by Wendy H. King

Look out, Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium! Britain has moved in on your chocolate turf.

Who knew? The land that gave us black pudding, haggis, and eel pie also produces—and consumes—internationally award-wining chocolate. Today, the average Brit eats ten kilograms (twenty-two pounds!) of chocolate a year, making Britain Europe’s number-one chocolate consumer.

Britain’s love affair with chocolate can be traced back to the mid-seventeenth century, when cocoa beans from the New World first arrived on England’s shores. In the early days, apothecaries sold chocolate as medicine; later, the Victorians found a way convert the liquid treasure into solid chocolate, paving the way for entrepreneurs to mass market the cherished bean.

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical stimulant that quickens the human pulse and improves mood. So if Britain’s notoriously gloomy weather gets you down, head to the nearest chocolate shop—for no matter what part of the kingdom you find yourself in, rest assured you will never be deprived of your chocolate fix.

Cadbury World (Birmingham)

Britain’s favorite chocolate label opened its first cocoa shop in 1824. Founder John Cadbury created his first chocolate drink from a recipe brought from Jamaica by physician and English scientist Sir Hans Sloane. Today, Cadbury is one of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers. Visitors can learn about Cadbury’s history, the chocolate making process, and the history of chocolate at the family-run Cadbury World. Cadbury World also offers a variety of hands-on activities, such caramel dipping, chocolate writing, and chocolate sampling. Book your tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines.

Charbonnel et Walker (London)

Charbonnel et Walker was established in 1875 when Madame Charbonnel of the Parisian chocolatier Maison Boissier teamed up with Mrs. Walker. Today, Charbonnel et Walker is the official chocolate manufacturer of Britain’s royal family.

Some of Charbonel et Walker’s specialties are violet and rose chocolate creams (made with the flowers’ essential oils), port and cranberry truffles, cappuccino truffles, and truffle sauce.

Rococo Chocolate (various locations)

Those who’ve longed to sample exotic chocolates (like those featured in the film Chocolat) can fulfill that dream at Rococo Chocolate in London.

Opened in 1983 by Chantal Coady, Rococo’s pledges to “give you a chocolate experience that is positively healthy, fun and guilt free,” giving you the green light to go wild in this shop! Indulge in saffron and ginger fudge, passion fruit milk chocolate truffles, and saffron and cardamom white chocolate truffles. Stock up on Rococo’s organic chocolate bars flavored with lavender, basil and lime, rose milk, or chili. Rococo’s café serves an assortment of chocolate drinks such as black pepper chocolate.

Welsh Chocolate Farm (Wales)

Inspired by his grandmother Alice Pemberton’s Victorian chocolate recipes, Welshman Alan Jones (along with his wife Elizabeth) started the Welsh Chocolate Farm, which produces Pemberton’s Victorian Chocolates. Visitors to the farm (open April through October) can experience the art of chocolate confecting, attend a chocolate workshop, and watch a film on the history of chocolate.

Relax in the Welsh Chocolate Farm’s Cocoa Bean Café, which serves drinks, cakes, and savory dishes. Sample the Merlyn Welsh cream liqueur truffle, winner of the Gold Award in the 2002 International “Great Taste” Award. Other prizewinners to try include rum and coconut white truffle, lemon and coconut fudge, and dark chocolate truffle with Southern Comfort and tangerine.

Arran Chocolate Factory and Shop (Scotland)

Scotsman and professional photographer James McChlery produces James’ Chocolates at this Isle of Arran confectionary. Go for the champagne and ginger flavored chocolates and the white milk chocolate with lemon zest filling.

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (Buckinghamshire)

Chocolate has not only fueled bodies but has inspired art: a case in point is Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fans of the book—and subsequent movies—can visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, which opened in June 2005. The museum displays the writer’s manuscripts, letters, and whimsical personal items. (When you enter the museum, you may be tempted to break off a piece of the doors, as they look—and smell—like chocolate!)

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Staying Stateside?

Visit the California Academy of Sciences Natural History Museum’s temporary Chocolate: The Exhibition in San Francisco

June 11–September 5, 2005

875 Howard Street, San Francisco