With Easter on its way, what better time of year to talk about chocolate! There’s plenty going on around the world from famous Semana Santa celebrations in Spain, to the Påskekrim murder mystery tradition in Norway and the delightful Ostereierbaum tree decorating in Germany, but most of the UK thinks chocolate when it comes to Easter.
Charles M. Shulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, once said: “all you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” and a ‘little chocolate’ will soon be here – but which country makes the best? And if you were really keen, which we certainly are, where would you go to get your hands on the best chocolate in the world? Well, for all the chocoholics out there, here are six of the best places in the world to visit.
Cologne is the chocolate capital of Germany, a country that consumes the second largest amount of chocolate per capita in the world – we’ll see who tops the list later!
The city, which is the fourth largest in Germany and sits a mere 80km from Belgium (no wonder the chocolate’s so good), claims its title thanks in part to the Stollwerck Chocolate Company which at one time was the second largest supplier of chocolate to the USA.
While chocolate production has ceased at the Cologne factory, the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum, known locally as simply ‘The Chocolate Museum’ celebrates the history of chocolate around the world with interactive exhibits, beautiful samples and an enormous chocolate fountain.
Thanks to sickly-sweet streets such as Chocolate Avenue which features street lights shaped like famous Hershey’s kisses, the town of Hershey is known as the ‘sweetest place on earth’ and also ‘Chocolatetown USA’.
Originally called Derry Church, Hershey was renamed in 1906 as it is home to both the world-famous Hershey Company and the H. B. Reese Candy Company. The self-appointed American chocolate centre features some brilliant chocolatey attractions including a theme park, museum and a spa.
Mexico’s ancient Mesoamericans are believed by many to be the world’s first chocolatiers, drinking heavily spiced bitter chocolate as a symbol of social status and using cocoa beans as currency until the Spaniards arrived. The region has held on to its chocolatey heritage and continues to produce and consume cocoa in vast amounts – it’s estimated that locals eat almost two kilograms of chocolate a year each.
Today, cocoa, is integral to the local culture and its scent fills the air – you can’t walk down an Oaxacan street without chocolate being thrust at you in some form, often as a simple hot drink made with milk and sometimes as Tejate, a complex energy drink.
A lot of Oaxaca’s chocolate is made with traditional family recipes, ground and mixed by hand, and sold at local markets or in small stores.
Following the discovery of the New World, the Spanish became the first Europeans to experience chocolate in the 16th century. The Spanish added cane sugar, vanilla, aniseed, nutmeg, cloves, orange, rose water and cinnamon but kept the sumptuous delicacy a secret from the rest of Europe for almost a century.
Chocolate’s introduction to Europe began in Barcelona, when Christopher Columbus returned from his voyages in the early 16th century, presenting King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with never before seen goods from the New World – among them, cocoa beans.
The city boasts the first ever chocolate making machine which was built there in 1780. Barcelona celebrates its heritage with a brilliant museum dedicated to chocolate, the Museo de La Xocolata, which features everything from workshops to brandy tasting and pairing.
To talk about one city in Belgium when it comes to chocolate is difficult, the country boasts 12 major chocolate factories, 16 museums dedicated to cocoa and thousands of chocolatiers.
For many chocoholics however, Brussels, is the place to go. Godiva and Leonidas, two of the world’s biggest chocolate companies, call Brussels home and chocolate boutiques abound on, literally, every street.
While all kinds of chocolate treats can be found in Brussels, pralines are king. In fact, they were first created there by Jean Neuhaus in 1912. If you visit Brussels, make sure you go to the Musee du Cocao et du Chocolate where you can learn how chocolate is made.
Switzerland is home to an ever-growing list of superb chocolate producers which notably includes household names such as Toblerone, Suchard and Lindt, as well as endless numbers of artisan and luxury chocolatiers. It’s no wonder then that the Swiss top the list of worldwide chocolate consumers with over 10 kilograms each per year.
Zurich is the heart of chocolate production in the country – its story began in 1845 when Rudolf Sprüngli opened the region’s first chocolate factory. After acquiring Rodolphe Lindt’s factory in 1899, the world-famous brand was born. A tour of the factory is a good place to start but the city offers an incredible range of velvety chocolate made with peerless finesse – it’s really a case of tasting it to believe it.