When visiting a new city, choosing from a variety of tours and day trips can give anyone a headache. Chicago made it easy for me with a walking chocolate tour! YES…CHOCOLATE!!
It never occurred to me Chicago would have chocolates until it was offered through the Women in Travel Summit I was attending there. Afterall who would not want to eat chocolate and walk it off whilst getting a peekaboo into downtown Chicago and the local chocolate scene? Brilliant idea right? I signed up immediately to take one by Chicago Chocolate Tours, which was started by Valerie Beck in 2005.
When one thinks of chocolate one automatically thinks of French, Belgian or Swiss and popular commercial brands like Cadbury, Lindt, Hersheys, Nestle etc. But in reality almost every corner of the world there is some chocolatier making some creation for their local neighbourhood or family. As tourists only a minority seek them out. I for one make it the one gift I take home for my family; they’ve eaten a lot from around the world…good, not so good and downright cheap tasting ones too!
Our tour was a three hour walk around the Downtown Loop with a rather perky guide Brianne. She must of been on a chocolate high before even meeting us with the energy she kept up throughout the tour!
When Brianne started explaining the cocoa pod and showing photos of what a cocoa tree looks like, I was tempted to wave my hand like a little kid in class wanting to explain the taste and texture of the real fruit. I reminisced about picking the fresh fruit off the trees in my backyard and sucking the seeds; definitely one of the advantages of growing up on an island likeTrinidad.
Our tour started in the food section of Marshall Field Macy’s visiting Frango. Now I am not a huge mint chocolate fan and honestly the only kind I think of is After Eight Thins left on numerous turndown service on my numerous hotel stays. But here in Chicago Frango is an institution; tasting this mint chocolate made me think twice about becoming a fan. Frango Cafe’s sampling of hot mint chocolate and mint chocolate ice cream left me wanting more.
It was whilst looking on into the Frango Viewing Kitchen, that we learnt a tidbit I will never forget. Their chocolate was never made with salt. When packaging of the chocolates went from manual to automated, people complained it was missing something. Turns out the sweat and hands used in manual labour added a little “saltiness” to the chocolates back then so salt was added to create the original taste. I know, one would automatically think “yuck” but think about it, chocolate does taste delish now!
Moonstruck Chocolate Company, also in Macy’s food court, pride themselves not just in exquisite taste but also an exceptional look that would indulge all the senses. Well it definitely did achieve that! Each piece is carefully handcrafted using only the finest ingredients. Yes, this is the type of chocolates to savour slowly!
Going to any French inspired café is like a walk down memory lane for me, reminding me of my days living in Paris. A visit to Toni’s Patisserie & Café quickly put it to the top of my list!
Her husband Paul proudly briefed us on Toni’s ambitious history and her hard work in developing decadent pastries inspired by the traditional classics. Her amazingly rich “melt in your mouth” fudge brownie was an instant hit. Who knew the chocolate brownie was invented right here in Chicago in 1893?
With a gorgeous view of the Trump Towers, we made our way into Fanny May’s where we were in chocolate truffle heaven.
Fanny Mae’s best seller remains the Pixie (hand poured caramel over nuts that are then placed on a conveyor belt to be drenched in chocolate). There was even one called the Trinidad I just had to try!
More walking on this sunny yet cold day, Brianne led us into another landmark building on North Franklin, formerly the DeMets Candy Factory but now filled with offices. Yes we were all wondering where the heck were we going but the smell of sweet caramel and melted chocolate quickly lured us down to the basement where we discovered Whimsical Candy.
I felt like a little kid walking into a candy store, this has to be what Charlie in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory felt! Turns out this was the exact feeling the Owner/Chef Chris was aiming to achieve from her customers.
All of her candy are not just balanced flavours and satisfying textures, they are just cute! This kitchen and store is where she created her famous La-Dee-Dah candy, a swirl of nougat, caramel and chocolate. Whimsical Candy is the only functioning factory in downtown, all of the candy here are handmade daily with all natural ingredients.
We ended our tour at Argo Tea. It was a surprise to learn that the three Owners of this successful franchise left the corporate world to set up the Starbucks of tea. I had my first ever chocolate chai latte here and it was downright deliciousness in a cup (and might I add 100% better than that crap Starbucks pass off as a Chai latte!). Bonus was the warm gooey chocolate chip cookie to accompany it.
After doing many chocolate tastings throughout Europe and developing a more refined palate for chocolate, I can quickly understand why Valerie’s tours are becoming more popular. Chicago has some really fine chocolates worth discovering and this was just the tip of the iceberg of what’s on offer there!
For anyone visiting Chicago, this is definitely a winner of a tour around historic Chicago. Their tours are now in Philadelphia and Boston, and I can’t wait to try them there!