The word connoisseur is thrown around too easily these days. Knowing how to sniff brandy, aerate your red wine, or distinguish between East and West Coast oysters is simply a matter of taste. Likewise, knowing the joys of nibbling on small squares of 70% dark chocolate with a hint of sea salt does not an expert make. It makes a true appreciator of the finer things in life; it makes a savvy tastemaker. If you’re vying to upgrade from bystander to real connoisseur (from social chocolate-lover to official taste-tester), it’s time to go behind the scenes.
Everyone knows by now that Switzerland and Belgium hold proverbial gold medals in chocolate making. And any chocolate-eater worth their weight in… well, chocolate, has likely graduated from the days of Hershey’s and Cadbury to a smaller-batch, fair trade, organic chocolatier by now. But how many serious choco-lovers have ventured to factories across the globe for tours, lessons in cacao history, and all-important taste-tests?
Well, the good news is that not all the worthwhile tours are in Europe — there are U.S. based factories, too, that churn out rich, bitter, fantasy-inducing chocolates and they give just as fascinating tours. Theo’s Chocolates in Seattle and Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, for example, are leaders of organic, mouth-watering chocolate producing in the U.S. and they open their doors to curious (read: desperate) visitors on a regular basis.
As is only right, some of the most luxuriating, traditional chocolatiers in Switzerland and Belgium have hour-long factory tours, delving into the history of chocolate and into the processes of making truffles, chocolate bars, and special treats. Confiserie Sprüngli in Zürich and Maison Callier in Broc-Gruyère are among the most sumptuous tours you can take.
With factories that welcome guests from San Francisco to Australia, there are ample opportunities to distinguish yourself as a true connoisseur. Just try not to look pityingly on at passersby who are still unwrapping Twix bars and Kit Kats. They know not what they do.