Chocolate and sightseeing
For a while I had been meaning to check out Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, run by my friend and chocolate connoisseur Jennifer Earle. She’s been running them for years now and has established herself as one of the UK’s top experts in anything cocoa related, as well as a business entrepreneur (she also runs Taster Tripper app, more to come). She’s a judge on a number of chocolate tasting awards and she’s overall a great girl with lots of knowledge and personality.
Finally, the time came for me to join one of her tours. An incredibly hot July Friday was the day picked, and I was a little concerned about eating chocolate in the heat.
Seriously? No way. Chocolate is perfect in any weather, honestly. The tour itself starts in a venue communicated ahead to all participants, and it changes all the time, depending on Jen’s mood, availability and so forth.
See a sweeter side of historical London and indulge in chocolate from the finest boutiques that have spoilt generations of Londoners and visitors, some for more than a hundred years.
First stop: Hotel Chocolat
I met my fellow chocolate lovers in Covent Garden’s branch of Hotel Chocolat, one of Britain’s main chocolate makers, and owners of their own cocoa plantations as well as manufacturing plants (in the UK).
I was, I admit, a little surprised at this choice, because I’d always thought Hotel Chocolat was just a big brand with not much care for the quality of their products.
I was surely proved wrong on the day! While we sipped on a truly delicious iced chocolate, we moved downstairs in their chocolate making workshop.
Next to our table, a staff member was tempering chocolate. We sat down and introduced ourselves, sharing a little fact about chocolate and what type we prefer.
Turned out most of us prefer dark. Jen then proceeded to tell us a little bit about how cocoa grows, how difficult it is to harvest it (needs to be done by hand) and why good quality chocolate, with high cocoa content (as opposed to cocoa butter, which is a by product), is so expensive.
We tasted some beans too (they tasted nutty and intense, like pistachio) and learnt how they taste different based on various factors, from how they are dried (in the sun or by fire, like in PNG and Solomon Islands) to where they grow.
After tasting some of Hotel Chocolat’s bars, it was time to begin to the actual tour, walking in the beautiful sunshine towards Soho. We stopped at a number of landmarks, where Jennifer, ever the knowledgeable tour guide, told us lots of quirky, little known facts about London’s past, the hidden and the famous (from the fact that Coven Garden’s Seven Dials was a slum full of gin houses in the 1700s to Soho’s Huguenots’ population).
Second stop: Paul Young
Our next stop was indeed in the heart of Soho, Paul A Young‘s first of three shops, where we each picked one of this creative chocolates on display. So many different flavours to choose from (some a little odd such as Marmite!).
I picked a roasted sesame seeds and tahini and was sooo happy with it, really beautifully tasting, slightly smokey chocolate.
Third stop: Charbonnel et Walker
Off we went, across Regent Street, past Savile Row, through the smart Mayfair shopping areas and onto our next stop, historic chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker, in the Royal Arcade.
Here we tasted the Queen’s favourite chocolates: dark choc with violet sugar filling and dark choc with rose sugar filling. I thought I would hate these but actually, they were flowery and quite lovely.
We walked through the Burlington Arcade next, learning more interesting facts about the first indoor shopping gallery in Europe (dates back to the early XIX century) and its strict rules of conducts (no whistling!).
Final stops: welcome to the Med!
We resurfaced in the bright midday sun and straight onto our next stop, Turkish coffee shop Khave Dunyasi on Piccadilly. Here, we were all a bit surprised by Jennifer’s choice as the place felt touristy and main stream and nothing like the artisan shops we’ve just visited.
Actually, Jennifer’s expertise was right once again, as here they make some delicious, intense Turkish Delight pistachio chocolates, on site, and we were able to taste some, freshly made.
Final stop was just across the road. We stayed in the Med area with Greek coffee roasters and chocolate producer Carpo (which I keep calling Crapo!). It’s a small shop but packed to the rafters with beautifully aromatic coffee beans (on one side) and nuts and chocolates of any kind (on the opposite side).
We tasted some of their best sellers, and I immediately fell in love with a dark chocolate filled with moist, fresh coconut. Needless to say, I made the most of the Tour’s discount (10% in all shops visited) and bought a few items, all sold by weight.
It was past 1 by now, and Jennifer was still telling us loads of facts and answering our questions on chocolate but it was time for me to return to my baby duties and say goodbye to the group.
In a nutshell…
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learnt loads of things I did not know about London and chocolate of course, and I loved the chocs we got to taste.
The tour is a great idea not only for locals like me, but for visitors because it’s a very sweet way, pardon the pun, to see some sights of London you might not otherwise know or notice.
At around £44 per person, it’s really good value for money too.
I attended the event as a guest; I was not required to write this post; opinions are my own.