Yesterday I visited Basel, a city in German-speaking Switzerland. Basel is just one hour by train from Freiburg in Southern Germany (where I am currently staying) so it’s a perfect day trip. I hadn’t been to Basel for several years so I walked around the historic city center for a bit and then visited Fondation Beyerle to check out the new Jean Dubuffet exhibition. I also discovered a fabulous chocolate store: Xocolatl!
Now, Switzerland is famous for its milk chocolate (you might also be familiar with the iconic Toblerone triangular chocolate bars?) and just about any supermarket and souvenir store sells various milk chocolate tablets. Xocolatl is different: they are a specialist retailer and offer a spectacular portfolio of chocolate bars from around the world – many of these are niche brands; some are organic and/or fair trade and all are of very high quality. No Lindt or Sprüngli chocolates here! Xocolatl’s brand selection changes often since the owners frequently add new brands to the line-up.
And I was bowled over by some of the niche brands I saw in Xocolatl. Their bar chocolates are divided into four shelves – “Schweiz” (Switzerland – regional brands), “Europa” (Germany, Austria, Italy, France, UK etc.), “Übersee” (Overseas – US, Latin America, South America, Caribbean and so on) and “Xocolatl”, the store’s own range of chocolate bars. I pride myself on knowing most premium chocolate manufacturers in Europe but there were so many brands that I had never heard of that I took detailed notes. Let’s start with Switzerland.
The Schweiz section includes both Swiss brands and international chocolate brands manufactured in Switzerland. Like Original Beans, for example. Original Beans is an organic chocolate brand from the Netherlands; the actual chocolate, however, is produced by a Swiss company. As are the fair trade chocolate varieties of UK brand Chocolate & Love or the fabulous filled chocolate bars of Austrian niche brand Tiroler Edle.
Tiroler Edle is a brand that is based in the Tyrol mountain region of Austria and their chocolate bars are made with typically Tyrolean ingredients such as Vinschgau apricots, locally harvested mint, blueberries or raspberries, or regional delicacies like gentian liqueur or braunelle mountain honey. I was quite taken with Tiroler Edle: check out their range of chocolates online! They even have a special Innsbruck city edition (Innsbruck is the capital of Tyrol). Other Swiss brands available at Xocolatl are Idilio Origins, a chocolate manufacturer from the Basel area, Chocolat Stella and Hug.
I knew most of the chocolate brand in the Europa shelf but even here there were plenty of surprises. The line-up includes all the big names (if you like bitter chocolate, you’ll know most of these brands): Chocolate Bonnat, Valrhona, Michel Cluizel and Pralus from France, Zotter from Austria, Stainer and Domori from Italy; Coppeneur, Deli Cacao and Meybona from Germany; Willies Cacao, Akesson’s and Rococo Chocolates from the UK, raw chocolate brand Love Chock from the Netherlands, Friis Holm from Denmark and Rozsavölgyi Csokolade from Hungary.
I was particularly intrigued by Rozsavölgyi (which I had never heard of): the company is from Budapest and their chocolate portfolio includes have a 12-sku range of single origin chocolate bars, something called Sailor’s Moustaches (candied bergamot, orange and lemon rinds in chocolate!) and a number of flavoured chocolate bars, including some unusual varieties like Black Sesame, Olives & Bread (the company received the Academy of Chocolate Bronze Award in 2013 for this bar), Green Spices, Matcha & Lemon Oil and Caramelized Lavender.
In the Übersee shelf I only knew two chocolate brands: Mast Brothers from the US and Marou from Vietnam. I find Marou particularly interesting: there are simply not that many bean-to-bar manufacturers that are based in Vietnam. Marou was founded in 2011, they manufacture all their chocolate bars in Saigon and the standard product range includes five single origin bars with cocoa beans grown in different provinces in Vietnam. The packaging is ultra-stylish and they even created a special chocolate bar in cooperation with Wallpaper magazine. There is also a limited edition bar made with a special variety of cocoa beans that is grown only in very small quantities on an island on the Mekong river. Galeries Lafayettes department store in Berlin stocks Marou and I tried one of their bars once – delicious. Expensive but worth every cent.
The Overseas selection at Xocolatl also stocks Taza, a raw chocolate brand, and Askinosie from the US; The Grenada Chocolate Company from the Caribbean island of Grenada and Robert from Madagascar. I found Taza particularly interesting; I am not usually a fan of raw chocolate (which tends to have a sandy texture) but the round Taza bars were so eye-catching that I bought two varieties to try them out. And yes, they are a bit grainy but the taste is amazing – so much better than Love Chock (which is probably the most widely distributed raw chocolate brand in Germany. They are everywhere). Robert had a 99% chocolate bar with vanilla pods which I also had to try – a surprisingly smooth taste. 99% or 100% chocolate can be overwhelming (it is basically pure cocoa mass) but the Roberts bar is very good!
And finally, Xocolatl’s own chocolate bar range. I counted the different variants and there are 36 (!) single origin and flavoured bars in total. Fifteen of these are with 70% cocoa mass and flavours include Sour Cherry & Thyme, Pistachio, Cardamom and Mace Flower. The range also offers two 36% milk chocolates (Matcha and Vanilla), five different varieties with 42% cocoa mass (such as Salted Caramel and Lemon) and four varieties of 65% chocolate bars (flavours include Salted Pistachio, Pink Pepper and Chili & Raspberry).
The store is located on Marktgasse 6 in the city centre, close to the middle Rhine bridge. Xocolatl has been a Basel institution for ten years but they only moved to their current location in May 2015. The interior is beautiful (when I was visiting the store they already had all of the Easter chocolates in-store!) and there is also a small café area that serves a range of Xocolatl drinking chocolates. A visit is highly recommended!