On a recent Saturday morning, I woke up excited: I was craving chocolate, as usual, but on that day I had booked a spot on the Chocolate Safari, a new tour from Discover Houston. The tour would cover five locations—all relatively close to each other to prevent excessive exercising (on a chocolate tour, no one wants to be reminded of healthy habits) and to avoid the Houston heat.
Mike Schmidt, our tour guide and the co-owner of Discover Houston tours, was quite friendly and quite adept at uniting wholly different groups of people into one animated conversation—mostlyabout chocolate.
The tour started at Ruggles Cafe Bakery, which has become so famous for its desserts since opening in 1999 that its website feels the need to clarify that “it is much more than an award-winning dessert bakery.” There we were served two types of cake including a surprisingly good chocolate tres leches in little sampling cups.
Those two cakes along with samples of chocolate at The Chocolate Bar were the only homemade desserts the tour offered. And therein lies the tour’s downfall. Houston may be a food city, as Schmidt emphasized, but the chocolate tour disappointingly focused very little on the ways in which Houstonians are adapting chocolate to make their own concoctions.
Following Ruggles, we stopped in two stores that made for bewildering choices on a chocolate tour: British Isles and Plate & Bottle. The first, an Englishman’s dream of bringing his native country to Houston, is entirely eclectic. It sells vast amounts of porcelain right next to vast amounts of tea, Banksy books, and souvenirs. The store does not predominantly sell chocolate and so our going there was slightly befuddling, though we did sample some Maltesers. However, most of the tourists seemed to love the store and for good reason: every square inch features some new and unique object that would serve very little purpose but that I would still buy quite willingly.
Plate & Bottle is a completely different store, though our presence there was equally confusing. The store does not actually sell any chocolate at all. Instead they sell boutique wine and cheese platters. Those 21 and older were served wine while we minors hung around and alternated turns on a wooden swing in the middle of the store, waiting for some more sweets. There, Schmidt recounted a rather condensed history of chocolate while we followed along on illustrated brochures. Then to illustrate the differences in types of chocolate he served us Ghirardelli dark and Hershey’s milk and white chocolates.
What was undoubtedly the best store on the tour was another short walk away. Chocolat du Monde is a beautiful place abounding with amazing chocolates from Europe. Its owner, David Heiland, strongly favors Belgian chocolate and contends that Belgium is simply the best country for chocolate-making. Thus, the store features Leonidas (and is only one of 25 stores in America to do so) and Neuhaus chocolates. However, they do also offer chocolates from all parts of Europe, as well as Chocolat du Monde’s homemade fudge. Heiland insisted that our group finish off a platter of Neuhaus chocolates before leaving and our tour group was happy to do so.
A chocolate tour in Houston would, of course, be incomplete without visiting The Chocolate Bar. Quite unfortunately we were offered no special tastings beside the ice cream samples and so to protest the chocolate deprivation, I bought a milkshake. Shortly thereafter—and with a few Hershey’s kisses and a Snickers bar to go—the tour was concluded.
The chocolate tour is among Discover Houston’s more consistently successful tours. It has sold out almost every time since it was introduced last year and may be expanded to Thursday’s and Friday’s as well. However, for $30 and a couple of chocolates, the tour may not be the best way to explore Houston’s chocolate scene or to learn the history of such a sweet. Instead, the tour is quite easy to complete alone and since most of the samples were also free to the public, there is no risk of missing out on any chocolate along the way.