Historical media company Unreal City Audio have teamed up with purveyor of luxury flavoured chocolate Cocoa Hernando to produce an immersive whirlwind tour of the decadent chocolate houses of Georgian London over the weekend of the London Chocolate Festival at the South Bank Centre. Set amidst the luxury shops, mighty townhouses and royal palaces of Mayfair and St James’s, this musical, semi-theatrical tour will reveal how “a divine, celestial drink called chocolate” (as one early sampler put it) conquered Baroque Europe and corrupted the most fashionable quarter of London, spawning establishments like White’s Chocolate House, a whirlpool of sedition, depravity, and kamikaze gambling immortalised in Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress.
Here, Dr Matthew Green exclusively explains how the tour came about:
When we order a hot chocolate these days we can generally expect little more than a milky, powdery froth shot through with sugar. But as I discovered while doing some research our new tour of the decadent and anarchic chocolate houses of St James’s, it used to be one of the most extravagant drinks in Europe. Flicking through the bibliographies of several histories of chocolate that have been written over the years — most recently Sophie and Michael Coe’s A True History of Chocolate — I came across repeated reference to a French pamphlet from 1693 entitled Traitez Nouveaux et Curieux du Café, du Thé, et du Chocolat. Curious to find out exactly what comprised Baroque hot chocolate, I punched it into Google and hey presto, the entire work was available to read for free on Google Books (whoever scanned it in?!) Right at the back, it gives an extraordinary recipe for hot chocolate.
Budding chocolatiers are instructed to suffuse their cocoa concoction with a wealth of exotic spices and flavours including cinnamon, cloves, Indian peppers, vanilla, ambergris and even musk perfume. No wonder chocolate was described in 1796 as “the drink of the gods” (and, interestingly, “the sweat of the stars”, perhaps a reference to its spicy quality). Palpitating with excitement, I got on the blower to Paul Tomlinson, the founder of luxury chocolate company Cocoa Hernando, who makes flavoured chocolate bars inspired by travels around the world. Would he be willing to make one inspired by a (digital) visit to the 17th century, I wondered? He would: it will be served to everyone who comes on our Chocolate Tour (although we can’t promise the budget will stretch to ambergris). Nonetheless, it’s sure to be a mind-blowing cup of hot choc.
The 11.30am and 2pm tours will run over the weekend of the 14th-15th December and cost £15 per person, beginning by St James’s Church in Picadilly (W1J 9LL). After the tour, the guide will lead the group across the Thames to the festival. Book via: unrealcityaudio.co.uk