The world has been enamored by chocolate since around 1100 BC, when it was first cultivated by the Mesoamericans. Here are seven destinations where you have to sample the chocolate – it may just be your favorite activity while there!
It is no secret that Brussels is one of the sweetest chocolate cities in the world; in fact, Brussels is said to have more high-end chocolate shops per capita than any other city! So how exactly did Belgium become so famous for its chocolate? Well, the Belgians can thank the Spanish for introducing them to the cacao bean in the 17th century (the latter having discovered the beans during their invasion of South America). Chocolate production in Belgium started shortly thereafter and has been booming ever since. Belgians even invented the praline in 1912, securing themselves a top spot on any modern chocolate list. Truffles and pralines are among the most popular choices for chocolates in Belgium, but don’t forget to try some on your waffles too!
If you like milk chocolate, then you’ll love its birthplace, Zurich. The average Swiss person is known to eat 22 pounds of chocolate per year, and for good reason; the milk chocolate in Switzerland is amazing! The mayor of Zurich, Heinrich Escher, returned from Brussels with news of chocolate in 1697, and the Swiss have been living happily ever after in chocolate heaven since then. One of the most famous chocolate shops in Zurich is Lindt & Springli, which offers a museum that chronicles the company’s history, a tour, and lots of free chocolate tasting. Zurich is also home to many artisanal and specialty chocolate shops, many of which offer demonstrations and (free!) samples.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to taste chocolate, and the indulgent treat has long had a home in Barcelona. Barcelonans take pride in the fact that the first chocolate-making machine in the world was built in the city in 1780. Today, the streets are filled with artisanal chocolate shops and the city is home to Museu De La Xocolata, a chocolate museum where there are tons of activities including chocolate tastings and chocolate painting for children, in addition to a slew of historical information about the origins of chocolate and its evolution from a savory drink to a sweet dessert. Oh, and don’t worry, there are plenty of chocolate sculptures too.
Chocolate is deeply rooted in Mexico’s history; the ancient Mesoamerican civilization cultivated it as far back as 1100 BC. The sweet treat is still a huge part of the culture in Oaxaca, where visitors and locals often drink the treat in the form of hot chocolate. Before melting them down to form the thick dessert drink, locals grind cacao beans and combine them with sugar, almonds, cinnamon, and other ingredients to form bars. Visitors can also buy handmade chocolate at any of Oaxaca’s markets as well as mole, a chocolate sauce made by mixing chocolate and different spices. Whatever form you choose to take your chocolate in in Oaxaca, there will be no shortage of it.
Paris is arguably the culinary capital of the world, so it’s no surprise that the French do chocolate well. We all know and love the pain au chocolat, but the Parisian love affair with chocolate goes a lot deeper than that one delicious pastry. Paris is packed with beautiful chocolate shops that could rival any city’s, and the City of Light has also taken a particular liking to hot chocolate (the version here being especially thick). The chocolate culture in Paris may be less well known than its Swiss and Belgian counterparts, but their confections are no less delicious and Parisian chocolatiers take their work very seriously. The search for amazing chocolate in Paris’ charming little alleyways is a sweet one.
London has long been learning a thing or two about how to make chocolate from the French, and these days the chocolate game in London is equally as strong. Not only are there tons of fabulous and upscale chocolate boutiques in the city, but also they are increasingly forgoing preservatives and chemicals to serve up only the finest local ingredients in their confections. On top of that, London hosts one of the world’s best chocolate festivals every year, The Chocolate Festival: UK, which brings together thousands of chocolate lovers from all over the world. At the festival, next being held in December 2015, you can find amazing hot chocolate, learn about ethical sourcing of cocoa, try cocoa butter beauty treatments, and, of course, taste test all the chocolate you could ever want.
San Francisco, California
Ghirardelli chocolate has become a San Francisco staple, and is the oldest continually operating chocolate maker in the United States. Founder Domingo Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco during the gold rush more than 160 years ago, and built his chocolate factory shortly after. Today, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company hosts an annual two-day chocolate festival with over 50 vendors, culinary demos, and a popular chocolate & wine pavilion. Ghirardelli may be the most famous of San Franciscan chocolate makers, but the city is also teeming with artisanal chocolate shops serving up decadent and innovative confections, and this combination of both large and small chocolate makers has secured San Francisco a place on the chocolate map.