York Cocoa Works draws on a rich chocolate making past to create a taste for the future

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cocoa York

Cocoa production is once again booming in the city center of York and thanks to the new facility, the city’s heritage is being no longer ignored.

After more than 50 years, and a stone’s throw away from where it all began, York Cocoa Works has brought back chocolate making to the city centre.

The recently opened £750,000 ($986,251) production facility is in Castlegate (a former Job Centre Plus office), employs approximately 15 people and has the capacity to produce 200 tonnes of cocoa a year.

By coincidence, the Works is almost opposite Mary Tuke’s grocery shop, where in 1862, she was selling cocoa and chocolate and was later bought out by Henry Isaac Rowntree, who of course, started to make his own chocolate in the city.

It is also the first time since the 1960s that cocoa beans are being roasted and ground in York City center since the closure of Craven’s Ebor Confectionery works in Coppergate, which is now where the famous Jorvik Centre is located.

Big hit with tourists

Sophie Jewett, co-founder and managing director of York Cocoa Works, told Confectionery News it all started when she opened York Cocoa House in 2011 with Michelle Procter on the other side of the city, which became a big hit with tourists and locals looking for something different for lunch or afternoon tea.

She said: “York Cocoa House is known for its artisan craftsmanship when it comes to chocolate and I’m proud to be supporting the city’s reputation for chocolate making. I’ve had big ambitions for the business since day one and to now have the ability to produce hundreds of tonnes of chocolate right here in York​.”

Jewitt’s love affair with chocolate - and York - started when she studied PR and marketing at the university, working in the catering industry in her spare time and then managing events for the York Food and Drink Festival after she graduated.

When she started to look into York’s chocolate making history, she found it had almost been forgotten about; Terry’s had long since closed and Rowntrees was taken over by Nestlé in 1988.

Chocolate making heritage

When I looked into it, I found York had this most amazing history, and I got quite excited by it, but no one was doing anything about it. York’s chocolate making heritage appeared to be falling by the wayside​,” she said.

I got fed up of asking questions and I started developing an idea of celebrating York’s chocolate heritage, so we opened York Cocoa House in 2011 to recognize that heritage​.”

Jewitt said one of the main reasons was to explore the exciting new flavors being developed in chocolate and create not a museum, but a living, breathing space, to recognize York’s role in the history of chocolate making.

We also wanted to create a school where we could teach chocolate making to children and also to eventually make chocolate​,” she said.

Bespoke machinery

With local development grants and a successful crowdfunding campaign, York Cocoa Works was able to convert the 3,000 sq ft office space into a chocolate factory, purchasing bespoke chocolate manufacturing machinery from Brazil, designed specifically to support small-scale craftsmanship.

Its cocoa beans are ethically sourced and come direct from cacao producers mainly in South America. “The objective is to provide full transparency of the whole production process,​’ said Sophie.

Since opening in March 2018, the company has expanded its facilities to include a chocolate factory, shop, café and Cocoa Academy, handling up to 50 tonnes of cocoa on site. The new facility will also host educational activities, professional chocolate training and chocolate factory tasting tours.

Sophie said the company has plans to expand further into the business-to-business market, growing its brand, with an aim is to produce a turnover of £1.5m ($1.97m) by 2020, and increase its team by 10 people.

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