chocolate.
Take time to explore Oaxaca's markets and street stalls, to stock up on some of the world's tastiest (and spiciest) treats.
Although cocoa growing originated in South America, until the 1970s, Ghana was the world's leading producer. Some 30-40% of the world' s total cocoa output came from the eastern region of the country, and it's still the hub of Ghana’s cocoa growing industry.
Cocoa has been grown in Ghana since the mid 19th century; you can visit the ‘original’ Ghanaian cocoa farm set up in 1879 by Tetteh Quarshie in Mampong-Akwapim, north-east of Kumasi. There's also the Cocoa Research facility at New Tafo in Kumasi itself.
While you're in Ghana, get face to face with throngs of elephants at Mole National Park, head to the beaches at Busua or Dixicove to partake in a spot of surfing or kick back with a coconut juice and make sweet music with an African drumming lesson.
Cocoa growing on St Lucia is experiencing something of a revolution and the Rabot Estate, owned by British grower and chocolatier Hotel Chocolat, is at the forefront. As well as tours of the plantation, visitors can stay at the hotel on the estate. Indulge with a Cacao Bellini with sundown views over the Piton peaks.
There's also the Boucan restaurant dedicated to cacao-cuisine, serving everything from Cacao Gazpacho and Rib Eye with Dark Chocolate and Port Sauce to irresistible desserts. You can even pamper yourself with cacao spa treatments, from cacao and banana body wraps to pedicures.
If the phrase ‘Belgian chocolates’ doesn’t get your mouth watering, you either need to re-think your chocoholic status, or head to Brussels or Bruges to see what the fuss is all about. Both cities have plenty of artisan chocolatiers and cafes specialising in chocolate products where you can watch chocolates being made, sample a few and become a convert.
172,000 tons of chocolate is produced in Belgium every year from simple pralines and creamy ganaches to more adventurous flavours like sea-salt, chilli, pink peppercorn, fresh ginger and jasmine.
If you love chocolate, London has emporia to cater to your every cocoa-related fantasy. Try a 'Chocolate Ecstasy' walking tour of London's finest chocolate shops, or indulge in some retail therapy at small boutiques like Rococo and Artisan du Chocolat (which also offer tastings and courses). Watch cacao beans transformed from bean to bar at Hotel Chocolat’s Roast + Conch concept store in Covent Garden.
National Chocolate Week (8-14 October 2012) is a great time to visit. As well as tastings, there are various educational events so you can learn more about the tempting treats.
Taste the food of love in the city of romance. Paris, as one of the culinary capitals of the world, has some deliciously unique artisan chocolatiers to tempt your tastebuds. ChocoParis – a comprehensive list of Paris' chocolate and pastry shops – has three walking itineraries covering the best of Paris’ chocolatiers, patisseries and tea rooms.
Paris also hosts the annual Salon du Chocolat (the big brother of the English National Chocolate Week, and also held in October), which includes an elaborate chocolate dresses fashion show.
Take the ‘chocolate train’ from Montreux to Broc via Gruyères for a day that combines Switzerland’s most famous things – chocolate, cheese and gorgeous mountain vistas. The trip, on a 1915 ‘Belle Epoche’ era train, includes visits to the castle and cheese factory at Gruyères before visting the Nestlé Chocolate Factory at Broc.
Melbourne is best known as Australia’s reputed ‘culture capital’ but it’s got a sweet tooth and an in-depth history with the beloved bean. Melbourne’s Chocoholic Tours are out to show you, and feed you, the best chocolate the city has to offer in all its guises.
Forastero trees are the hardiest and account for 80% of the world’s cocoa bean crop. It’s thought to have originated in the Amazon, and nowadays you’ll find it being grown mainly in Brazil and Ghana.
Beans from criollo trees have more delicate flavours than forastero beans and are prized by the world’s finest chocolatiers. They account for 5-10% of the world’s cocoa bean crop and are grown in Central America.
Trinitario beans are a hybrid, with the delicate flavours of criollo beans but much easier to grow. They were first discovered on Trinidad and account for the remaining 10-15% of the world’s cocoa bean crop – you’ll find them mostly being grown in the Caribbean and South-East Asia.
For high quality chocolate, you should aim for chocolatiers who use a minimum of 70% cocoa solids in their dark chocolate blends, and between 35%-50% in their milk chocolate. Sugar is the cheapest ingredient in chocolate; mass producers will use this to bulk out their blends.
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