17
Oct
12

Sweeeet…

(I preface this blog with the admission that this is an article I submitted for my uni assignment – we had to write a travel story and while I was not going to be going anywhere exotic, I figured that if I had to venture out of my hobbit hole (yes, again – it does happen on rare occasions) I might as well make it worth my while and add in an element that would be to my liking – chocolate. Justifying chocolate eating by linking it to a uni assignment – moment of smartness! And also, considering this is a story never going to be published I might as well publish it myself. Ehh why not! ha)

Sweeeet… 

It’s time we discussed the c-word. “Hi, my name’s Kristen…” she starts, surveying the ten of us forming the semi-circle before her “…and I’m a chocoholic.”

According to a recent survey of 2000 people conducted by chocolatier Max Brenner, Kristen is in good company – Victoria harbours the most chocoholics in the nation, with many freely admitting they keep an emergency stash hidden from potential thieving partners, children or housemates. Chocolate certainly appears recession-proof – a sweet treat to lift one’s mood when everything else feels like shit. But with the downfall of iconic Australian retailer Darrel Lea, are other chocolatiers merely doomed deer in headlights?

I’ve decided to embark on a journey. “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” I sing off-key to my mother a la Willy Wonka, though I know she won’t need much convincing to join me on the ‘Chocolate and Historical Treats Walk’. The downcast skies over Melbourne are failing to put a damper on my disposition as we arrive breathlessly, fresh off the (late) tram in Melbourne’s Block Arcade, the tiled floor scuffed by the many feet that have passed through.

Positioned under the airy domed roof outside our first stop, Haigh’s, the ten of us audibly twitter amongst ourselves – another older mother-daughter combination from Adelaide, two bottle-blonde Tasmanian friends, a petite woman visiting from Thailand already laden with shopping bags, and a trio of fellow Melbournians including the sole male participant – awaiting the start of our chocolate adventure.

Kristen is our tour guide. Toting an ‘I’m a chocoholic badge’, she grins at us; blue eyes not betraying her excitement.

After dispensing stickers declaring we too are chocoholics, she must be familiar with the hungry stares and announces she’s going to get the first tasting plate. Clutching a tray laden with chocolate she reappears, the eyes following her like a cat stalking a mouse. “So what I would say is start off with the white and then work your way up to the dark,” Kristen expertly advises, likening chocolate tasting to wine tasting.

I’m given a roughly-broken white slab, punctuated by dried strawberry chunks and, after taking the first bite, have forgotten everything Kristen has said about complexities and what was it? Wine? The strawberry hit explodes over my tongue. Delicious. Salivating, I can only faintly hear my mother in the background. And this is only the first piece. More to come. Significant yay.

I surreptitiously look around to see if anyone is watching (despite the fact they too are engrossed in their chocolate) and drop my remaining chocolate into the strategically placed plastic container I’ve concealed in my handbag for later. My mother enjoys a champagne truffle, coated delicately in icing sugar, followed by milk and dark chocolate buttons and our last Haigh’s treat – jade-green peppermint chunks in an intensely dark chocolate wedge.

“I love their dark chocolate the best, which is good because I know that dark is better for me,” Kristen enthuses, justifying her addiction. “But Haigh’s has got a beautiful lemon myrtle truffle here enrobed in white chocolate and that’s just divine.”

Throughout our sampling we are told the history of Haigh’s – born in Adelaide in 1915, uniquely making them a fourth-generation family-owned chocolate manufacturer and retailer. I listen, but I’m sure most people remain occupied with the tray on which chocolate is still residing.

Inside the store itself, a line of people snake around the counter and between the chocolate stands, obscuring the view of the indulgent treats on show. We buy Haigh’s signature chocolate frog, but before any more impulse purchases, reassemble to make our way across the road to the Lindt cafe.

The famous Lindt balls are the colours of the rainbow, but it is the macaron tower, standing there in all its glory which takes the cake (pun intended). Macarons (“the French call them delice”), made famous by Adriano Zumbo in Masterchef, are what we’re all waiting for, its ganache centre calling my name. I bite into my milk chocolate macaron/delice and a small piece falls evilly to the floor before I can uncoordinatedly catch it, the sweetness of the light almond meringue filling my mouth. Savouring my morsel and learning about Lindt’s patented process called ‘conching’ – properly conched chocolate won’t be gritty or untextured – Kristen hands out sample bags and the next destination on the tour of yum continues.

Located in a strange, out-of-the-way narrow alley is Chokolait, its dark brown wooden tables not leaving a lot of room for those who want to get their keys cut next door. Ross, the owner, greets us with Chokolait’s signature dish, a hot chocolate shot – a concoction of half-milk, half-dark pure melted chocolate. Lifting the glass to my lips, the thick chocolate elixir glides down my throat and I figure if this were in some chocolate river, much like Augustus Gloop (yet obviously classier), I would also risk being sucked up a pipe. I’m slowly succumbing to what can only be described as a state of chocolate drunkenness.

This is the only Chokolait and it relies heavily on regular customers. Ross describes the current chocolate scene; there has been a notable shift from regular milk chocolate to darker varieties, due to dark being a ‘healthier’ option – therefore less guilt.

“They would usually move from milk chocolate, maybe to a half-half and then to a light-dark chocolate maybe 52/53/55 percent,” he reflects. “And then gradually you find customers start to enjoy the dark chocolate and they want something a bit more intense and a little more interesting.”

You can tell Ross is passionate about his chocolate. His eyes are lit up in excitement and the grey curls under his black beret flutter with every animated head movement as he tells us about the interest in single origin chocolate. Leaving us with confident predictions for chocolate’s future –different countries and differing cocoa contents means combinations and flavours are endless – we are cheerily waved goodbye.

Back into the arcades, my hidden container has slowly been filling up.  We’ve not eaten that much chocolate but I feel as if I’ve scoffed ten Cadbury blocks. Given orange cointreau truffles while listening to the history of Koko Black I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Ogling the chocolate in my hand is a middle-aged couple attempting to get in on the action. I manage not to voice ‘my precious’ and sidle away before they get the idea and move on.

Kristen is now explaining tempering – heating and cooling the chocolate to distribute the crystals – in front of a large glass window where the chocolatiers are hard at work piping chocolate into moulds. In their tall chef’s hats, they work with machine-like precision to produce the sweet treats filling the glass counter inside the store. Single origin chocolate is also popular at Koko Black – they even stock a block from the Dominion Republic at 100% cocoa.

Largely affected by the chocolate haze which has settled over us, Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie for afternoon tea seems perfect. Mounting the chunky grand staircase to the second floor, the low lighting is just right as we plonk ourselves on the couches to consider cake-selection. Interestingly, no one has picked a cake with anything to do with chocolate.

Carefully trying not to squish our decadent (non-chocolate) cakes – I’ve got a strawberry tart, my mother a citron one – it’s ‘cakes to go’ as we descend the winding staircase and out to a late Melbourne afternoon.

My sweet tooth aches – it looks like it’s time to find a salty potato chip to lick.

Hungry for more?

Melbourne Chocoholic Tours, created by self-confessed chocoholic Suzie Wharton in 1995, offers eight tours from Friday through to Sunday visiting chocolate shops around Melbourne city.

http://www.chocoholictours.com.au/index.html

Phone: 9686 4655

‘Chocolate and Historical Treats Walk’

Time: Friday 2pm, 1.5-2hours (with all destinations visited at a leisurely pace)

Cost: $37 (all-inclusive)

Stops: Haigh’s, Lindt Chocolait Cafe, Chokolait, Koko Black and Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie (afternoon tea)

Gift packs containing chocolates from one of Melbourne’s top chocolatiers and/or chocoholic badges can also be purchased at an extra cost.

Chocolate Bites

–          Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels

–          A small square of quality chocolate a day can lower your blood pressure and cut your risk of heart disease

–          Chocolate works like a mild anti-depressant as it increases serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain making people feel happy

–          Australians eat on average 5-6kg a year each!

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