The Elixir of the Gods: Discovered in Bournville – How One Special Food Item Began It’s Life On A Tree In Ghana And Fuelled The Excesses Of The Rich and Famous in London’s Capital County – St James’s Street, Middlesex

Throughout my life there has always been one faithful companion who not only kept me going when times were rough, but was also an exuberant buddy who wrapped me in a cloud of ecstasy celebrating the great times too.  That friend is chocolate.

During my early childhood in the Seventies, chocolate bars were given sparingly as a treat by my parents.  I had regular pocket money that I used to purchase penny sweets such as Cola Bottles, Spaceships, Rubbard/Custard Chews and Gob-Stoppers from the local newsagent. However, nothing could beat the taste of smooth, velvety chocolate whenever I got the chance to indulge.  In those days my favourites were Picnic Bar, Frys Chocolate Cream and of course the slightly crazy Curly Whirly.  One of my cousins worked for Nestles and would bring my brother and I small piles of reject Milky Bars which we loved!

In my teenage years, my school decided to open a small tuck shop which had a pretty good selection of chocolate.  Perhaps in those days (mis-guidedly) schools thought the pupils could be placated with a regular intake of sugar and fat because it also coincided with the introduction of ‘cafeteria’ style school meals – in which the former daily staple of meal and 2 veg was replaced by hamburger/chips and pizzas.  Needless to say, with the advent of both these things, us school kids were in seventh heaven!  With slightly more pocket money in my teenage years, I could also sometimes visit the tuck shop to indulge in favourites such as Maltesers, Crunchy and Fruit and Nut.

The Story of Chocolate from Ghana and Discovering Cadbury World

My recent trip to Cadbury World in Bournville, Birmingham brought back strong memories of early days in development of my chocolate taste buds and was a fantastic journey into the history of this much enjoyed food item.  As the exhibition explains, the Aztecs (whose Empire flourished from 1300-1521) enjoyed a chocolate drink prepared from cacao seeds which they believed were a gift from the god of wisdom Quetzalcoatl.  Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes is thought to have been one of the first to bring chocolate to Europe from the Aztec Empire in 1528.

Ghana in West Africa is one of the main countries where Mondelez International (who now own the Cadbury’s Brand) buy their chocolate.  I travelled to Ghana 10 years ago and took these pics of the cocoa pods growing on the trees.

Cocoa Pod

The cocoa trees there each produce around 30 pods each year. Each pod contains 30-40 seeds, which sit in a sweet white pulp, a bit like cotton wool.  These seeds are the cocoa beans.  It actually takes a whole year’s crop from one tree to make 1lb (454g) of cocoa.  When they’re ripe, the cocoa pods turn a rich golden colour. They are then cut down from the trees and the pulp and beans are removed from the outside husk. The beans are then fermented between banana leaves.  The wet beans are then dried in the sun as shown.

The beans are then graded according to quality, selected by Mondelez and shipped to the UK.  There they are roasted, kibbled (broken into small pieces) and winnowed (the broken shells blown away) leaving just the ‘nibs’ – centre of the beans.  The nibs are then ground until they become a thick chocolate coloured liquid which is the basic ingredient for all cocoa and chocolate products.

In the exhibition you can view a wonderful selection of old chocolate advertising. Remember the Cadbury’s Flake Girl delighting in the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate or contrastingly Terry Scott extoiling the virtues of non-crumbly Curly Whirly?  Although, at the moment you can’t see the factory line in action, you can view the production of some of weird and wonderful hand-decorated chocolates which can be bought in the exhibition shop (see chocolate shoes).

 

Inside Cadbury World – hand decorated chocolates

I am looking forward to trying the Milk Chocolate Cocoa Pod I purchased which actually contains some of the nibs produced earlier in the chocolate making cycle which I was assured by one of the Cadbury World staff are very interesting to try having slightly more bitter taste than regular chocolate.

Chocolate cocoa pod from Cadbury World

Chocolate Houses

During my visit to Cadbury Word I discovered that Chocolate Houses became popular with high society in Middlesex during the 17th century and rivalled Coffee Houses for their business.  One of the first Chocolate Houses was opened by a Frenchman on Queen’s Alley in Bishopsgate Street and it’s chocolate was advertised as a ‘West Indian Drink’.  Italian, Francis White, opened White’s Chocolate House in 1697 at 4 Chesterfield Street which was then moved to 37 St James’s Street where you can still view the exterior of the building.

Whites
Whites

In those days the drink was marketed – among other things – as an aid to fertility, a cure for consumption and indigestion and even revered for it’s ability to reverse the ageing process.  The diarist Samuel Pepys even lauded it’s properties as a remarkable hangover cure.

17th century White’s had a somewhat decadent and debauched reputation being featured in William Hogarth’s 6th episode of A Rake’s Progress.  One story of the extreme gambling activities behind it’s doors was revealed by the son of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, Horace Walpole.  Apparently, when a man collapsed in the street he was brought into White’s and bets were taken as to whether or not he was dead.  He is thought to have died shortly afterwards.  Other typical bets included whether or not certain members would survive the year, get married or political bets around events taking place during the French Revolution or Napoleonic Wars.  Other pastimes revolved around such things as card playing, dice, poetry recital, newspaper reading and political debate.

White’s is now an exclusive gentleman’s club – rumoured over the years to have been a haunt of Prince Charles, Prince William and even former PM David Cameron.  In fact, it seems that it was is so exclusive that I had some trouble locating it.  Upon making a phone call for directions a rather suspicious voice enquired upon my business in the club.  Not surprising as further research revealed that even in 2017 the only female to ever to have set foot across it’s doorstep was none other than the Queen herself back in 1991.  The club is said to have a 9 year waiting list with many applicants regularly turned down.

The Future

The story of chocolate is constantly evolving.  For example, in the case of Cadbury’s, the acquisition by Mondelez resulted in the combining of traditional Cadbury’s chocolate products such as Diary Milk with Mondelez products such as Oreo biscuit – something many purists might be none too keen on.  However, perhaps consumers are more open to change these days as, according to The Food and Beverages Website, Dairy Milk and Oreo is one of their best selling co-branded lines.

Worldwide, the popularity of chocolate shows no sign of diminishing with increasing growth particularly in markets in Asian Pacific countries where consumers are becoming more accustomed to Western tastes and demand is growing.

To find out more about the story of chocolate, visit

Cadbury World,
Linden Road, Bournville
Birmingham B30 1JR

If you travel by train to Cadbury World with London Midland, Virgin or Chiltern Trains you can get a 30% discount with pre-booked tickets to Cadbury World with pre-booked train tickets https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/cadbury-world

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