From exploring old-school chocolate-making techniques to getting a cacao-infused spa treatment, here’s how to go beyond the bar.
Some may say love is the sweetest gift, but we all know the truth: Nothing beats the creamy, sugary—and, occasionally, healthy!—goodness of chocolate. But this Valentine’s Day, skip the heart-shaped box and, instead, find yourself a cocoa adventure that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Here are seven unique chocolate experiences, from a factory tour in a Japanese airport to a stay in a St. Lucia hotel where you can make your own bars and then try not to lick off your cacao-spiked spa treatment.
Royce’ Chocolate Museum and Factory
Cult Japanese chocolatier Royce’ creates some of the most complex tastes in the world. Lucky for sweets-lovers, it also has a playful side. In the New Chitose Airport in its home base of Hokkaido, Japan, it has set up the Royce Chocolate World Museum and Factory. Visitors can learn about the history of chocolate, watch staff members make chocolate behind large glass panes, take a souvenir photograph with a giant chocolate teddy bear, indulge in freshly baked products in the bakery, and buy over 200 sweet treats, including Royce’s popular chocolate-covered potato chips. A layover never tasted so good.
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn manufacturing hub Industry City houses no less than four chocolate companies. A visit to one of them, Li-Lac, can score you a glimpse of Old World chocolate-making techniques, with some of its equipment dating back to the 1920s. A private tour will really drive home the small-batch chocolate experience, from the mixing in copper kettles through to the hand cutting on marble tabletops. Tour participants will also make their own chocolate creations and go home with a fresh box of gourmet confection.
Omnom Chocolate Reykjavík
Besides being fun to say, Reykjavík’s Omnom Chocolate is an exercise in creative and culinary expertise. Iceland’s first bean-to-bar company (and definitely the only one located in an abandoned gas station) was cofounded by a chef-turned-chocolatier and thus churns out small batches of flavors like licorice and sea salt with organic beans sourced from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Belize, and the Dominican Republic. Tours are offered weekdays and take you through the whole process from pod to chocolate bar, ending with a tasting—and, if you’re lucky, a sneak peek of what’s happening in the test lab.
Boucan by Hotel Chocolat
Rabot Estate, St. Lucia
Set in a 250-year-old cocoa plantation on St. Lucia—an island that dedicates a whole month to celebrate its centuries-old legacy of chocolate production—the Boucan by Hotel Chocolat property is truly a chocolate lover’s dream. A stay at the hotel could involve sipping a cocoa-infused cocktail while watching the sun set behind the famous craggy Pitons, having a cacao-laced facial with ingredients harvested on property, getting hands-on and grafting your own cocoa plant in the informative Tree to Bean experience, or creating your own chocolate bar in the Bean to Bar tour. You don’t have to stay in the hotel to book a tour, but if you do you’ll also be able to take a dip in the infinity pool, designed to appear like liquid fudge.
Founded by Belgians who settled in the South of France via the Congo, Puyricard may have the most interesting origin story of the bunch. After building a business that supplied expatriates and diplomats with chocolate in Africa, mining engineer Jean-Guy Roelandts and his wife, Marie-Ann, took their chocolate-making business to an area not necessarily known for chocolate: Aix-en-Provence. They bought a house in the village of Puyricard and made their chocolates in the kitchen. Today the business is still in family hands, but it has expanded exponentially, with a network of stores selling some 100 different types of handcrafted chocolates, eschewing modern methods. A tour takes you to the production facilities, where they make their filled candies and classic Aix specialty, the calisson.
Switzerland and chocolate go hand in hand, and if you’re an aficionado of the cocoa-based sweetness, you’ll know to visit the high-end boutiques of the family-run Läderach, with their handmade specialties. At their Chocolate Experience center approximately 45 minutes outside of Zurich, you’ll get an immersive chocolate-making tutorial from start to finish, beginning with seeing hanging cocoa pods in the “rain forest” and culminating with flowing fountains of the good stuff for you to sample with a special ceramic spoon. Tours are either autonomous or with a guide. For behind-the-scenes industrial action, you can also visit the factory in Ennenda. Registration for that one is required beforehand.
San Francisco, California
Pronounced “cho,” as in the first syllable in “chocolate,” the San Francisco Bay Area confectioner is innovative in more than just its flavors, which include mint chip gelato and toffee and sea salt. With owners who have worked on space shuttles for NASA, at Wired magazine and, as luck would have it, in the chocolate industry, they apply a scientific approach to chocolate-making. They’ve begun partnerships that help them to source beans directly from the origin, setting up labs in cacao-growing communities everywhere from Peru to Ghana. A behind-the-scenes tour takes you through the bean-to-bar process, from working with farmers to tasting a flight of single-origin chocolates. See if you can taste the differences, then purchase some to take home.