If you enjoyed going on Easter egg hunts as a child then going on a gourmet chocolate tour has got to be the next best thing when you’re an adult!
For the last 20 years Chocoholics have run daily chocolate walking tours through Melbourne’s CBD, winding through laneways and arcades to find the artisan chocolatiers for which Melbourne is famous. I was invited to attend one of their tours, the signature ‘Bittersweet chocolate tour’ which included tastings of milk and dark chocolate at five different chocolate stores.
The tour started off with a brief spiel by our personable guide about the origins of chocolate and the process of growing, harvesting and processing cacao. We were given some raw cocoa beans and cocoa nibs to try and then the real business of chocolate tasting began.
First stop was Cacao Lab, a chocolatier opened by Frenchman Laurent Meric designed to look like a new age laboratory.
At Cacao Lab we were treated to a decorated milk chocolate with a nut ganache and a small shot of their intense hot chocolates, silently churning behind the counter.
The bright colours and beautiful packaging of Cacao Lab lured me to purchase a half-dozen carton of their Belgian chocolate eggs. I also snapped one of their hot cross buns, recently crowned one of the best hot cross buns in Melbourne.
Second stop was Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar, an American company with a few stores in New York, one in Dubai and one in Melbourne’s Emporium since October 2014. The store is very large, with lovely ironwork walls and a pastel and chocolate palette.
The company is American but all the product is made in Melbourne and I noticed that they were selling Ingrid Tufts’ ceramicware as well.
The recipes have been tweaked where necessary to accommodate Australian palates and some of the super-sweet American flavours haven’t made it on the menu. They use Callebaut chocolate and the aim of the founder, Alison Nelson, is to introduce American (and Australian) audiences to European style chocolate at a mid-range price.
We tried some of their iced chocolates with a small slice of red velvet brownie, a cake-like morsel rather than a dense, gooey slab that I usually equate the American style brownies. Then we had a tasting of a very sweet peanut butter and jelly milk chocolate and a lavender milk chocolate.
I also purchased a chocolate dipped Oreo (kind of like a Tim Tam actually) and my favourite, one of their selection of Asian flavoured chocolates, the bamboo macadamia jasmine dark log.
Our third stop was Koko Black, a European style chocolatier which is credited with inspiring Melbourne’s love affair with high quality couverture chocolate over a decade ago.
We watched the chocolatier in action by the window and then tried a strawberry milk chocolate and a silky drop of raspberry ganache inside a dark chocolate cup. Extremely rich without being cloying and so smooth on the tongue.
The fourth stop was Haigh’s, an Adelaide-based chocolatier which is celebrating it’s 100th birthday this year.
When I first moved to Melbourne I was a bit bemused about how everyone raved about their chocolate frogs, which I thought were ok but not the sort of amazing quality I’d experienced in Europe. While their tour tastings were very generous – a dark chocolate palette, a milk chocolate palette and cinnamon and merlot chocolate – I’m still not a Haigh’s fan.
Our final stop was Ganache, my favourite chocolatier in Melbourne. While I like the ambience of Koko Black’s flagship store in Royal Arcade, particularly the big cushy lounge chairs upstairs overlooking the passing crowd in the historic arcade, I think the quality of the product at Ganache is second to none. I have attended a masterclass at their South Yarra chocolate kitchen and seen how their work is done, so I am fully confident in the quality control of their product.
At Ganache we were offered a hot drink and a full slice of one of their signature cakes, the hazelnut fan slice. I was desperately chocolated-out at that point but could not let such a beautiful cake go to waste.
I had a wonderfully decadent afternoon with Chocoholics and I think that $49 is a very good price for the tour. A lot of ground is covered in the 2.5 hours, there’s a good selection of specialty chocolatiers to try and compare and you’ll certainly not leave hungry.
With several tastings at every stop there is a lot of chocolate to eat in one continuous sitting, so my tip is to skip lunch, drink a lot of water and bring a plastic bag/box to store away some of the tastings – they’ll be appreciated more later.
Note that one of the benefits of buying chocolate via the tour was that we received a discount at every chocolatier (other than Koko Black) which meant an extra excuse to indulge later!