For some people (like yours truly), finding amazing chocolate in surprising places is reason enough to travel. But traveling for chocolate is not just going to a different country to buy a Cadbury cream egg. In fact, despite the name, chocolate travel doesn’t always involve going to another country at all, but simply having a new experience in the realm of chocolate. Wherever you’re heading, you can discover locally produced chocolates that will forever change your ideas about this “food of the Gods.” From farms & chocolate factories to my table & yours, modern chocolate travel is about upping your cocoa game.
After five years of chocolate tasting, researching, and travel, I have learned a hard lesson— chocolate is not about the sugar. I learned as a kid that chocolate is an unhealthy dessert food, meant to be indulged in and regretted immediately afterwards. But I have found that the best chocolates are not about sugar cravings at all, but about the cacao and the unique stories behind each origin. So while it could definitely fill you with confections, sampling sweets is not the main reason to travel for chocolate. Here are four cases for why you should indulge in chocolate travel on your next trip. But remember, the best bonbons have a very short shelf life. So let’s unpack this sweet box of reasons now, shall we?
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Explore a New Area
Sometimes travel means doing something as seemingly innocuous as visiting a new neighborhood in your city. But for others, the pull to visit a new country is undeniable. I encourage everyone to take their love of food and chocolate abroad, if possible. But if that’s not an option for you at the moment, then stay in town but get out of your comfort zone. Break your routine and listen to stories about places previously unknown. Your first foray into chocolate tourism can be a simple weekend road trip around your region. Changing what you travel for can shift your perspective of the place you go, no matter how familiar it seems.
Most places you travel to will probably have a local chocolatier in the capital or the biggest city (Yes, even Iceland, the UAE, and Cambodia have local chocolatiers). Some may even have several, with a thriving chocolate subculture, so make it a point to stop in at one of them and make a purchase, have a conversation, learn something new. Ask for tips on what else to see in the city. Local chocolate people are not just passionate about their exceptional chocolate, but also the sites that make their own locale unique.
New Chocolate Experiences
Starting with the unassuming cocoa bean, small-batch chocolate makers craft individual expressions of cacao’s terroir, a French term roughly translated as “the flavor of a place.” A curated tasting of these creations is a delicious introduction to the terrior of your destination. It could easily fit in before or after a trip to the chocolate spa, hiking a cacao plantation, or a lesson in chocolate making. Cocoa-themed travel can be indulgent or educational, though tasting chocolate doesn’t have to be the focus for your trip to be drool worthy. Traveling to your food & its place of origin brings its own experiences. With chocolate in particular, the small businesses you will encounter embrace a multidimensional approach to production. They focus on educating consumers on ingredient origin and ethical sourcing through a global lens, with a healthy dose of edible examples.
Support a Positive Impact
With only one main ingredient to trace, chocolate is a uniquely transparent medium for connecting us to the people and places growing our food. Not only does cacao promote eco-friendly transparent agriculture, but many farmers now take charge as entrepreneurs, integrating farming, chocolate making, and non-profit work into single sustainable operations. Still others are forming or joining cocoa cooperatives, inspired to make products beyond chocolate, such as eco-friendly liquors, soaps, lotions, drink mixes, cosmetics, and food flavorings.
Through conscious consumption, chocolate is being used as positive reinforcement for the growth of global eco-tourism and food tourism. When you visit a place of chocolate, you are not only contributing to chocolate makers’ sustainable incomes, but also to those of cacao farmers, hotel employees, flight attendants, transportation companies, and tour guides. If chosen carefully, chocolate is eco-tourism. With millions of people born into, living on, and dying for farms scattered around the world, a once-impossible connection can now be crafted through chocolate.
Savor New Cultures
Even though “chocolate” is beloved worldwide, just as some people prefer a hug over a handshake, this love is expressed in a different way in every locale. Anywhere you go, the chocolates are edible reflections of the physical and cultural characteristics of that place. The physio-cultural terroir, if you will. With a short enjoyment period— just 2-7 days— fresh chocolate creations are at peak quality when consumed at-origin. On the other hand, bars of chocolate are actually often aged, but will melt on the trip home. And with chocolate destinations spanning from the USA and Europe to Asia and Africa, the world is making its own accessible assortment of confections; your only job is to pick a flavor.
Learn to appreciate a fresh, different culture by tasting the terroir of the land that raised both the crops and the people who cultivated them. Think fresh dulce de leche chocolate cake in an Argininean bistro or melty Kampot pepper truffles after a long day at Angkor Wat. Those familiar flavors of someone else’s home will pack the biggest punch when placed in their own historical and social contexts. These flavors reflect what foodstuffs people have traditionally valued. Chocolate comes from the Americas, but each culture creates their own interpretation of it, just waiting for you to snatch it up and savor the experience.
Adding Chocolate to Your Next Excursion
You can carry out these fair & delicious aims of chocolate tourism in most any corner of the globe. If you have the means to travel, even as far as another city, then you are in the privileged minority and I highly encourage you to take advantage. For example, say that you’ve decided to go on a chocolate-themed vacation to celebrate your birthday, but are unsure where to go. Maybe your other interests include wine, nature, and immersion in a very different culture.
For you, I would recommend Cape Town, South Africa. The city has a couple of chocolate makers, a few bonbon shops, and lots of beautiful vistas and safari options outside the city. With eleven official languages and stunning coastal drives through wine country, this is a food lover’s paradise. Another option is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. With all of the French influence in the city and untouched nature surrounding it, you could go chocolate–hopping and wine-sploring in the evening, and awake the next morning on time to tour a cacao plantation.
Other hot spots for cacao and culture are all over Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. Basically anywhere that a lot of people have gathered, at least one has fallen madly in love with chocolate and opened a shop. When visiting England, explore London and then beyond, into small cities and towns. The same goes for Paris and Barcelona. Whether you are brought there by chocolate, or see it as an interesting and delicious side to your main trip, chocolate subculture is something you’ll want a piece of.
So surf the internet, hop on a plane, or just walk down the street. Taste new flavors and see new sights through the eyes of chocolate makers and cacao farmers, and people like me, who’ve made it our mission to spread the word of cacao gospel as far as it can reach. No matter how or where you’re traveling, it will be all the more sweet when you add chocolate to the mix.
Shout out to my parents for supporting my cacao obsession even after they saw the credits card bills of my teenage years. What do you put first when you’re traveling?Thanks for reading!