No foodie visit to Paris would be complete without a visit to Paris’ own chocolate museum. Privately initiated by the Van Belle family, the first Choco-Story museum opened appropriately in the chocolate-centric city of Bruges, Belgium in 2004, then in Prague in 2008, and finally in Paris in 2010.
In this delicious new museum, located on the boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle near the southern border of the 10th arrondissement, visitors discover the 4,000 year history of cacao. In typical French fashion, the visit is broken into three parts:
Part I: The Mayans and the Aztecs
As early as 250 BC, the Mayans cultivated cacao trees and made a bitter drink from them combining roasted ground cacao beans, water and spices. Later, from around 1150 AD, the Aztecs continued this tradition and call the drink “divine nectar,” as it was considered food of the gods and was only allowed to be consumed by elite members of society.
The museum displays many vessels fashioned from fruit shells that were made for drinking “Tchocoatl.” These containers had a straw-like spout meant not for drinking the liquid but for blowing bubbles in it to create froth which was very popular within these ancient civilizations.
During this period, cacao beans were also used as currency and held a significant value. For example, a rabbit might cost 10 beans, while a slave cost 100.
Part II: The Europeans
In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste the Aztec’s “Tchocoatl” in the New World, but he did not care for the taste and thus basically ignored it, to his misfortune.
It was the Spaniard Hernando Cortez, in 1527, who brought cacao to Europe. At first, the Spanish were not fans of this bitter drink, but after adding sugar, “chocolate” quickly became the preferred beverage of the Spanish royal court.
In the 17th century, chocolate spread to the royal courts of France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. The French courts found chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, and it was particularly favored by King Louis XIV and later by Marie Antoinette.
By the middle of the 17th century, tea and chocolate salons began to appear throughout Europe.
The museum has a magnificent collection of porcelain chocolate teacups and churning devices made from copper and silver used by the elite classes of Europe. There was even a type of cup made with an extra shelf of porcelain at the lip meant to protect gentlemen’s mustaches from dipping into the drink.
In the 18th century, chocolate became available in pharmacies to improve the taste of bitter medicine and to cure fatigue and constipation.
By the 19th century, the industrial revolution turned the artisanal creation of chocolate into large scale fabrication. Methods were perfected, and solid chocolate was born. At this point, chocolate became available in many forms: tablets, bars, figurines, milk, dark, etc.
The museum provides a colorful display of chocolate molds and advertisements from the first half of the 20th century.
Part III: Today
This section presents myths and facts about the nutritional value of chocolate, and breaks down the ingredients that go into the milk, dark and white varieties. One of the displays suggests that people “slim down” before enjoying chocolate!
The best part of this section is the demonstration, where a chocolatier shows visitors how to make praline-filled chocolates. For samples, we got to taste milk, dark and praline-filled chocolates.
At the end, I recommend ordering one of the six different types of hot chocolate on offer in the gift shop for three euros. The Aztec hot chocolate made with dark chocolate and chili pepper was pleasantly rich and spicy; the perfect ending to our chocolate adventure.
Choco-Story: le musée gourmand du chocolat
28 Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle
Metro : Bonne Nouvelle
© 2012 Pasa’s Paris