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Most people like chocolate — and most kids love it — but what many people don’t know is that the city of York in northeast England plays a very important role in the history of chocolate.
A visit to the destination will uncover surprising secrets and fascinating information about York’s greatest chocolate products, such as the chocolate orange and the Kit Kat, says Paul Whiting, head of Visit York. (Fun fact: 6 million Kit Kats are produced in York every day.)
“Chocolate lovers of all ages can discover the origin of chocolate, how to make it and how to taste it like an expert, and even make a chocolate treat to take home,” he said.
I found that one of the best ways to do so is through a tour with York’s Chocolate Story.
Opened in 2012, the attraction features fun and educational 90-minute guided tours that take visitors through the 3,000-year history of chocolate — from its origins in Mexico to the establishment of the chocolate industry in the 1800s in York, where it still thrives today.
"York's Chocolate Story is a wonderful family experience covering the city's unique sweet history,” said Ben Rosenfield, public relations executive for York's Chocolate Story. “Discover the stories behind iconic favorite confectionery brands and the people who made them.”
Our tour began with the origin story of York’s chocolate industry. The founding families of the industry — the Terrys, Rowntrees, Tukes and Cravens — were determined to build their fortunes on chocolate, and they subsequently developed many of the candies that were precursors to modern favorites.
“That is the beginning of our story here in York, but it’s not really the true origin of chocolate,” said Pedro, our tour guide. “For that, we have to go much farther back in time — roughly 3,000 years ago and 5,000 miles away — to Meso America, nowadays known as Mexico.”
With that, the next stop on our journey was into a theater, where we watched a film about how ancient Aztecs planted, cultivated and consumed chocolate in the form of a cold, unsweetened drink. Pedro warned us that we might need the courage of the Aztecs to taste a sample of the beverage, which I found chocolatey, though somewhat watery. We then proceeded into the next room for a multimedia “conversation” with members of York’s founding chocolate industry families.
“The founding families started something very special here in York that is still loved by millions of people around the world,” Pedro said.
We were then given the opportunity to taste candies developed by these families many years ago; mine was a delicious orange-infused milk chocolate (sadly, I only got one sample).
Next came the interactive portion of the tour. We began at the virtual chocolate factory, where Pedro took us through the steps needed to take chocolate “from bean to bar” using an interactive table that required us to “grind” cocoa nibs and “mix” in milk and sugar. At the end of the process, we had made perfect — though virtual — chocolate bars. Luckily, were also able to taste the fruits of our labor in the form of actual chocolate squares.
Finally, it was our chance to make our own chocolate treat to take home: a white chocolate “lolly” decorated with toppings that included chocolate sprinkles, strawberry pearls and caramel wafer flakes (like the inside of a Kit Kat). While we waited for our lollies to set, a professional chocolatier provided a demonstration, expertly coating candy molds with milk chocolate and filling them with vanilla cream — which, of course, we got to taste. “York’s Chocolate Story was a highlight of my recent trip to England,” said Marilyn Lewis of Aweigh-To-Go Travel, Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif.
Laci Lard of Flathead Travel Service, Inc. in Kalispell, Mont., agrees.
“The family-friendly tour was entertaining and fun,” she said. “Every part was engaging and very hands-on. My favorite part was tasting our creation at the end.”
The DetailsYork’s Chocolate Storywww.yorkschocolatestory.com