When master chocolatier Jacques Torres announced he was bringing a chocolate museum to Manhattan, we had our doubts. Last summer’s Museum of Ice Cream was an interactive art gallery rather than historic exploration of the frozen treat, while the Museum of Feelings was little more than a pine-scented Instagram funhouse.
Turns out you can be educational and delicious. Choco-Story New York: The Chocolate Museum and Experience is now open inside Torres’ 350 Hudson St. shop in SoHo. Six months in the making, the museum takes visitors through the origins of chocolate and how it’s made with the help of curator Eddy Van Belle. He has established several Choco-Story museums across the world, most notably in Mexico, where the museum also functions as a sanctuary for animals that cannot be released back into the wild.
The wildest you’ll get here is tasting real chocolate nibs straight for the pod, served the traditional Mayan way by grinding then melting it with boiling water. The drink may look like hot chocolate, but that’s where the resemblance ends — you’re well-advised to use the sugar and spices on the table to temper the bitterness. “It only really starts tasting like chocolate once you add sugar,” Torres concedes.
The Mayan tasting cart is merely part of a genuine museum-style experience. “By the end of the tour today, you are all going to be able to open a chocolate factory,” Torres promises.
Willy Wonka aspirations aside, the story of chocolate is genuinely fascinating. Beginning in Ecuador about 5,500 years ago, chocolate was so valuable that nibs were used as currency (they were also crushed with mushrooms and used to get high, naturally). Plaques in three languages guide visitors along the display cases housing artifacts from Van Belle’s travels through Central and South America, like ancient grinding tools and the original recipe for hot chocolate — so spicy, the Spanish had to reduce the amount of chilies when they arrived in the 1500s.
More recently, there are the dainty European porcelain cups from the 1800s with inserts to protect men’s mustaches from chocolate froth, while what could be considered the ancestor of to-go cups was invented for the purpose of being able to take hot chocolate on bumpy carriage rides. Following the history lesson is a section on the bean-to-bar process (chocolate is fermented!) and a “gift shop” in the form of Torres’ chocolate counter and coffee bar.
Throughout the museum, there are tastings of dark, milk and white chocolates from various regions, chocolate sculptures, a scavenger hunt for kids (who have their own play area with a pint-size kitchen and a themed “sandbox”) and, for adults, demonstrations and hands-on classes — you’ll walk away with four full-size, thick chocolate bars made with your own hands, no grinding stones required. Progress is good, and delicious.