Spain has a long history when it comes to chocolate. Thanks to its intrepid explorers, cacao was introduced to the country from the Americas in the 16th century, and rapidly became part of the culinary landscape. From the earliest days, it was seen as something to be drunk rather than eaten, echoing the way the Aztecs in Central America used it – though the original, rather bitter brew was sweetened to suit European tastes. It became a favourite of the Spanish royal family and their courtiers, and was soon enjoying huge popularity at all levels of society.
Even today, chocolate remains a much-loved hot drink, and churros y chocolate – slender doughnuts dusted with sugar, served with chocolate thick enough to stand a spoon up in – is a popular breakfast or late-night treat. Thanks to the efforts of the country’s finest chocolatiers, however, Spaniards are also developing a taste for other cacao-related products, from bespoke bars to exquisitely flavoured truffles.
Forget all you know about traditional chocolate shops and you’re some way to understanding Cacao Sampaka. The boutique, which began in Barcelona in 2000 and now has outposts across the world, aims to promote the culture of cacao. The brand produces all its chocolate in its factory in Barcelona and is known for its obsessive attention to detail at every stage from bean to bar. In store, you’ll find plenty of delicious chocolate alongside all manner of related products, from wines to pair with your favourite bar to cacao-scented candles. Visitors can also take part in chocolate tastings, learning to enjoy everybody’s favourite sweet treat in the correct manner.
Oriol Balaguer is one of Spain’s most eminent confectioners and his creations – as you’d expect from a former colleague of Ferran Adrià – are mouth-watering works of art. He has several stores throughout Barcelona, but for chocolate lovers the one to visit is La Xocolateria by Oriol Balaguer. The boutique showcases Oriol’s 20 chocolate collections, which are all shaped to resemble half a cocoa pod. Flavours are imaginative and surprising: think wasabi, yuzu, olive oil and truffle. There’s also a range of chocolate bars, all made to the highest standards. Don’t leave without tasting one of the truly indulgent hot chocolates, available in milk, white or dark varieties.
Family-run Escribà has been pushing boundaries with its endlessly creative confections since it was founded more than 100 years ago. In the shop behind the elegant tea room, you’ll find exploding birthday cakes, edible chocolate stilettos and many more surreal treats. Stock up on artisan chocolates in the boutique, in particular Escribà’s signature red-lip truffles, before enjoying a speciality hot chocolate in the café, whether it’s the intensely dark 70% cocoa version or the nutty Swiss chocolate and praline. For those whose love of chocolate borders on obsession, there’s also the Escribà academy which offers expert guided courses, including a one-day chocolate-shoemaking masterclass.
Escribà, Carrer de les Flors 83, 08001 Barcelona, +34 93 301 6027; Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 546, 08011 Barcelona, +34 93 454 7535
For those who like their chocolate on the artisanal side, there are few places that will please more than Chök. Visitors to the boutique and café, located conveniently close to La Rambla, will find it almost impossible to leave without sampling at least one of the tempting sweet treats. Star billing is given to the chöks, described as gourmet doughnuts, which are super light and crispy; 30 different varieties are baked daily, including plenty of chocolate-themed flavours such as the chocolate Marmitako, a cacao lover’s take on a classic Basque dish. For something more straightforward, Chök’s handmade chocolate slabs, with their simple yet chic packaging, are a sure winner.
Chök, Carrer del Carme 3, 08001 Barcelona, +34 93 304 2460 Nota original, AQUÍ.