It took a bit of digging to confirm that I’ve been a member of the Chocolate Tasting Club for over six years. It was back in October 2004 that I first posted about the club, and I’ve been enjoying my monthly boxes ever since. When they offered the dark chocolate version a while later, I switched immediately, which proved to be a good move. In addition to the monthly box, there are optional (but oddly essential) extras like an Easter egg, a “best of the year” collection, and of course, an extra special, and extra large, Christmas selection.
You might recall that from late November through to Christmas, the UK was brought to a standstill by an unusually heavy and persistent bit of snow. One of the things that was badly affected was the postal service, which meant that lots of things took much longer to arrive than normal, and lots of people found they were getting weekly rather than daily deliveries. For instance, my December and special Christmas boxes from the tasting club arrived in late December – the day I travelled to South Wales, rather than early in the month, as would be generally expected.
Now I didn’t think anything of this – the weather was, frankly, dire. Lots of post was delayed, and I certainly didn’t think to complain to those nice people at the Chocolate Tasting Club about something that was obviously beyond their control.
But apparently some customers got their Christmas boxes even later than I did, and some of them did think to complain. And the very nice people at the Chocolate Tasting Club didn’t respond (as I might have done) with some remark about how the weather had been a bit of a problem. Oh no, not them. They sent a letter to everyone who bought the Christmas box apologising for any delays, declined to blame the Royal Mail, or the weather, took responsibility for not being prepared for the worst snow in several decades, and as they had no way of knowing which customers had been inconvenienced, they included a voucher worth £5 off a future selection. Oh, and a reply-paid envelope to return it and tell them which selection you’d like to save money on. Nice. Not even remotely necessary, but a very nice gesture, which I’ll quite happily use to save some money on my mind-bogglingly good Easter egg.
But then, they are seriously decent people – quite apart from making damn fine chocolate, which they sell online and in their gradually expanding chain of shops, they’re also nicely ethical. Never mind the moderately standard Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance thingies (which are Good Things, I have to say), Hotel Chocolat invested in an actual chocolate plantation on St Lucia – they call their attitude “engaged ethics”, and have to say that it’s an admirable approach.
Their products are not cheap, but they’re seriously good. If you’ve got a shop near you, it’s well worth a look – try some of their little packs of chocolates, or the nice little slabs, which are good value. Or if you just want some serious dark chocolate, try the packs of little dark chocolate buttons – they’re sold as being for cooking, but they’re proper, high quality chocolate, ideal for the odd nibble.
Or you could just do the sensible thing and join the Chocolate Tasting Club. Not the cheapest monthly treat, but a very good one. And you’ll be doing business with people who care about what they’re doing, and about their customers.
 Though it’s been alleged that much of the problem was more to do with management rearrangement nonsense rather than the actual weather
 They didn’t actually mention that the UK hadn’t had snow that stuck around for so long in well over twenty years. I would have…
 The long-awaited Newcastle branch opened on Blackett Street before Christmas, nicely removing the sole reason for me to ever visit the MetroCentre again.