Tip for dudes: if you want to get your girlfriend to marry you, propose to her on a chocolate tour.
“Can’t say no to chocolate and a ring, right, ladies?” asked our tour guide, Kerri Morrison, on a Sunday afternoon chocolate tour around Chicago.
In fact, over the course of Chicago Chocolate Tours’ more-than-five-year existence, says founder Valerie Beck, “We’ve had three gentlemen arrange with us in advance to propose marriage on our tours to their chocolate-loving girlfriends, and all three women said ‘yes.’”
Beck, a Chicago native, started the company after earning a law degree at Harvard and practicing in Europe. She’d led her friends on tours abroad, bringing them to “chocolate shops and bakeries that I was going to visit anyway,” Beck says. When she moved back to Chicago, she wanted to continue leading these tours, but in a more structured way. “When a group of Valerie’s friends came to town and wanted to do something fun and different,” so goes the story on the website, “they were delighted when she took them on the very first Chicago Chocolate Tour in November 2005.”
Now the tours run daily, 52 weeks a year, exploring shops in the Loop, Lakeview, the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast. Beck has also branched out and now runs tours in Geneva, IL, and in Boston and Philadelphia.
Our group of 17 stopped into five small downtown shops that served the sweet treat used as currency by the Aztecs – a fact Morrison shared at the beginning of the tour before giving us each a cacao bean to gnaw on. The bean, which looks like an almond on the outside, smells strongly of chocolate, Morrison told us, but tastes very bitter. (A friend on the tour bravely popped the whole thing in her mouth, but admitted later that it wasn’t the best idea.)
Facts were peppered throughout the tour, such as who introduced the cacao bean to Europe (Christopher Columbus) and the 19th-century U.S. origin of the cupcake – either the ingredients were measured out in cups or the cake batter was baked in cups to prevent uneven cooking.
Sharing information about chocolate, Chicago chocolate, and the city in general was part of Beck’s original design. “Knowledge is power, and context is everything,” she says. “We love busting myths and sharing facts about chocolate, so that for the rest of their lives our guests can enjoy chocolate mindfully, and without guilt.”
Signing up for a $40 chocolate tour—or $22 with a Groupon—pretty much already means that you don’t feel guilty about your love of chocolate. The tour focuses only on small, locally owned shops that serve “quality ingredients,” Beck says. “We tell our guests on Chicago Chocolate Tours that ‘we will never poison you on a chocolate tour,’ meaning we won’t serve you any chocolate items with phony food ingredients.”
On our tour, the group stopped into Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland (900 N. Michigan Ave.), More Cupcakes (1 E. Delaware Pl.), Dreidels and More (67 E. Oak St.), Sarah’s Pastries and Candies (70 E. Oak St.), and Argo Tea’s Gold Coast location (819 N. Rush St.). We sniffed Teuscher’s specialty Dom Pérignon champagne truffle; we nibbled on kosher chocolate dreidels; we drank red velvet iced tea at Argo.
It’s appropriate that Chicago Chocolate Tours’ motto and mission is “uplift through chocolate.” Says Beck, “This means we uplift our beloved guests by giving them a fun and educational chocolate experience, two-and-a-half hours of smiles and laughter, and memories they can cherish forever.”
But they seem to have a model that can’t really lose. Who doesn’t love chocolate?