Got a sweet tooth? Check out seven hot choc spots to taste the world’s finest confectionary – and find out how cacao is grown, processed and transformed into the seductive delights we know and love
The Spanish discovered chocolate via the Aztecs, and before the Aztecs were the Olmecs, the first civilisation in what’s now Mexico, who used the bean to create a drink perhaps three or even four millennia ago. Today, there’s a revival in chocolate production in Mexico, with a number of plantation tours available around Tabasco. But to really get a feel for the Mexican passion for chocolate, head to Oaxaca – Calle Mina (known as ‘Chocolate Street’) alone has half a dozen shops, and the surrounding area is redolent with the aroma of cacao, with hot chocolate, bars and other delectable interpretations to be found everywhere, produced by big companies and small family artisan outlets. Start at Chocolate Mayordomo to see the magic in action.
After Europe developed its sweet tooth, cocoa production became a huge deal – and in Ghana, where the bean was introduced by Tetteh Quarshie in 1870, it’s now by far the biggest agricultural export, and the second-largest producer after the Cote d’Ivoire. Most beans are sold by smallhold farmers to conglomerates, and transported to Europe for chocolate production, but you can try some true locally made artisan confectionary in Ghana at 57 Chocolate, made by sisters Kimberley and Priscilla Addison.
This tiny volcanic island in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Central Africa, is reputedly one of the most biodiverse in the world. A former Portuguese colony, Príncipe – along with its sibling, São Tomé – was planted with cacao from 1819, soon becoming a leading global producer. At Roça Sundy production is being nurtured back into full life, and a full-day Cocoa Trail provides a run-through of the agriculture and production. Elsewhere, the historic Terreiro Velho plantation is producing beans used by Claudio Corallo to create reputedly the best chocolate in the world.
This beautiful South American land suffered for years from political instability – but today Colombia is a welcoming country with a burgeoning chocolate industry boosted by a United Nations project supporting life-transforming cacao farming. Head into the highlands near Medellin or Popayan to wander among cacao pods and meet the farmers, as well as (naturally) enjoying a tasting of the finest artisan chocolate.
Recognising the potential for growing terrific cacao, the Spanish introduced the bean to the Caribbean islands from the 16h century. Today, artisan producers are creating some wonderful chocolate – and there are plenty of opportunities for roaming plantations, viewing the production process and tasting the results. On Grenada, look out for products of the Grenada Chocolate Company, Crayfish Bay and Belmont Estate, and try to visit during the Chocolate Festival in early June. On St Lucia, Hotel Chocolat runs the 140-acre Rabot Estate, and you can stay among the beans here or in other spots such as the characterful historic Fond Doux Plantation and Resort. And on Trinidad, the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company is producing some exceptional confections.
The Maya people of Central America were sipping xocolatl, the ‘food of the gods’ (as its scientific genus name, Theobroma, translates) perhaps two millennia ago. Not that you’d recognise that dark drink of cacao, chilli and water - without sugar, it’s a bitter draught. But some of the best cacao beans are still grown in the Mayan heartlands of Belize, particularly around Toledo district near Punta Gorda, where it’s also possible to experience a homestay or watch cacao grinding and preparation in a traditional Mayan village. Visit a plantation to see the bulbous pods on the trees, or time your visit for the Chocolate Festival in May.
The ‘Switzerland of South America’ is so called not just for its spectacular mountain setting – it’s also famed as the best place in Argentina for chocolate. There are countless shops and cafés selling sweet treats, and you could spend days wandering between choco fixes. Don’t miss Mamuschka, a Willy-Wonka-worthy venue stocking pretty much every kind of chocolate you could imagine (and serving wonderfully dense hot chocolate); Rapanui for fine artisan chocolate; Del Turista, with half a century of history; Abuela Goye, for a ‘grandma-made’ style; and El Reino de los Chocolates, ‘The Kingdom of Chocolates’, for a vast array of confections.