Choco-Story is the very first chocolate museum in New York, and opened in the SoHo neighborhood on March 7. Founded by French chocolatier Jacques Torres, the new institution looks back over the history of cacao.
A Mayan manuscript sits proudly in a showcase. The artifact is a reproduction of an original codex dating back to pre-Columbian societies in the third century B.C., and is one of the world’s earliest written traces of the history of cacao. “According to urban legends at the time, cacao gave mortals divine powers,” says Jacques Torres, walking between two rows of artificial cacao trees. “The Mayans would drink hot chocolate on very special occasions. It was the champagne of the time!”
Some three years ago, Jacques Torres teamed up with Belgian Eddy Van Bell, who already owned five chocolate museums across the world. The French chocolatier offered his name and reputation, as well as a potential site, while Eddy Van Bell managed the acquisition of artefacts and exhibits. Choco-Story is the very first chocolate museum in New York, and finally opened its doors on March 7. The institution aims to educate, and hopes to introduce more Americans to the culture of chocolate. “Choco-Story reveals how chocolate is made from bean to bar, and shows exactly what makes great chocolate,” says Jacques Torres, who has eight stores across New York.
While the Americans and the French consume roughly the same amount of chocolate, they have different tastes. Jacques Torres estimates that 80% of U.S. chocolate brands make most of their earnings through sales of sweet, milk chocolate with a lower cacao content. “My clients, on the other hand, are looking for chocolate with no additives or preservatives, more in keeping with French tastes,” he says. “Some 60% of my sales are products made using dark chocolate.”
The museum has already welcomed 300 visitors, including passing tourists and connoisseurs, as well as young adults and families. The new demographic has delighted the Var-born chocolatier. “Millennials are increasingly turning to online shopping over in-store purchases,” says Jacques Torres. “The only way to educate young Americans about good chocolate is to offer them a sensory-based experience.”
At the end of the exhibition, visitors watch a young woman wearing traditional Mexican clothing as she demonstrates the different stages of making home-made hot chocolate. The roasted cacao beans are first ground to create a powder, mixed with hot water and whisked to create a mousse. The visitors can then add sugar, cinnamon and aniseed powder. The bitterness of the pure cacao surprises a number of people, who are more used to the sweetened cocoa powder sold in supermarkets. “If you’re looking for good chocolate in store, then just read the back of the bar. You should be able to see: cacao paste, cacao butter, sugar, lecithin [fatty acids] and vanilla,” says the chocolatier. “If there are any extra ingredients, then put it back on the shelf!”
350 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014