That’s why we believe that Hotel Chocolat is the perfect fit for this year’s festival. Joining between the Shoreditch and Soho areas with its mouth-watering and educational School of Chocolate as well as in the House of Coffee & Co. with an intimate Cocoa Bar, Hotel Chocolat promises to open your eyes to the equally sublime and surprisingly similar world of cocoa.
We sat down with the brand’s CEO and co-founder Angus Thirwell, to find out more...
The first Hotel Chocolat opened its doors in North London in 2004. How did this come about?
I started making mints with my business partner Peter Harris back in 1987, but soon after developed the business into creating bespoke chocolate boxes. In 1993 we became one of the UK’s first e-tailers, selling our chocolates exclusively online. But, we wanted our chocolates to deliver amazing escapism, to take you to that special place in your mind. So we decided to build a physical place that you could run away to, to eat chocolate, interact with experts and hear fascinating stories.
Where did the name Hotel Chocolat come from?
Having spent some time living in France, I knew I wanted to have the word ‘chocolat’ in there. There’s something so luxurious and quite romantic about its pronouncation and it has an almost onomatopoeic quality. 'Hotel' came from being a place of refuge; a hotel’s a sanctuary, somewhere you can escape to. And so ‘Hotel Chocolat’ was born.
Your brand statement says you believe in being ‘fresh, creative and innovative, and always one surprising step ahead.’ We have to ask…are you often compared to Willy Wonka, and is it a comparison you feel comfortable with?
The comparison is made sometimes, and it’s not one I mind. Although I prefer being likened to a Mayan Warrior, munching on cocoa as they did 3,000 years ago. They were the first civilisation to discover cocoa’s energising qualities. They’d carry it around with them in little leather pouches!
Hotel Chocolat grows its own cocoa and creates its own recipes. Can you talk us through the process – does it involve tasting as much chocolate as we’d like to imagine?!
Each month, our six expert chocolatiers develop 12 new recipes that are then sent to members of our Tasting Club – a community of 100,000 people who are invited to taste and rate our chocolates. With an average of three new recipes being created each week, many get rejected. But that’s the point. By experimenting and editing out in this way, we ensure that only the very best recipes ever become part of our broader range. Seasonality is very important to us (we want to use ingredients when they’re at their best) but we’re also inspired by our customers, store managers…practically anything and anyone! We’re never short of ideas.
You have your own plantation in St.Lucia. Can you tell us more about it, including how you came to purchasing the land and its climate?
A lovely member of the Tasting Club sent me a 1920s book on cocoa plantations and chocolate, and it really inspired me; I grew up in the Caribbean, where there’s historically huge divides between the cocoa growing and consumer-facing side of selling chocolate. I decided that I wanted to bring those two worlds together again, and so set about finding a piece of land.
The plantation we found had been in the same family since the 1930s and has volcanic soil; I like to refer to it as the Garden of Eden because you can literally plant anything there and it will grow. Some of the cocoa there is almost 100 years old, and is rich in a particular gene type, Criollo. It’s notoriously the most difficult cocoa to grow, but gives the most delicate and complex flavours; the plant itself combined with the terroir result in St Lucian chocolate having the most unique flavour profile. We’ve started taking seedlings from the cocoa trees and incubating them in our on-sight research centre in a bid to preserve them for the future.
What similarities do you think there are between cocoa and coffee?
Perhaps the biggest similarity is that they’re both so pleasurable! Especially combined — in our cafes we offer flat whites married with caramelised milk chocolate and it’s just heavenly.
But the partnership begins much earlier than that. We grow coffee trees at our plantation to shade the cocoa plants, and even grind coffee beans with the cocoa beans. They undergo the exact same making process.
As I touched on earlier, another surprising similarity is their energising qualities. Samuel Pepys’ famous diary tells us that he would drink hot chocolate to rid himself of his hangover. Like coffee, cocoa probably shouldn’t be consumed after 4pm…I’m not sure where the ‘bright’ idea came from of cuddling up in bed with a cup of hot cocoa! Hot chocolate is definitely more suited to the morning.
On that note, how do you start your day? With a coffee or cup of hot chocolate?
I try and balance my day. I think you’ll be quite impressed…this morning I roasted some green coffee beans on a tray in my AGA then ground them up using a grinder. So I did get my caffeine fix. But I got my cocoa fix too — eggs with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. The absolute breakfast of champions. You just can’t beat it.
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