Have you ever dreamed of visiting a city made from Chocolate? I admit I’ve definitely given the concept some thought, but I never would have guessed that when I caught the early bus down to York I’d be on my way to making that dream a reality.
Christmas was in the air as I walked down the enchanted streets of York on a particularly chilly December afternoon. The city was alive with twinkling lights, toy soldiers on stilts, and churchwomen singing familiar carols. I strolled along, weaving in and out of the crowd swarming the Christmas markets. Throngs of people were pouring out into the street from every direction. A wooden bench off the main road called out to me and I plopped myself down to observe the wonderful chaos, but it wasn’t long before my heart was full and and my toes were nearly frozen.
I set off to find refuge from the cold English air and grab a hot drink when an interesting shop caught my attention. As it turns out, the peculiar little place wasn’t a shop at all but instead “York’s Chocolate Story,” an attraction which comprises a guided tour of York’s rich history—and chocolate.
I was guided through a series of rooms, each one coming to life with the faces of chocolate’s founding fathers. As I sipped some bitter cocoa representative of the original chocolate drink of the ancient Aztecs, I was taken through the history of the stuff and how it found its home right there in York.
The story of the Chocolate City began as early as the mid-1600’s, when Quakers pushed the sweet drink as a substitute for alcohol. But things really began to heat up in 1823, when a chemist named Joseph Terry married into the family of Robert Berry, the owner of a small confectionary company in York, England. When Robert died, his son—George Berry—joined forces with Joe Terry, becoming “Terry & Berry.” Really rolls off the tongue, huh? But George Berry left the business shortly after their union, leaving Terry to make a name for himself.
Joseph Jr. took over the business after his father’s passing and by 1867 the company’s price list included 400 items, only 13 of which were chocolate. This eventually changed as the demand for the cocoa confection in Britiain grew and grew. What was now called “Terry & Sons” moved to a new location on York’s Bishopthorpe Road to specialize in chocolate (It was there that some of the Terry’s most famous contributions to the confectionary world were produced, including the All Gold collection and the Chocolate Orange), but the spot of their original shop in Helen’s Square still has the Terry name out front today.
Several other Quaker families from York—do the names Cadbury and Rowntree ring any bells?—contributed to the sugary industry that built the Chocolate City. Cocoa really began to flourish as the dawn of the industrial revolution made importing and transporting the product much more efficient and less costly. The Rowntree’s were among the first to introduce the concept that chocolate was more than a drink, it was a food. And thus products such as the beloved KitKat, among many others, were born in York in the 1930’s. Nestle later bought out Rountree’s empire in 1988, and the rest is history.
My interactive tour concluded with a tasting-tutorial, where our guide Robbie explained how I should properly sample chocolate by melting it on my tongue and then inhaling all the intoxicatingly delicious flavors. I even got to make my very own chocolate pops! But the sweetest takeaway of the afternoon was getting a taste of York’s rich history in the best way I know how, literally! I snagged a bag of handmade chocolates from the gift shop and walked the rest of the city with a whole new appreciation, knowing I was in a real life Candy Land.