Amsterdam chocolate city: the sweet side you do not expect.
If we asked you to think about the capital of chocolate, Amsterdam probably would not be the first destination to come to mind. And yet…
Despite its climate being far from tropical, the much-beloved Dutch destination – more famous for cheese, tulips, quirky canal houses and reckless bikers – has played a fundamental role in the history of cocoa and chocolate as we know it.
Could it take a YAYS Insider with a sweet tooth to show you the chocolate side of Amsterdam you were not expecting?
The birthplace of cocoa
Cocoa originated in Mesoamerica and for centuries it was used by indigenous people to produce a drink called xocoatl, meaning “drink of the gods” in the local language. Cocoa beans are naturally extremely bitter in flavour, so the indigenous peoples flavoured the drink with chilli peppers and other native spices. Even so, the result was a muddy mix of water, ground cacao beans and spices, a “godly” beverage that was in fact quite unpalatable to the taste of the European colonizers.
When Columbus took the first cocoa beans back to the Old Continent, the reception was not exactly enthusiastic. It took decades before the indigenous speciality turned into an agreeable drink for Europeans, thanks to the nuns of a Mexican convent, who sweetened and tweaked the original recipe to cater to the different tastes of the Old Continent.
Chocolate goes to Europe
Spreading from Spain and through France at the beginning of its European phase, chocolate remained a novelty for the wealthy and the aristocrats, a fancy beverage you could enjoy at royal courts and noble houses.
By the first decades of the 1600s, the Netherlands had already established its role in the European history of cocoa. Thanks to the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curacao, situated across Venezuela, home to some of the best varieties of cocoa, and to the trade power of the Dutch West India Company, the Dutch had conquered the cocoa market.
While in its first decades in Europe the beverage went through very few changes, in the early 1700s the English and the Dutch started adding milk to it and established chocolate houses.
The demand for cocoa grew slowly but steadily during the 18th century, while Amsterdam established itself as one of the most important cocoa ports in the world.
When chocolate met Dutch ingenuity
The fortunate circumstance of having such an abundance of cocoa beans coming into the port of Amsterdam tickled the imagination of some industrious Dutch minds. Amsterdam-born chemist Casparus van Houten and his son Coenrad introduced groundbreaking technological innovations in the processing of cocoa. Their discoveries made it easier and more affordable to use the tropical ingredient in a variety of preparations. Remarkably, they allowed for its use in the solid form. We’re sure you see where this is going…
Thanks to van Houtens’ inventions, the 19th century started the so-called “democratization” of chocolate and paved the way for the mass production of chocolate bars.
Hooray! Chocolate was finally a democratically available food, and accessible for a larger number of people!
Back to the 21st century, the Netherlands is still at the forefront of cocoa and chocolate. With the country being the largest cocoa processor in the world, the port of Amsterdam remains the largest point of arrival for cocoa beans worldwide. Think about it as you stroll along the canals: you’re near the largest repository of cocoa in the world.
Notable YAYS Neighbours in chocolate
Now that you know how important Amsterdam is for chocolate lovers like you, watching the cargos sail by from The Crane by YAYS or thinking about the maritime heritage of the city when staying at YAYS Maritime or YAYS Docklands will have a whole new flavour.
And if you are looking for souvenirs to take back home, consider one of the many chocolate-makers in town. With so much cocoa sailing in for centuries, it will come as no surprise that Amsterdam is home to many fine chocolate makers and artisans. We share our neighbourhoods with a few of the best.
For a chance to taste the best homemade chocolate ice cream in town, visit Jordino in Amsterdam West, not far from the characteristic Jordaan district. A chocolate parlour filled with edible chocolate sculptures, delicious French macarons, and homemade bonbons, at this adorable father & son small shop, chocolate-dipped ice cream with whipped cream is a must, but we can’t promise you’ll be able to resist all the other delicious temptations, including a mouthwatering variety of pralines.
On the same street, try a different take on chocolate at Petit Gateau, a lovely pastry shop selling miniature French-style tartlettes, many of which are chocolate-based. No matter the flavor, though, they all look so cute that you won’t help buying a mix!
If learning about the background story of your chocolate bar made you want to dig deeper into the world of chocolate…or if you need a break from eating chocolate but you are not ready to get your mind off of it, another great place to visit is The Cacao Museum in Amsterdam East. Run by real chocolate experts who can help with everything chocolate-related – from recommendations for the best fine chocolate for your taste to chocolate painting workshops, it will have you enter as a chocolate lover and leave as a chocolate nerd.
One of the most successful chocolate stories in town is Tony’s Chocolonely (look them up in the YAYS Neighbourhood Guide you’ll receive at check-in), a local chocolate brand headquartered in the beautiful Westerpark.
The funny brand name of these colorful chocolate bars refers to the unique founding story of the company. But that’s for another Inside Story…
meet the writer.
Mario loves Amsterdam and its history. Before becoming a YAYS Insider, he was a boy scout, a tour guide and a candy maker. His favourite place in Amsterdam is the kinderboerderij of Westerpark, a little city farm unknown to many locals. Even on a day off, he loves to hang out in the neighbourhood with his daughter or his friends, discovering hidden gardens. Mario speaks Mexican Spanish and Texan English, knows a lot of Polish words and is working on his Dutch.
The most chocolatey place to stay in Amsterdam? Amsterdam East by YAYS!
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