York Chocolate Museum: a sweet success
Everyone loves chocolate, right? Well, if you do, a great amount of its history and production is thanks to this incredible city. I knew this before I visited the new museum, and expected both that the guides didn't know a great amount about York and also that the museum was too expensive to be good value for money.
So I made my way into the "York's Sweet Story" attraction with trepidation, my fondness for chocolate and my appreciation for the incredible work of Rowntree's and Terry's (and others, including Craven's, who manufactured humbugs) in York matched equally by my fear that the museum would be an insult to their memory. When I arrived, instead of letting me into the museum, they decided to sit me down in the overpriced café as I had to wait for the infrequent (every 20 minutes) tour.
Making my way in a lift to a dimly lit room, I found myself greeted by a pleasant woman tasked with explaining the taste, smell and history of chocolate. A good overview of chocolate's history was given (though they unsurprisingly glossed quickly over Spain's slaughter of the native South Americans) and I now know (spoiler alert) that chocolate that has white bits in it and crumbles quickly is not of a good quality. There wasn't much time for questions, but we got some free chocolate. Nonetheless, I was dissatisfied with having to wait and the absence of anything to do with York.
But then we entered a room in which the 'founding fathers' of York chocolate had a lengthy and, frankly, an exciting and needlessly epic multi-screen conversation with each other and the guide. It was genuinely fantastic. After discussing the York chocolate families, we moved through to see the process by which chocolate was made and the difference between different types of chocolate, before being let loose in a room full of more obscure details of York's chocolate history. A man displayed the shaping of chocolate and there was plenty of more chocolate (of various flavours and styles) available for us all to enjoy before we left.
At this point in the review, it's probably noticeable that I am torn on the museum. On the one hand, I didn't find that it really said anything incredible that I didn't already know - though I discovered that Rowntrees had its own dentist, for instance, it's hardly surprising given Rowntree's famous healthcare support. We saw a mock-up of how chocolate was made, and someone showing us a small sample, but we didn't see a factory at work. We could watch 1980s adverts on a small screen, but I can do that on youtube. Feel free at this point to have a break.
But I did actually enjoy the experience. I found it as worthwhile (albeit a little less child-friendly) as the infamous Cadbury World but for a fair amount less money. Still, you ask, perhaps your infamous cheapness means that you hate anything costing more than £3? Well, yes, but it was surprisingly worth the price. It contained both a good overview of chocolate discovery, production and history as well as a view of why York is important to it. Certainly there were things that I'd have preferred to be a bit different, such as having a short blitz through every product York has produced and still produces, and I'd certainly have halved the prices in the café and shop, but seeing them make the chocolate then and there in small batches makes you appreciate the reason for its price. Once, chocolate was a luxury for only a small group of people - and now we take it a little bit more for granted (albeit for good reason).
So now I'm actually going to say words I wasn't expecting to; not only is York's Sweet Story a decent museum with interesting information, but it is almost worth the large price tag it has given itself. The one disappointment, really, was that I didn't find anything completely surprising or unique out, but that's certainly not something that I can hold against the place. I'd love to see the price come down - along with the prices for all the rest of the museums in York that sit far above the appropriate level - but it's better than most equivalents and gives you a decent amount of top-quality free chocolate.
"Chocolate - York's Sweet Story" is located in King's Square. Student tickets can be bought on the door for £8.50 and online for £7