York’s association with chocolate and confectionery is no great secret. For over a century, names such as Rowntree, Terry’s and Nestlé have become synonymous with the city, producing sweet favourites such as Kit Kat, Chocolate Orange and Aero. 2012 also marked York’s inaugural 4-day chocolate festival and the opening of a new chocolate museum which has proven to add strength to York’s claim on the title of the chocolate city.
Since the era of the Mayans when cocoa farming originally began, the cocoa plants used to produce chocolate have largely been grown far afield in tropical climates, such as the climes of the Ivory Coast where over half of the world’s cocoa is currently produced. Rarely, however, are cocoa plants grown in locations too far north of the equator. Until now.
North Yorkshire may not be a typical cocoa growing location with its temperamental weather and very non-tropical climate, yet the tricky task of growing cocoa in York is a challenge that has recently been undertaken by local chocolatier Sophie Jewett, owner of York Cocoa House.
Sophie has brought the 10 young cocoa plants to York from a research department at the University of Reading who are paving the way to ensuring a sustainable production of cocoa. The university’s project, which has been granted funding from several of the leading chocolate companies, seeks to research and develop new varieties of cocoa plants which are more suited to growth in climates such as our own, relieving pressures on current growers.
In keeping with York’s chocolatey heritage, Sophie is keeping five of the ten cocoa plants in the greenhouse at Goddards Garden which was previously owned by the Terry chocolate-making family, with the other five being housed in her shower as she searches for their prospective home.
The cocoa plants are currently in the early stages of development and whether or not they will thrive in such a (in comparison to what they’re used to) hostile environment remains to be seen. If the plants do adapt to York’s climate, it will be at least another 3 years before the plants begin to flower, and a further 2 years before they fully grow their yellow cocoa pods which can then be harvested.
If the growing process does prove fruitful, it may not be too long until chocolate can be grown, produced, packaged and sold entirely within the boundaries of York.