Fun Fact: Boston is steeped deep in chocolate history! This was my surprising discovery when I decided to create a Boston Chocolate Adventure for me and my sons (as a belated Mother’s Day adventure together). I started the same way I did for my New York City chocolate adventures, by considering the local tours. In one of the tour descriptions, there was a reference to the history of chocolate in Boston. This piqued my interest, and I – being always curious – decided to look into it some more! (If you’re anxious for the free tour, check the itinerary and link to the Google Maps I created for ‘all the chocolate in Boston’ is at the end).
Frisky Puritans and Pilgrims
The impression I had of the Colonials who were making America their new homeland was that they were a pretty austere group, all work and no play. The facts I uncovered show that drinking chocolate was a regular habit for many, and sold in the taverns alongside coffee for those who did not want to partake of ales & spirits. It is believed chocolate first came to the Colonies shortly after Londoners had discovered it’s pleasures, around 1657. Think about that – more than a century before the American Revolution!
Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate House
Captain Newark Jackson, as a merchant and mariner, imported cacao beans to the new colonies, among other things (including looking glasses, salt and even buttons) during the 1730s-1740s. His storehouses were located in the North End, and as a sign of his wealth he paid for a pew in the Old North Church. In those days, most of the cacao came from Venezuela, Brazil and the three countries on the coast in-between (now called Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana). European countries controlled the exports, and mandated that shipments go to their countries first and then exported to other countries with heavy taxes. Mariners like Captain Jackson didn’t want to pay those fees, and basically went direct to the suppliers and brought (what the mother countries would call) contraband home. This swarthy sailor lost his life to pirates off the coast of Dutch controlled Suriname. Rumor has it that his ship had a cargo bay full of slaves (being the time of the infamous “Triangular Trade” between Europe, the colonies and West Africa). But, what he will be remembered for now is his time as a chocolatier, especially with the museum named after him: Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate House.
At Captain Jackson’s, the demonstrator showed us a chocolate pot with the stir stick that goes up the middle, and is used to froth the chocolate. In my research, I learned about the creation of chocolate pots made from silver. Today there are nine in existence. Not far from the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house, there were stately homes where high society types had their ‘Chokolette’ made regularly. I think many others may have existed, but many were melted down (along with other silverware) in the 1800s. I was surprised to learn Paul Revere, the famous silversmith, did not make any chocolate pots – though he made plenty of creamers, spoons and teapots.
Not far from here are two well-known places for Cannolis, which reflect the Italian heritage of the area. We popped into Mike’s, but it was really crowded. We stayed at Modern Pastry and enjoyed a morning coffee and items from their showcase of chocolates. Most tours would spend a half a day in each section of town (Little Italy, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Southie – aka the South End, or Cambridge), but I had just this short day. My tour continued to Beacon Hill. Walking or taking the T is about the same amount of time. We were going to walk, but the rain helped us decide to hop a cab.
Fortunately, the places in Beacon Hill are all on the same street and within short walks of each other. The cab dropped us in front of Fastachi, which (oops) didn’t open until noon. We looked in the window and saw it was a store that focuses on nuts, and had a nice display of craft chocolates near the front window.
A quick run through the rain, and up a few stairs, we opened the doors to Beacon Hill Chocolates. The smells wafted over us, and I knew this was the perfect place to hang out for a while. My sons had the gelato (delicious) and I was entranced by all the craft chocolate bars I’d never seen before. I’m still enjoying learning about the makers of these bars, some of whom are local to this area!
The ability to shift our attitudes made this part of our adventure better. It continued to rain as we walked from Beacon Hill, through the Boston Commons to Back Bay. There are quite a few chocolate places around here, but we stuck with two – L.A. Burdick’s on Clarendon Street and then for a chocolatey brunch at Max Brenner’s on Boylston Street.
As adventures sometimes go, we didn’t make it to the last planned stop, the Gourmet Boutique (a high end foodie gift store). Instead we headed into the Prudential Center as a nice walk to the Back Bay Amtrak station. Inside this mall there are plenty of chocolate stores, and a Fastachi kiosk, if you really want more chocolate. The Eataly is in this area, which is rumored to have amazing hot chocolate and other Italian chocolates which would be worth the time.
More Boston, More Chocolate!
Click on the map below for the custom Google map of the chocolate places on this tour, and others I’ve found. If you go after June 1st, a new place is opening in the Boston Public Market called Goodnow Farms. This couple goes to different countries to buy their cacao beans and create their chocolates in their barn in Sudbury. Although a new company, they’ve garnered several awards for their bars!
My impression is that the South End is becoming a bit like Brooklyn, with all sorts of artisanal everything popping up. If I went there, I’d probably sign on with a paid tour, just to get the latest spots. Try Cocoa Beantown which has a bunch to choose from, be sure to ask for Victoria – the Chief Chocolate Officer (I recently met her, and she’s pretty cool.) The Taza Chocolate Factory is in Somerville, and that’s worth a trip by itself, but there are other places nearby that would make it a cool adventure. Cambridge has a few fun places, but what I want to check out is the FCCI (or Chocolate Institute or Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute) where the founder also teaches a course on chocolate at Harvard!
Adventure Wednesdays Chocolate Tour of Boston
Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate House (Old North Church)
21 Unity St, Boston, MA 02113
Mike’s Pastry (known for its cannoli’s)
300 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113
Foster-Hutchinson house (where it stood 1693-1833, owners of the Winslow Chocolate Pot)
3 Garden Ct St, Boston, MA 02113
Pierce/Hichborn house (built 1711, similar in style to F-H home, to get an idea. Next to Paul Revere house)
19 N Square, Boston, MA 02113
Modern Pastry (rival to Mike’s Pastry, apparently excellent hot chocolate)
244 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113
Haymarket, Congress Street & New Sudbury Street, Boston, MA 02108, United States
Take the Green Line C (towards Cleveland Circle) or E (towards Heath St) 2 stops to Park Street stop
Downtown Crossing Station, Boston, MA 02108
Walk through Boston Common, by Frog Pond, down Beacon to Charles St
89 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114, USA
83 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114
70 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114
Head back to Boston Commons, pass the Make Way for Ducklings statues
220 Clarendon St, Boston, MA 02116, USA
745 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116, USA
10 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116
Adventurers like me
POST NOTE: I am not being paid or otherwise supported by any of the places mentioned. These are all my own honest opinions. Please let me know you thoughts on this free tour – and if you will be trying any part of it!