I did already know about drowning in chocolate, because I live in Brighton and had many times walked past that redoubtable palace of chocolate overkill Choccywoccydoodah; but when it happened to me for the first time, at the York Cocoa House, I was taken by surprise. I was meeting Becs, Mike and Naomi to discuss what will certainly turn out to be a very interesting project, but all my attention was taken by the drink I was served - the largest cup I’d ever seen of the richest hot chocolate I’d ever drunk, a luscious brown goo with a delicate skin, about the consistency of custard, very delicious.... and utterly overwhelming. Despite being extremely greedy, and a chocolate fan (plain chocolate KitKat, Choco Leibnitz), I couldn’t finish it. Naomi pointed out that it was at least very low in sugar – so low that technically it could count as a vegetable – one of one’s five a day (seven a day? nine a day? whatever). Clever thought, though the experience did seem to be in a fundamentally different category from eating a brussel sprout.
The hot chocolate was served with a little chocolate biscuit, which seemed profoundly unnecessary. I turned round and noticed that other customers were faced with similarly challenging drinks, but accompanied by chocolate cakes, brownies etc. Heck. Perhaps they were on their way to zumba, followed by hot yoga followed by a lunch of tofu and beansprouts. I hope so, because you’d be dead in a week if you kept this up.
Actually, it’s going to be very difficult to keep this up. For apparently it’s likely that there will be a world chocolate shortage by 2020. A plain chocolate KitKat will be a luxury item. People will be mugged for a Lion Bar. This is partly to do with climate change and competition for arable land in the main cocoa producing regions – Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Brazil – and partly to do with rising demand in countries like Brazil and China. But we must take some responsibility for our insanely decadent chocolate habit. On average we eat 8kg of chocolate per year in the UK (the Chinese eat 100g per year each). Slow down! Stop ganaching your teeth! Chocolate advent calendars – no! Chocolate fountains – no! Scotch Eggs with a cacao nib crust – no! Chocolate fried chicken with chocolate ketchup and white choc-fried potatoes (really) – no! Really, no!
Hot chocolate has been around for centuries, if not thousands of years. There’s a stonking recipe by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, a physician from Andalusia, in his book Curioso Tratado De La Naturaleza Y Calidad Del Chocolate (1631): ‘Take one hundred cocoa beans, two chillies, a handful of anise seed and two of vanilla, two drams of cinnamon, one dozen almonds and the same amount of hazelnuts, half a pound of white sugar and enough annatto to give some colour. And there you have the king of chocolates.’ He seems rather shy on the subject of how to make it. The amount of anise and vanilla is eyewatering.
According to his tract Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke, hot chocolate is a panacea: ‘By wise and Moderate use whereof, Health is preserved, Sicknesse Diverted, and Cured, especially the Plague of the Guts; vulgarly called The New Disease; Fluxes, Consumptions, and Coughs of the Lungs, with sundry other desperate Diseases. By it also, Conception is Caused, the Birth Hastened and facilitated, Beauty Gain’d and continued.’ This is followed by an ecstatic poem in praise of chocolate:
‘Doctors lay by your Irksome Books
And all ye Petty-Fogging Rookes
Leave Quacking; and Enucleate
The Vertues of our Chocolate.
Let th’Universall medicine
(Made up of Dead-mens Bones and Skin),
Be henceforth Illegitimate,
And yield to Soveraigne-Chocolate.’ Etc.
As I sat drinking in the York Cocoa House I didn’t realise just how much good I was doing myself. Memo to NHS.
Words by Orlando Gough