Zurich: a dazzling tribute to all things chocolate

Switzerland has long been famous for its chocolate, from creamy bars as an everyday treat to thick hot chocolates in the Alps. Now though, Zurich’s innovative chocolate-makers are making fresh waves in the industry.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020,
By Christie Dietz
Zurich’s gastronomes continue to build on the chocolate know-how they’ve acquired over the past 200 years.

Zurich’s gastronomes continue to build on the chocolate know-how they’ve acquired over the past 200 years.

Photograph by Getty

It’s Friday night and, having made my way through five courses at Blau restaurant in Zurich’s lively Langstrasse quarter, I’m feeling rather full. I’ve pulled a plump smoked oyster from its shell and devoured finely chopped veal heart tartare, lip-tinglingly hot and served with long, thin crisps of sourdough bread. Now, I’m looking at a veritable brick of chocolate mousse covered in dark, gleaming melted chocolate, and I’m not convinced I can fit it in.

At the start of my trip, I meet Lindt & Sprüngli representatives Tina Boetsch and Sara Thallner for lunch at Bebek, a beautiful, high-ceilinged restaurant serving dishes inspired by Switzerland and the Middle East. Over platters of herby falafel and hummus, they give me a quick primer on Swiss chocolate, from its 19th-century reputation as a fashionable drinking elixir to the pioneering producers who turned bars of chocolate from bitter, gritty tablets to the smooth, creamy version the country is famous for today. 

However, Tina and Sarah remain tight-lipped about Lindt’s secret recipe, which has remained unchanged since its invention in 1879. “It’s this tradition and pioneer spirit that makes Swiss chocolate so special,” says Tina. “It’s part of our heritage and culture.”

Until now, what goes on behind Lindt’s doors has been a mystery, but with the impending opening of the Lindt Home of Chocolate museum, that’s about to change. Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate has been produced here, on the banks of the clear — and, in the bright morning sunshine, positively sparkling — Lake Zurich, since 1899. The museum’s interactive exhibition encourages visitors to learn about every aspect of chocolate-making, from the origins of cacao cultivation to the production methods used today.

     With its curved white and gold facade, the museum is a dazzling tribute to all things chocolate, from the modern Chocolateria to the eight-metre-high chocolate fountain responsible for the irresistible aroma filling the foyer.

Cafe Bebek is a beautiful, high-ceilinged restaurant serving dishes inspired by Switzerland and the Middle East.

Photograph by Cafe Bebek

On the other side of the lake, with the Alps in the distance, Simon Mouttet, co-director of the annual FOOD ZURICH festival, shows me around the city’s old town. From the high-end boutiques of Chocolat Dieter Meier and Max Chocolatier to the traditional H. Schwarzenbach cafe and the gaudy displays at famous confectioner Teuscher, the number of chocolate spots in Switzerland’s largest city is astonishing — each of them an integral part of the city’s identity. 

From the guild houses and medieval churches of the old town, we head to the buzzing Binz quarter. Once little more than an industrial site, it’s now home to hip bars, restaurants and start-ups. A warehouse-like building now houses DasProvisorium, a collective that supports and promotes innovative, sustainable food projects, including Simon’s festival. Here, I meet Nadja Zehnbauer, of chocolatier La Flor, who tells me about the bean-to-bar movement shaking up Zurich’s chocolate scene. “The entire process should be sustainable, clean and fair,” she says. “The idea is to foster relationships with cacao farmers and, once you’ve received their fermented, dried beans, complete every step of the manufacturing yourself.” 

The air in La Flor’s workshop is heavy with the smell of roasting cacao nibs. In the background, warm, chestnut-coloured cocoa mass (cocoa nibs combined with sugar and cocoa butter) is being ground between stone rollers in a shiny silver mill. In an adjoining room, vast plastic tubs of hardening chocolate will later be melted, conched and tempered before being piped into portions and cooled into bars. The final step, of wrapping individual bars in thick, pink paper, is being carried out by the mother of Laura Schälchli, one of La Flor’s founders.

Outside La Flor’s workshop entrance, in the communal area that forms part of DasProvisorium’s co-working space, I sit down with agronomist Fränzi Akert. She explains how she and her business partner Andi Brechbühl started Garçoa with the aim of promoting chocolate in its purest form. Only two ingredients are used in their bars: cacao beans and raw cane sugar. 

The information on the back of their eco-conscious, tie-dyed packaging includes the origin of every cacao bean— imported from Ghana, India and Peru — as well as their harvest date. 

“The basic flavour of the beans remains the same,” Fränzi tells me. “But because of changes in the weather, ripeness and fermentation, every harvest will taste different — just like wine”.

The next morning, at his workshop in the city’s green, gently hilly outskirts, I meet Taucherli’s Kay Keusen, who moved to Zurich in 2006, fell in love with the place and stayed. Kay has just returned from a chocolate-related trip to Indonesia. “My life is chocolate,” he beams, hopping up and down with excitement. A cacao bean is tattooed on the inside of one forearm; a bar of chocolate is inked on the other. 

Kay started making chocolate in his garage four years ago, listing his flat on Airbnb and sleeping in his cellar to raise the capital. Today, his extraordinary passion and drive, his fastidiousness with bean quality and his global cacao connections has resulted in him producing two different kinds of chocolate: classic milk and an internationally renowned bean-to-bar offering. Kay’s goals are clear: he wants to make really, really good chocolate — and he wants everybody to eat it. And it turns out that, in fact, everyone here is eating chocolate. In the UK, consumption averages around 7kg per person each year. In Switzerland, that figure is around 10kg. 

Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate has been produced on the banks of Lake Zurich since 1899. 

Photograph by Getty

“When I was young, we’d devour mass-produced bars,” Simon tells me as we head back into the city, following the meadering course of the river Sihl. “But now it’s a pleasure to have a square of dark chocolate — like enjoying a glass of good wine. If you’re skiing, you might tuck a bar into your pocket or stop for an Ovomaltine on the slopes. We love going out for hot chocolate.”

At the historic Sprüngli coffeehouse, which first opened its doors in 1859, I acquire a thin, frothy chocolate moustache. The cafe is situated on Paradeplatz, a wide square lined with grand 19th-century buildings, including the headquarters of two of the country’s largest banks. “Do you know Monopoly?” Simon asks. “This is the most expensive location on the board.”

From here, it’s just a short stroll to Bar am Wasser, a stylish bar down by the Limmat river with sumptuous furniture, decorative cocktail shakers and dramatic chandeliers. Owner Dirk Hany, an award-winning bartender, jokes that he’s aiming for the first Michelin star for drinks. “I know it’s not possible, but we work as if it is,” he says. It’s only 5pm, so I aptly order a ‘before eight’. The cocktail comprises a bright green leaf of chocolate mint resting on a thin layer of velvety foam, with the pale, berry-coloured mix of red vermouth, lemon, creme de cacao and red port delicate and faintly sweet. Dirk tells me he’s been experimenting with Ghanaian cacao beans and rum, and I’m struck by how Zurich’s gastronomes continue to build on the chocolate know-how they’ve acquired over the past 200 years.

Which brings me back to my dessert at Blau. I stare at the glossy brick before me and pick up my spoon. Scooping off a corner of pale mousse and light chocolate sponge, I think about the pioneers and visionaries whose work has led to the creation sitting here before me. Silently thanking the people who brought cacao beans to Zurich, I close my eyes and lift the spoon to my mouth.

In the UK, chocolate consumption averages around 7kg per person each year. In Switzerland, that figure is around 10kg. 

Photograph by Löw Delights

Three fantastic chocolate experiences in Zurich


From museums to walking tours, the Swiss city offers a host of chocolate-related activities. 

Lindt Home of Chocolate
The new chocolate museum offers an interactive multimedia exhibition covering topics such as the history of cacao and the inventions of the Swiss chocolate pioneers, as well as chocolate tastings, chocolate-making courses, an ultra-modern cafe and the largest Lindt chocolate shop in the world.

Chocolate Indulge Tour
This walking tour of Zurich’s old town takes visitors from artisan chocolatiers to traditional confectioners and quirky cafes. Learn about the city’s chocolate history and culture, sample some of its offerings and finish up with a chocolate tasting and pairing session led by a chocolate connoisseur.

Garçoa Chocolate Safari
Share in Fränzi and Andi’s passion on a behind-the-scenes tour of Garçoa’s production facility. Chocolate-lovers will learn all about the bean-to-bar process, see how Garçoa’s small batch chocolate bars are made and discover how origin affects taste.

Essentials


Getting there
Among the airlines flying from the UK to Zurich are SWISS and British Airways from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester.

Where to stay
The 25hours Hotel Zurich Langstrasse is 10-minutes from Zurich Hauptbahnhof station. Rooms are stylish and the breakfast is excellent. Ask for mountain views.

How to do it
A Zürich Card covers public transport, entry to museums, discounts at shops and free surprises at top bars and restaurants like Sprüngli at Paradeplatz. The Zürich City Guide app is available now.

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