1) Please explain your journey as 'Chocolate Ecstasy Tours' so far.
In 2005 I really wanted to "be an entrepreneur" and set up a business. At 23, I didn't have a lot of experience, or any cash to speak of, but I wrote a list of all of the things I loved or was good at and brainstormed business ideas from this. Chocolate, meeting people and London were all on the list and I thought that introducing people to some of the gorgeous, hidden-away and somewhat intimidating chocolate boutiques I had recently found would be a great way to combine things I loved into a business that just might work; everyone loves chocolate, right?
It wasn't quite the overnight success I imagined and my first big piece of press in the Daily Mail in 2006 didn't crash my website like I'd feared, but over the years the tours have grown and it's great to be respected as a helpful part of the fine chocolate industry as well as receive such lovely reviews from people who've been on the tours. I love making people happy so I have a great job for achieving this on a weekly basis!
To begin with I was afraid that running the tours would make me get tired of chocolate but I actually love it more now than before I started. There is so much to learn about chocolate and every piece tastes different and still so fabulous. All my vacations are to places I can learn about chocolate. I just got back from Vietnam and spent a day at Marou's chocolate factory and two days visiting cocoa plantations. I'm honoured to get to judge chocolate for various prestigious awards and to assess it for companies as diverse as Tesco and the niche e-retailer, Cocoa Runners. Everyone working in the "chocolate world" is in it because they are passionate about chocolate and it's wonderful to spend time around people who also love what they do.
This year I'm challenging myself to see what else I can offer. I have plans for new tours, including ones abroad, and tasting evenings. I'm excited!
2) What differentiates your company from others?
We are the longest running food tour in London and all of the guides would probably run the tours even if they weren't paid to, they love it so much. Like me, they are passionate about chocolate and London and really enjoy making sure people have a great experience.
What especially sets us apart is we have a great, collaborative relationship with all of the places we visit and we make a promise to all guests that they will be completely full of chocolate by the end. It's a more in-depth tour, rather than a run around London pointing out shops. But it's always light hearted and never boring (we like to think!)!
3) Is there any inside information you can give us?
I always advise people to have a low GI breakfast (or lunch!) before coming on the tour and to try everything! It's an opportunity to find new favourites or be converted. I've had lots of people come on a tour who previously didn't like dark chocolate or white chocolate and they've found some they do like - it's all about the quality!
4) Do you have any exciting plans for the future that you'd like to tell us about?
In May I'll be taking a group to visit a crazy and fascinating chocolate factory in Austria and in September have a trip planned to Paris. I'll also be launching a new chocolate and coffee tour and some evening tasting events from March.
5) What would you say is your most frequently asked question?
Where should I store chocolate? Not in the fridge! Unless it's 30C+ in your house then a cool place in the house is much better. The chocolate can attract water in the fridge which will change the texture and taste. Also, straight out of the fridge the chocolate will have much less flavour and who is patient enough to remember to take it out an hour before eating! If it is over 30C in the house double wrap the chocolate before you put it in the fridge and wait for it come to room temperature out of the fridge before unwrapping it.
How come you aren't the size of the house? When I tell people they will be completely full of chocolate at the end of the tour I also tell them that it might not be the greatest amount of chocolate they have ever eaten. Because all the chocolate we sample on the tour is so high quality, with a high cocoa content, it's much more satisfying so you don't need to eat as much as cheaper chocolate. It's actually hard to overeat the good stuff, like when you have a slice of really rich chocolate cake or a really thick hot chocolate. Though personally I do also eat a lot of vegetables as well, and usually steer clear of the crisps and chips, which helps too!
Other tours available from Chocolate Ecstacy Tours: