Chocolate is a massive part of Belgian culture. Around every corner in the Belgian capital of Brussels you’ll find the delicious smell of chocolate wafting down the street, that warm, inviting, soothing smell that brings us to our happy places, with a little flutter of the heart. Okay, so that might just be me talking as an avid chocolate lover, but I’m pretty sure many of you out there reading this think the same! One thing is for sure, you will have no problem finding Chocolate in Brussels! (Also please no licking the screen when you scroll down the page…)
The history of Chocolate in Brussels
So we’ve established that Belgium is famous for its chocolate, but where did that comes from exactly? Well, here’s a little history lesson for you. When the Spanish went over to South America, they discovered the cacao bean and bought it back to Europe with them. Back in the 17th century the Spanish ruled over Belgium, which is how the cacao bean made it to this part of Europe. Also, when Belgium colonised the Congo in 1885, they took advantage of the vast cacao fields in this part of the world and took them back to their Belgium.
Just as a fun fact here for you; the Mayor of Zurich tried his first cup of chocolate in Belgium and took it back to his native land. As we all know, Switzerland is also a country that loves its chocolate, but they can thank Belgium for that!
Once the Belgians had access to all that cacao, they hit the ground running. The country went mad over this delicious new treat, and chocolatiers cropped up left right and center, experimenting with the product and developing it into the sumptuous delight it is today.
As I explained earlier, there are plenty of chocolate shops all over Brussels, but if you really want to explore the best of the best, here are a few suggestions to create your very own luxurious chocolate tour, or let the experts show you the way with one of the many Chocolate Tours available. All of these stores are forerunners in the industry, and produce some of the best chocolate on the entire planet.
Peirre Marcolini is a Belgian chocolatier of Italian descent who has dedicated much of his life to mastering the art of making chocolate. Marcolini immerses himself in all parts of the chocolate making process, from traveling the world to pick the very best cocoa beans, to selling his creations in one of his 6 stores in Brussels, or others around the globe.
Marcolini doesn’t just churn out your average chocolates. He still manages to create the classics like very few others on the planet can, but he like to experiment with chocolate flavors, too. He often uses unusual fruits such as pears or blackcurrants, but also breaks the mould even further with flavors such as sandalwood, or oak.
Marcolini is frequently referred to as the chocolate world’s answer to a fashion designer; he looks like he should be designing outfits to go on a catwalk, not chocolates to go in your belly. This design element that Marcolini personally radiates is reflected in his chocolate – every single pieces looks like a piece of art. His modern, chic, and effortlessly decadent branding on both his stores and product make going to one of his chocolate shops a luxury experience in itself. When you walk out of the store you feel like you have chosen between works of art, not chocolate!
In Belgium, the word ‘Wittamer’ resonates with chocolate like very few other names do. These guys have been at the forefront of the chocolate game in Belgium since 1910. Paul and Myriam Wittamer are the brother-sister team that now run the business, and it is kept in the family, with Leslie, Myriam’s daughter, very much set to take the throne once it needs to be passed on.
Wittamer craft a range of different products to absolute perfection, and Myriam’s artistic flair is significantly present in the process, as well as her willingness to let the customer guide their chocolate recipes and ideas, not the other way around.
Wittamer have a product named ‘The Cube’, a box filled with 36 miniature ganaches with 70% cacao, showcasing the range of flavours and tastes they produce, the perfect way to make sure you’re trying all that Wittamer has to offer.
Not only do Wittamer nail it when it comes to chocolate making, they are also artisan pâtissiers, and pride themselves on their experimentation with macaroons. The company even named March 20th ‘Macaroon Day’, and each year on this day they celebrate all things macaroon and release their new flavors and samples.
What could be more Brussels than Smurf chocolates? This ingenious idea came from none other than the one and only Neuhaus, a chocolate company founded in Brussels in 1857 by Swiss immigrant Jean Neuhaus. Neuhaus actually came to Belgium to work as a pharmacist, but spent much of his time experimenting with new things, which eventually led to the chocolates we know and love today. The company’s greatest achievement to date is probably the invention of the chocolate bonbon or praline, which came from Jean Neuhaus’ grandson.
Milk, dark, white chocolate, truffles, cupines, and the aforementioned Smurf chocolates – the list really does go on and on with Neuhaus. A trip to one of their many stores around the globe is a feast for the eyes, and of course the stomach, but the flagship store in Brussels is the real deal. Row upon row, pile upon pile, deliciousness upon deliciousness. Not only can you find the classic chocolate they create, Neuhaus also sells other confectionery, hot chocolate, biscuits, macaroons, and drinks. If you can managed to get them home to your loved ones, chocolates from this store make the perfect gift, as long as you don’t gobble them up yourself before you make it back.
Founding in 1926, Godiva is another golden oldies of the chocolate scene in Brussels. The first Godiva shop was, of course, opened in Brussels, with its second launched in Paris in 1958. After that, the sky was the limit, and Godiva now has over 600 stores worldwide and over 10,000 speciality retailers selling their product. The Draps family were the original creators, and it was Joseph Draps who, at the age of fourteen, came into the business and launched it into what we know today.
The store in Brussels is everything you would expect from a world renowned chocolate shop. Little bite size pieces of heaven are everywhere, wrapped in exquisite gold paper, in little boxes with bows. Godiva have collections of truffles, parfaits, pralines, as well as Christmas, Easter, and Valentine’s Day gifts. They even have dedicated sharing packages, if you think you can manage to share the chocolate goodness with anyone else. From what we tasted, it would be pretty hard to do so!
Even if you’re not an avid lover of chocolate (what’s wrong with you?!) you’ll find something to delight your senses in any of these stores in Brussels. The experience of seeing the chocolate culture and process is something that should not be missed in this city, as it’s been an essential part of their culture for over a century. Who knows, you might not be a big fan of regular chocolate, but with all the weird and wonderful creations you find in these stores you may well just find something which you fall in love with, head over belly.
One last Chocolate Tip! While you are in Brussels you will find a infinite number of different chocolate stores to choose from. Where there is tourist money around, there will always be people around trying to pry it away from them. As a result there are a lot of chocolates that are available that aren’t made in Belgium. Some of this chocolate is good chocolate, but a lot of it is imported. So we suggest you look for Belgium owned stores and stores where chocolate is made on the premises. If you follow this advice you are much more likely to find a chocolate that will satisfy your needs. You are in Belgium, so of course you want to be eating the locally produced goods!
Visit www.visitbrussels.be for information on the chocolate tours that are available.
What is your favorite brand / type of chocolate?