Back in 2005, Jennifer Earle combined her passion for chocolate, London, walking and talking into a savvy business idea: Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. Today, she and the other chocoholic guides run walking tours around the capital as well as chocolate workshops. Branching out to Brighton a couple of years ago, this year they’re launching tours in York.
In the meantime, the Chelsea Chocolate Tour is a gentle one-mile meander around the artisan chocolate shops of this chic neighbourhood with tastings (from rosemary and olive oil ganache to passionfruit salted caramel) and hot chocolate on the menu along with a side order of local history.
Iain Burnett (aka the Highland Chocolatier) sources his chocolate from São Tomé and Príncipe, in Africa, combining them with local Scottish ingredients: Blairgowrie raspberries, cream from a single herd of Perthshire cattle and the Caramel Velvet Truffle with a Hint of Liquorice (a taste-test winner).
You can buy the truffles via mail order but it’s much more fun to visit one of Burnett’s two chocolate stores; the Grandtully branch, in Perthshire, is on the same site as the Scottish Chocolate Centre where there’s also a small museum and a café serving moreish mugs of Truffle Hot Chocolate Ganache.
This year, audio-guided chocolate tasting tours will be available at the centre, as will a unique opportunity to watch the chocolatiers in action as they produce Iain’s creations. In the St Andrews store, meanwhile, you can sign up for an artisan gourmet tasting (four different 70 per cent single origin chocolates followed by four signature chocolates) on Thursday evenings.
In 1926, a full five years before the Chocolate Orange hit the shelves, Terry’s created the Chocolate Apple. Just one of the moreish facts divulged at a series of new bite-sized chocolate talks taking place this spring at the Terry family’s old home (slither of Chocolate Orange included). Goddards is an Arts and Crafts house in York dating back to the 1920s, now owned by The National Trust. You can also discover why the company was once called Terry and Berry and learn about the ‘Terry women’ from the packers to the typists, cooks and maids.
York is well-dipped in chocolate history (it’s home to Rowntree’s and Craven’s as well as Terry’s) and this year there’s a chance to delve right into that heritage via a new exhibition opening in March at York’s Chocolate Story: 250 Years of Terry’s. Plotting the company’s rise from its small beginnings as a chemist in 1767 to creating one of the UK’s most iconic confections, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the exhibition will chart the high and lows of the famous chocolatiers and the social impact of their business in the city of York.
Artisan chocolatier Nigel Rumsey’s inspiration was the film Chocolat. Two cafés later he’s also on the itinerary of The Carter Company’s cycling and chocolate-making weekend break in Oxfordshire. The first day and a half are spent pedaling through the softly rolling Chilterns, along disused railway tracks and around the historic town of Thame (guests stay overnight here in the Spread Eagle, a Grade I-listed hotel). On the final afternoon you don a pinny, watch the master chocolatier at work and then have a go at making chocolate figurines as Rumsey explains the art of chocolate making.
Bed down in the Chocolate Suite at the Three Ways House Hotel in the Cotswolds, home of the Pudding Club. The Divine Chocolate Indulgence Break doesn’t pull its punches, starting at check in with a mug of steaming hot chocolate and homemade chocolate biscuits during the winter or homemade chocolate ice cream in the summer. Dinner is also chocolate-themed and followed by chocolate liqueurs and chocolate truffles. After a chocolate croissant for breakfast the chocolate demonstration with the chef begins with a tasting of different cocoa contents and a history of chocolate. You can book the chocolate-themed lunch and demo on its own or sign up for the full overnight experience.
If you’re looking for an award-winning hot chocolate, head to Jaz and Jul’s Chocolate House near Angel, London. Made using shavings of dark chocolate, they are then infused with natural flavours. Go for orangeytang flavoured with chocolate orange, cardamon and clove or a spicy chilli con choccy flavoured with chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. All of the chocolate used is sourced from small producers in Madagascar, Peru and Brazil. While a hot chocolate is the ultimate winter treat, at Jaz and Jul’s you can also enjoy an iced hot chocolate. If you can’t pop into the chocolate house, check out E5 Bakehouse, Federation Coffee and The Zetter Townhouse which are just a few places across London that offer their hot chocolate.
The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire runs a one-day Introduction to Chocolate Makingcourse for cocoa lovers of all abilities. Master the art of producing your own artisan chocolate under the guidance of Shelly Preston, an award-winning patissier and the founder of (and head chocolatier at) Boutique Aromatique, a local chocolaterie and sweet shop.
After a guided chocolate tasting, learning about the origins of various beans and how they are grown along the way, participants receive a quick rundown on various chocolate making techniques, from tempering chocolate to creating a simple and glossy ganache. This newfound knowledge is then put to use with students creating a range of handmade chocolates, including handmade salted caramels, chocolate bars and truffles. Recipes, ingredients and equipment are provided and the course includes and lunch. Most importantly, you get to bring home everything you make on the day!
The first branded version of milk chocolate is said to take its name from a Northern Irishman, Hans Sloane. There’s no better place to continue his tradition today than tasting some of the creations produced by local chocolatiers Co Couture, based in Belfast. Since it was opened in 2008, this stylish basement shop has become famous for its handmade truffles and luxurious hot chocolates, making it a popular spot for cocoa lovers. Their award winning creations includes their Irish Whisky truffle which received the coveted 3 Gold stars in the Great Taste Awards.
Co Couture are now running chocolate-making masterclasses where you can learn the secrets of fine chocolate making and make your very own truffles to package up and take home. Classes take place in their Belfast shop usually on the first Saturday of every month.
Wolf Wine, an independent wine store in Bath (actually a little wine shed, in the city’s Green Park Station), is a passionate promoter of craft wine, stocking high quality, small production wines and selling them to a loyal, and growing, clientele.
The company runs custom wine tasting evenings for small groups and also runs regular wine-based events throughout the year. Among the latter is a Chocolate and Wine Tasting event this February where attendees can learn how to perfect pairing great wine with fine chocolate (trickier than it sounds, apparently).
Alongside a variety of craft wines from Wolf Wines’ collection, there will be artisan chocolate from local chocolatiers Seven Hills to sample on the night. Learn to appreciate the differences between different wines and chocolates and how to match them successfully.