Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate in Paris

Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.

Some years ago, in one of my very first Travel Oyster postings, I promised to write about chocolate in Paris. Chocolate shops can be found all over Paris and just about every corner cafe advertises hot chocolate a la ancienne - in spite of the fact that most of them use an instant mix. I quickly saw, therefore, that finding the really good chocolate in Paris would require not only in-depth research, but also extensive field work. So when Marcelle, my good friend and fellow researcher, called the other day to ask if I wanted to go to the Chocolate Museum, I, of course, said yes.

Although we started as simple amateurs, there is now a professional aspect to our work since Marcelle's son Vincent has recently gone into the chocolate business. He and his partner have opened Marou Chocolates, the first artisan chocolate maker based in Vietnam. (To read the fascinating history of cocoa in Vietnam and how Vincent's vacation turned into a new career in a faraway country, click here to go to the Marou web site. There, you'll also be kept up to date on when Marou chocolate might appear in a fine store near you.)

The Paris museum, officially known as Choco-Story, le musée gourmand du chocolat, opened in the spring of 2010 in a bright, well-laid out, three-story building in the Grand Boulevard area of the city. It has almost 1,000 antique objects related to chocolate, old posters and other collectibles, and 80 text panels clearly explaining, in French, Spanish and English, the history of chocolate. 

Chocolate is made from the bean of the cocoa tree, which grows in the understory of evergreen tropical rain forests. The tree is native to the Americas, but now almost 70 percent of the world's crop is grown in West Africa. 

Until recently, the Mayans and Aztecs were credited with being the earliest cultivators of cocoa, with records going back to about 500b.c. Recent archeological findings in Honduras, however, have pushed that history back at least 500 years to the Olmecs, the first major civilization in what is now present-day Mexico. The Olmecs liked their cocoa fermented, perhaps something like cocoa beer. The Mayans preferred it hot with lots of foam on top. Their special frothing tools can be seen in the museum. The Aztecs added peppers, hot spices and honey to the drink. Cocoa was considered a food of the gods (which is the meaning of its scientific name, Theobroma) and was reserved for royalty.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste cocoa in 1502, but, apparently, it did not appeal to him since it was the Spanish conquerer of the Aztecs, Hernando Cortés, who first brought cocoa beans to Europe for commercial use in 1527. (Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519 with only 600 men, 13 muskets and some unwieldy cannon. More advantageous were his horses and his ability to manipulate the Aztecs' beliefs to make them regard him as more powerful than he was. Within two years, he had won a complete victory over this enormous empire of approximately 15 million people.)

Like the Aztecs, Spain reserved its cocoa for royalty and it wasn't until the 17th century that cocoa made its way into France and the other countries of Europe, but it remained a beverage of the elite. The masses got their first taste of chocolate as an additive used by pharmacists to soften the taste of bitter medicines. By the end of the 18th century, hot chocolate sweetened with sugar was a universal drink and cocoa sellers, carrying their machines on their backs, began to appear in the streets of Paris. Chocolate bars made their debut in the 1830s, and the pain au chocolat, that French, croissant-like pastry stuffed with rich, dark chocolate, came on the scene only toward the end of the 19th century.

Taking in all this information whets your appetite for a nice, steaming cup of hot chocolate. Fortunately at the end of your visit to the museum, just after the chocolate-making demonstration, that's just what you get. You can drink it in the gift shop while you choose your Aztec frothing stick or some other interesting  book or souvenir related to chocolate. Marcelle and I shared one traditional hot chocolate and one made with hot pepper in the manner of the Aztecs. They were both good, but our research continues.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions for great chocolate in Paris as well as JR's recipe, which you can make at home.

Chocolate (in boxes and bars)
35 rue Rambuteau
75004 Paris
François Pralus and Patrick Roger (see next entry) are both recipients of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvier de France award. At Pralus, I highly recommend the Pyramide des Tropiques, a stack of luscious 75% dark chocolate bars made from the grand crus of chocolate of 10 different countries.

Patrick Roger
108 boulevard Stain-Germain
75006 Paris
For other locations in Paris, click here.

Patrick Roger's chocolate bar, in its tasteful aquamarine wrapper, comes in a variety of flavors and makes a wonderful gift to take home to fellow chocolate lovers. You can also make up a box of mixed chocolates or just buy a 100 grams to savor as you window shop in the haute couture shops that line the boulevard.

Hot Chocolate

La Petite Maison dans la Cour
9 rue Saint-Paul
75004 Paris

This is a tiny place in the Village St. Paul, an enclave of antique shops in the Marais.  The owner, Cathy Abt, uses 60 grams of dark chocolate and fresh milk to make a wonderful cup of thick, rich hot creamy chocolate. Unless you are an extreme chocoholic, one order is more than enough for two.

Bouillon Racine
3 rue Racine
75006 Paris

Sonia Rykiel, the French fashion doyenne once said that sipping chocolate tête à tête is sumptuous. I agree and there is no better place to sip tête à tête with your love than in the bar at the beautiful Bouillon Racine, First opened in 1906, Bouillon Racine was completely renovated in 1996 to its original Art Nouveau splendor. The chocolate served here is lighter, and delicately flavored with star anise. Tucked away on a small street in the sixth arrondissement, the restaurant of the Bouillon Racine is filled to capacity each night, but in mid-afternoon, it's a quiet and romantic spot away from the bustle of the city.

226 rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris

In business since 1903 at its location on the rue de Rivoli, Angelina is an French institution and no secret to chocolate lovers (approximately 500 hot chocolates are served there every day). A place where in another time, Proust might tip his hat to Coco Chanel, it is still a favorite of fashion designers and their well-dressed clients. There is wonderful people watching here and the chocolate is excellent. If you are feeling especially decadent, you can order it with heaps of fresh whipped cream.

JR's Chocolate

If I didn't love the ritual of cafes, I'd never venture out of the apartment because that's really where I can find the best hot chocolate in Paris (it even comes with a crepe). Since JR hasn't yet opened a shop, here is his recipe for hot chocolate for you to make wherever you are.

2 tablespoons 100% unsweetened cocoa
4 teaspoons sugar
milk (see instructions below)

Remarks:  Buy the best cocoa you can find.  For the chocolate pictured here, JR used Van Houten.  As he says: "Better is better."

1. Place cocoa and sugar in a small pot on top of stove. Begin adding milk a few drops at a time, stirring until absorbed.  Continue in this manner, adding a few drops of milk and stirring, until you have added just enough milk to produce a smooth dark paste.  Be sure to follow this step carefully or instead of a smooth paste, you will wind up with globs of powder floating on milk.  

2.  At this point, turn the burner on to low and add additional milk while stirring until it is just a bit thinner than the desired consistency since heating will thicken the mixture.  JR's cocoa is quite thick and dark as you can see in the photo.

Makes two small demi-tasse servings.

For more photos, click here.

Bon appetit,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Love today's post, especially the photo of the crepe and chocolate. I am going to Paris in a little over 3 weeks and can not wait. Today my spouse gave me an Eiffel Tower with candle holders. I love it! Although the French would probably be horrified. Kathy

  2. Chère Geraldine,
    superbes histoires. Ma grand-mère prenait du chocolat en tablette, le faisait fondre avec du lait, ajoutait de la crème, et cassait finalement un œuf dedans. Le tout était battu avec un moussoir, que tu peux voir là :
    http://www.violondingue.com/fr/articles/chocolatiere-et-moussoir.htm l.h.

  3. MMMMmmmm. Luvverly Valentine’s blog! Lisa

  4. Fortunately, I was able to finish reading your blog while munching on a square of pretty good dark chocolate. Now I'm going to turn on my DVD player and spend the rest of the afternoon viewing one of my favorite movies, Chocolat! A. Florida

  5. OOOHHHHH My mouth is watering!


Thanks for your comments.