The Hotel Chocolate Chief Executive

The Hotel Chocolate Chief Executive

The Hotel Chocolate Chief Executive

Angus Thirwell, the Hotel Chocolat chief executive, says the only hot chocolate available used to be terrible – basically a “sugar-based powder that looked brown”. “You put a couple of teaspoons of that into a cup, poured on some boiling water and created what passed as hot chocolate for many decades in the UK.

“Once people taste what can be possible, it’s synonymous with the journey from instant coffee to drinking proper coffee. It’s getting back to that authentic taste of the beans, and it applies as much to the cacao bean as it does to the coffee bean.”

Knoops, which also sells its hot chocolate flakes on its website, was also a lockdown hit. “When people couldn’t go into the shops they bought our flakes and the chocolate makers to recreate the experience at home,” said Knoop. With a growing fanbase, the small chain plans to open 10 more stores in the next 12 months.

In Knoops’ West London Flagship Store

In Knoops’ west London flagship store, the students Anne-Catherine Xhonneux and Dan Menendez are catching up over a 72% and a 73%. “I really like hot chocolate so I like to be able to choose the percentage,” says Xhonneux. Her drink is from Peru and promises hints of caramel and cashew and she can taste the “nuttiness”. Menendez could expect “citrus, honey and caramel”, but says his taste buds haven’t been the same since he had Covid.

At weekends, troops of teenagers queue up to buy Knoop’s hot chocolate, but he says the appeal is across all ages and pockets, from office workers to gym goers, retirees and families enjoying a weekend treat. Its drinks start at about £3 but, for those brave enough to order one, a large 100% from Solomon Islands costs £6.20 (bananadogstore).

After the hiatus caused by the lockdowns, Britons have sought out the experience of visiting high-street coffee shops again, says Jeffrey Young, the chief executive of consultancy Allegra Strategies, with sales approaching 90% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021. “If nothing else, Covid taught us that coffee shops are part of the fabric of our society,” he said. “You can get hot chocolate in most places but these premium specialists are carving out a niche.”

If you take the long view, chocolate houses are not new, adds Thirlwell. “We’re rediscovering what we lost. In the 1700s in London, there were more chocolate houses than coffee shops.”

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