In Scotland, we love our chocolate.
Whether it’s a Mars bar, a Dairy Milk, a Kit Kat, or even a locally made bar by a smaller artisan producer, we adore it. I can only think of one chocolate product that I haven’t liked – chocolate crisps, released by Tudor back in 1992 (it was a trial – and it didn’t catch on).
To celebrate this affection for confection, Jenny McLay, an Edinburgh-born entrepreneur and chocolate aficionado, has opened The Chocolatarium in the Capital’s Old Town.
Scottish Field were invited along to the only visitor experience of its kind in Scotland, which is completely dedicated to telling the story of chocolate.
Located just off the Royal Mile on Cranston Street, The Chocolatarium comprises a ‘Tour of Chocolate’ which takes visitors on a fascinating journey; covering the history of chocolate, how it’s made, and, of course, a tasting session.
Jenny said: ‘I first saw cacao trees while living in Ecuador over a decade ago and I’ve been fascinated by the story of chocolate ever since. I wanted to bring the best of all the chocolate museums and tours in Europe and South America to Edinburgh, so locals as well as tourists can experience the magic of chocolate-making for themselves here in Scotland.
‘We want visitors to get a real sense of the whole chocolate experience, like seeing and touching a real cacao fruit, smelling the roasting beans, making their own personalised bar, and of course, tasting a wonderful range of exclusive, craft chocolates along the way.’
Our small group was welcomed to the Chocolatarium by Aneke, our tour guide. We took part in a quiz about world chocolate consumption, and, best of all, our visit started with a warm chocolate sample. We moved on and were given the chance to not only see a real dried cacao pod, but also a feel a fresh one, which had been cut open.
We learned in an informative but relaxed and fun way about the chocolate journey, from growing on farms, how farmers can make money from their cacao (and how they are exploited), and its journey across the seas, and into the chocolate bars we buy in shops.
Our group continued on its journey with the cocoa pods, as we saw them shelled, and how the outer shell can be used. We watched as the beans were crushed and made into a fine powder, and how cocoa butter is created. Aneke explained how the addition of milk powder is needed, rather than milk, to bring the cocoa to life. We were able to sample chocolate that had been tempered over two lengths of time, and the difference in texture between the two.
And then, at last, we were able to make our own chocolate bar. There were plenty of fillings to choose from, to put in our bar, and I chose to go with cranberries, cookie pieces and a dusting of cranberry – what’s not to like?
The greatest chocolate bar in the world was then taken away to cool, and we moved out of the chocolate lab, into a tasting room. Here, Aneke invited my colleague, Morag, to join her, to prepare the drink that the Aztec rulers once drank – chocolate, chilli, honey and vanilla, and mixed with water. It may have been primitive, but it still tasted good.
As we were sat, we had a wooden board beside us, containing four fragments of chocolate. Aneke invited us to savour each piece, by smelling it, breaking it beside our ears, then placing it on our tongue and letting it melt. We did this each time, with four different chocolates. We were then invited to sample four more chocolates from a fine selection in the room, from all over the world.
We had the chance to sample a whole array of craft chocolates, half of which originate from Scotland, through to Raise Trade chocolates from Columbia and Madagascar. There’s everything from camel milk chocolate, haggis, gin and tonic, super-strong chilli through to good old-fashioned favourites like milk, mint, and salted caramel chocolate There were plenty of vegan and milk-free options too.
Our tasting complete, we entered the retail area, where we were like children in an, erm, sweet shop. The fine selection from the tasting room were there in full for us to choose from. I picked up a haggis and dark chocolate option, and another more creamy white chocolate to take back to the Scottish Field team, with Morag opting for a salted bar.
Jenny added: ‘As a city, Edinburgh will now join the likes of Hamburg, Brussels and Barcelona which can boast having a visitor attraction dedicated purely to the world’s favourite treat – chocolate. And with us Scots being renowned for having a sweet tooth and the UK being the third biggest chocolate-consuming country in the world, we hope The Chocolatarium proves a very popular place.
‘Scotland has got a brilliant range of chocolate makers that many people won’t have heard about yet. Therefore, we also want to shine a light on the innovation coming out of the Scottish craft chocolate industry.’
We had a fantastic visit – we were smiling all the way round, and Aneke’s love of chocolate came shining through. It was a fascinating trip, educational, informative and fun – and it’s ideal for the whole family. I know my daughter would love it…
Tickets for the Tour of Chocolate are £16 for adults and £12 children (minimum age 8) and last one hour and 15 minutes.
The Chocolatarium can be found at 3-5 Cranston Street, EH8 8BE. Book online at www.chocolatarium.co.uk.