Cacao has been tickling our taste buds for centuries: from the spicy drink in the Maya and Aztec civilizations to the popular sweet chocolate milk in Europe. Knowing that more than three people out of four love chocolate, it’s hardly surprising that there is an enormous fascination for this exquisite treat.
Frequently asked questions include ‘Where did chocolate originally come from?’, ‘How did it conquer Europe?’, ‘What’s the secret of great chocolate?’, ‘What role did the Industrial Revolution play in popularising chocolate?’, ‘Why was chocolate once used as a medicine?’.
Choco-Story | The Chocolate Museum aims to answer these and other questions while bringing to life the 4000-year-old history of chocolate in words, pictures and flavours. The museum submerges you in the exciting world of chocolate and takes you on a journey of the senses through time. A feast for the eyes, but also for the nose and the taste buds!
Young or old, passionate chocoholic or simply interested, the Chocolate Museum will stimulate your fascination. Innumerable authentic artefacts will undoubtedly capture the hearts of historians too.
The museum is composed of three parts, telling the story of the origin and evolution of chocolate through a unique collection of almost a thousand objects. Besides the history, the museum also reveals how chocolate is made, with special attention for the variety of raw ingredients and the development of the production process.
In the demonstration centre visitors will uncover the secret of beautiful silky chocolate and get the opportunity to taste the chocolate products made in the museum.
The museum is a private initiative inspired by the Van Belle family, passionate chocolate lovers, and sponsored by Belcolade, the last manufacturer of authentic Belgian chocolate that is still Belgian-owned.
The private collection of around a thousand objects makes the museum unique of its kind in Belgium.
2. Huis ‘de Crone’
Choco-Story | The Chocolate Museum is housed in the historical Huis ‘de Crone’ building on St-Jansplein (at the intersection of Wijnzakstraat and St. Jansstraat) in the heart of Bruges. The building, which in its time has housed a wine tavern (1500s), pie bakers (1700s) and furniture makers (1900s), has been completely renovated and now tells the tale of chocolate.
One of the largest medieval houses in Bruges, the building was made a protected monument by Royal Decree on 5 December 1962.
The building has a total floorspace of 800m². This three-storey building’s monumental structure is striking, with tall ceilings extending 5 metres, 4.65 metres and 3.35 metres respectively. In the loft the distance from floor to tie beam is no less than 7.30 metres. Not counting the vaulted cellars, the volume of the house is 2200m3, which is 3 times larger than the average home.
Renovation took around 9 months, as the housefront as well as the interior were given a thorough renovation.
The strategic choice of Huis ‘de Crone’ and the city of Bruges is explained by project mentor Eddy Van Belle:
“Huis ‘de Crone’ is a wonderful historical building situated on one of the serenest squares the heart of Bruges has to offer. As a dynamic historical city, Bruges is the perfect habitat for the Chocolate Museum, which is also based on a strong historical theme. The city is home to fifty chocolate shops and the same number of bakers and pastry shops, all of which make and sell chocolate products. That makes the Chocolate Museum an original addition to the current range of museums and an excellent opportunity to focus on one of the products that we Belgians are justifiably so proud of: chocolate. Our intention is to have the museum function as a knowledge centre where the real Belgian chocolate enthusiast will feel at home.”
3. The history of chocolate in words, pictures and flavours
The three-storey high Huis ‘de Crone’ presents the affluent history of chocolate as well as the ingredients and the production processes now and then.
1st floor: Chocolate, a gift from the gods for the Mayas and the Aztecs &
the European breakthrough of chocolate.
The first floor accommodates two rooms:
The Maya Room A explains the mystic life of the Mayas and the Aztecs with the help of some magnificent authentic objects.
It was the Mayas (250 BC-900 AD), with their highly developed civilisation with unrivalled knowledge of architecture, astronomy and mathematics, who discovered the cacao bean and started to cultivate the crop. The Toltecs and later the Aztecs (1150-1500 AD) continued the Mayan tradition, developing an immense devotion to cacao and the cacao tree, the ‘Tree of Paradise.’
In those days cacao drink was a bitter beverage based on cacao, water and spices.
In these cultures cacao was deemed to be a ‘divine drink,’ food of and for the gods. The accounts tell us that the god Quetzalcoatl (‘Feathered Snake’) had a crucial role in the history of cacao: he is said to be the great master of cacao who taught humans to cultivate and prepare ‘Tchocoatl.’ There were human sacrifices to please the gods.
The Maya Room displays a Quetzalcoatl image of god, as well as pottery and knives that help explain this sacrificial culture.
The Main Room B on the first floor takes a more in-depth look at the use of cacao by the Mayas and the Aztecs. Did you know, for example, that they used cacao not only to make the drink of the gods, but also as currency?
Cacao had a high monetary value, by the way. A rabbit cost ten cacao beans and the going rate for a slave was a hundred beans.
Next, we witness the historic meeting of Aztec ruler Moctezuma and Hernando Cortès in 1519. This encounter was decisive to the arrival of cacao in Europe. Yes, we know that Christopher Columbus was the first European to drink ‘Tchocoatl’ in 1502, but he didn’t really like the drink, paying no further attention to it as a consequence. The Spaniards were not wild about cacao either to begin with, but after adding a little sugar they found the drink a lot more appetising.
Cortès started to ship the valuable cacao beans to Spain in 1527, but it was only in 1585 that cacao cultivation started to flourish. Within a short space of time chocolate became the drink of choice at the Spanish court, gradually conquering other European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and Britain in the seventeenth century. In 1615 cacao became the drink served during official audiences at the French court. Don’t miss Marie Antoinette’s chocolate crockery! In the mid-seventeenth century coffee and chocolate houses sprung up alongside the inns where beer and wine were the staples.
The museum’s superb collection of chocolate cups (including the Mancerinas and the Trembleuses), together with a diversity of original chocolate jugs in copper, silver and other materials, bear witness to the rising popularity of drinking chocolate in Europe. The drink continued to be a delicacy until the end of the eighteenth century however, exclusively reserved for the nobility, bourgeoisie and the clergy.
From the time of the Mayas all the way through virtually to the start of the seventeenth century, cacao was consumed as a drink. It was not until then that the first more or less solid form of chocolate appeared. It usually came in the form of a pastille that was melted in water to make drinking chocolate. Chocolate started to be sold by chemists, to soften the bitter and sometimes unpleasant taste of the medicines, and spice shops, to add some zest to the diet. But it was not until the eighteenth century that chocolate was accepted in and for itself.
2nd floor: The ingredients of chocolate &
the arrival of industrialised chocolate production When you enter room C you are immediately confronted with the various ingredients of chocolate and the whole journey from bean to chocolate.
We start with the cacao tree. It originally flourished in the humid, tropical Amazonian rainforest, but nowadays it is grown in many other tropical regions. The tree loves warm temperatures (25-28C°), humid air and sodden ground. There are three types of cacao bean: Criollo, Forastero and hybrids of the two such as Trinitario and Amelonado. The year has two harvests, in the periods October-February and May-July. The cacao beans are then left to ferment, dried and stocked.
In the Chocolate Museum you can also see the pod, which contains between 20 and 50 seeds, the cacao beans.
As well as the cacao bean, the museum also lets you discover the other ingredients and every step in the processing chain from cacao bean to chocolate.
Until the eighteenth century chocolate was made in a rather primitive, traditional manner. It was the Industrial Revolution that led to a vastly improved production process, leading to the upsurge in the popularity of chocolate in the nineteenth century. In 1879 H. Nestlé invented powdered milk and R. Lindt discovered the ‘conching process’.
Large chocolate factories were set up across Europe, including Belgium, and the chocolate industry started to become important.
As production methods became more sophisticated, the cacao bean selection process was improved and cultivation techniques were enhanced, the refined product we recognise today as chocolate gradually started to take shape. The nineteenth century saw the arrival of a great many new forms of chocolate: chocolate in solid form, milk chocolate, bars, slabs, hollow shapes and pralines. And what’s more, chocolate is now a treat that everyone can afford!
Have you seen those wonderful bonbonnières? The museum even has one in bakelite.
Next the museum brings you into the twentieth century. Find out how chocolate was prepared at the turn of the century in a melting pot. Discover what a nineteen-fifties chocolate shop looked like, with it workbench, kiln and wooden fridge, and follow the development through metal, bakelite and plastic moulds. Ultimately you end up back in the here and now, with a display of contemporary chocolate maker tools (from 1980).
3 rd floor: Chocolate and health &
the history of Belgian chocolate and Belcolade
The third floor focuses on the health aspect of chocolate. As a good source of nutrition, chocolate is coming under increasing scrutiny in dietary studies.
Chocolate contains proteins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and magnesium, which are essential to the development and renewal of human cells. It is also a source of fibre and vitamins, especially B1, B2, PP and E.
Lipids and carbohydrates provide energy. Finally, chocolate also contains theobromin, which stimulates the nervous system and is said to fortify the heart and have a curative effect on melancholia.
Besides health issues, the floor also takes a look at Belgian chocolate and explains just why it’s so delicious. Do you know the secret?
We hope we don’t give away too much by saying that craftsmanship, the traditional production process and the stringent selection of high-quality raw ingredients have a great impact on the excellence of Belgian chocolate. You can also find out about the Belgian chocolate producers and allow yourself to be seduced by examples of packaging through the ages.
A waltz through the history of Belgian chocolate wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Belgian Royal family. The museum includes an exhibition of original chocolate and biscuit tins adorned with pictures of the Royals.
Before leaving the museum you might want to have a look in the demonstration centre.
Here you’ll learn how to make good chocolate in an uncomplicated way. Ever wondered how to get that silky appearance and that crunchy texture? Visitors are also invited to taste the chocolate products made specially on site and see just how chocolate mass looks before it is transformed into chocolate.
If you’d like to go a little deeper into the history and the secrets of chocolate, the museum shop is the ideal place to be, with books on every facet of chocolate. It also has a range of great souvenirs to remind you of your visit to Choco-Story | The Chocolate Museum.
4. The Cacao Development Fund
Choco-Story has founded the Cacao Development Fund to help raise the quality of cacao cultivation in developing countries and to assist local farmer-growers. It is able to do so thanks to its own budget and donations. The first project is provide help to a school for cacao farmers in Cameroon.
Intense partnership with Belcolade
Choco-Story | The Chocolate Museum is supported by chocolate producer Belcolade.
Belcolade, based in Erembodegem, is the only producer of authentic Belgian chocolate that is still Belgian-owned.
As the largest subsidiary of the chocolate division of Belgium’s Puratos Group, Belcolade has a strategic role. This chocolate manufacturer, which was founded in 1988, is now the second largest producer of Belgian chocolate (100% cacao butter!) for the professional market. The total chocolate division of Puratos is a top 5 global player. The company produces white, milk and fondant chocolate in liquid form, as well as drops, bars, granules and blocks.
6. Association with Ter Groene Poorte Renowned in Belgium and abroad, Ter Groene Poorte is a school for bakers, pastry makers, chocolate makers and chefs, all of whom use chocolate.
Ter Groene Poorte and Choco-Story will work together on various projects: at technical level, developing special chocolate recipes for the highly regarded Belgian kitchen and during Choco-Laté, the chocolate festival, which takes place every year in Bruges around Eastern.
7. Things you never knew about chocolate
Did you know …
… in bygone days chocolate was served to ladies of nobility during mass?
… the church banned the consumption of chocolate at one time because it was deemed to be an aphrodisiac?
… the Aztec ruler Moctezuma drank up to 50 cups of spiced cacao every day, especially when he planned to visit his harem?
… Mrs du Barry gave her lovers drinking chocolate, so they could keep up with her?
… Casanova often used chocolate and champagne?
… there are over 800 (!) different constituents in chocolate?
… chocolate does not raise your cholesterol level?
A third of the fat in cacao butter is oleic acid, an unsaturated fat that is generally known as a cholesterol reducer. Cacao butter also contains saturated fat, but research has shown that around 40% of it is stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
… chocolate contains antioxidants (e.g polyphenols) that help prevent heart disease and cancer?
… diabetics can put chocolate on the menu?
The intake of simple sugars (such as glucose and sacharose) should however be restricted and spread throughout the day to avoid unexpected rises in the blood sugar level.
… chocolate does not cause liver failure and good-quality chocolate is digested within thirty minutes, unless consumed after a heavy meal?
… chocolate does not cause constipation?
On the contrary, it stimulates contraction of the muscles in the intestinal wall and promotes the intestinal transit.
… chocolate is not addictive?
Research has proven that while chocolate does contain substances related to other substances in cannabis, you would have to eat 11 kilos of chocolate every day to get the same effect!
… chocolate does not cause dental caries?
Like so many foodstuffs that contain sugar, chocolate can exacerbate existing tooth decay if your dental hygiene is not up to scratch.
But cacao also contains substances that combat tooth decay, including tannic acid, which contains polyhydroxyphenol, phosphates and fluorine.
8. Practical information
Discover the one and only Choco-Story | The Chocolate Museum and take a wander through the affluent history of cacao and chocolate!