The wonderful world of Charlotte’s Chocolates in Buxton
00:00 10 February 2017
Derbyshire Life visits Buxton’s Cavendish Arcade in search of home-made delights
I’m unashamed to admit that my ‘guilty pleasure’ is chocolate. Hot or cold, dark, milk, white, cake, cookie, truffle or bar I’m in there! It’s no secret and I’m not alone in my addiction for products created from the bean of the Theobroma cacao tree, which literally means ‘food of the Gods’!
It is known that 3,000 years ago the cacao tree was first cultivated by the Ancient Mayans of Central America to make a chocolate drink. So valued was this rich elixir that the cacao beans were used as currency, their worth at the time being greater than that of gold dust.
Love for this delicious nutriment spread through Meso-america and eventually to Central Africa – the cacao tree will only grow in a narrow belt some 10 degrees either side of the Equator. Today more than two-thirds of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and half of that from the Ivory Coast. Worldwide, the sale of chocolate is said to generate some £80 billion a year, 45 per cent of which is in Europe.
The glorious smell of chocolate is reputed to increase theta brain waves which trigger relaxation and happiness, so I now know why walking through Cavendish Arcade in Buxton is so appealing. It’s not just the presence of some of the town’s best independent retailers but the fragrance coming from one shop in particular – Charlotte’s Chocolates and Café. A quick glance into the shop through its ornate Victorian doorway reveals a display cabinet packed with heaped trays of mouth-watering chocolate concoctions, mini-mountains of scrumptious truffles and soft centres. In various shapes of edible exquisiteness these milk, dark or white chocolates are an enticement to any passing chocoholic, but added to this is the aroma of ground Americano coffee – a double whammy of delight.
Charlotte’s is owned by Beverley Jones, a Yorkshire lass by birth, brought up on visits to Taylors of Harrogate and the famous Betty’s for tea and cake. Now living in Macclesfield, Bev had a career in advertising, for years making the tedious daily commute to Manchester. When she reached 50 Bev wanted ‘out’ from the rat race and tedium of office work, her dream being to open a tearoom or coffee shop, and so when she found Charlotte’s in Buxton was for sale it seemed like the perfect retirement plan, with the added bonus of chocolate which she adores with a passion. There was only one snag, as Bev explained: ‘Although I was all right with the business side of things, I had never baked a cake or made a chocolate in my life!’
Steve Lee was selling this well-established Buxton shop which he had named after his young daughter. He stayed on to train Bev and within weeks she was transformed from a chocolate novice to a fully fledged chocolatier. That was back in 2010 at the height of the recession when the last thing on most people’s minds was the indulgence of buying quality chocolates. Since then, year on year, the business has flourished, an achievement that makes Bev feel justifiably proud.
‘The first chocolate I made was a champagne truffle which is now one of our best sellers. I make 90 per cent of the chocolates sold here and love to experiment with new ideas, but there is only so much shelf space so I monitor carefully what sells best and discontinue any slow movers.’
Charlotte’s top ten are dark ginger, marzipan and walnut, champagne or rum truffles, chilli and lime, strawberry cream, cherries in brandy, rose and violet creams, milk chocolate creams and dark Irish with whisky and coffee.
The financial year at Charlotte’s is a bit of a rollercoaster ride. January usually starts slowly – it’s the month when many people diet after the excess of Christmas – but Bev’s answer is to sell coffee and cake with the option of some friendly conversation. During the quiet days of winter, regulars sometimes bring in a book and snuggle up on the sofa with a latte or perch on a window seat and look out at the miserable weather.
February provides an upward blip in sales thanks to Valentine’s Day, confirming that there is romance in the hearts of Buxtonians. However, it’s chocolates for Mother’s Day followed by Easter that put a peak in the profit chart when the shop displays a bonanza of decorated eggs. ‘If spring sales are good, it means I’ve survived another winter!’ says Bev.
Chocolates are a cosmopolitan treat, enjoyed by all cultures and societies. In summer Charlotte’s puts tables and chairs on the terrace for customers to enjoy a coffee with a wing of the fabulous Crescent as a backdrop. Bev is also a partner in the popular Upstairs Café within Cavendish Arcade for anyone who wants a delicious hot or cold meal. Then during Buxton Festival visitors descend from far and wide and the atmosphere in the town is buzzing. Bev commented: ‘This is when I like to try out quirky new flavours to impress the chocolate connoisseurs who visit each year for the Festival. These might be just slight changes to traditional chocolates such as creating strawberry and balsamic vinegar or strawberry and black pepper for example, but I’ve also experimented with mango, chai tea and Earl Grey tea flavours this year, which proved popular. The happy customers head home stocked up but are often back in touch by email soon after, asking me to mail order some more. I’ve posted chocolates all over the world including America, Australia and the Shetland Isles.’
Autumn is more about drinks and cakes than chocolates and I eyed up the array of cheesecake, muffins, Danish pastry, lemon drizzle and banoffee pies supplied by Holdsworths of Tideswell, along with tea loaf and ginger cake baked for Charlotte’s by the Buxton Pudding Company. Bev sources products as locally as possible, also selling Amy Smith fudge from Yorkshire.
‘The run up to Christmas is our prime chocolate time when the shop looks like a Santa’s grotto! I go over the top with trees and decorations as I love Christmas but I could cry if it snows in December. There are very few days in the year when I can’t make the wonderful scenic drive to work over the Cat and Fiddle but I prefer these to be in January when it’s quiet rather than in my busiest month!’
Brexit had an instant impact on Bev’s business as her Belgian chocolate supplier increased their charges overnight by 10 per cent. ‘I try to be competitively priced, especially with children’s chocolates, some of these I buy ready-made from the Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company in Nottinghamshire.’
Bev works most days, often starting at 8am and finishing late at weekends. There are windows into her kitchen from inside the café and in the arcade so it is possible to watch her while she’s busy tempering, mixing ingredients or decorating each mouth-watering delicacy. ‘I don’t have time for long holidays. I generally only take a few days here and there. I went to Budapest with my daughter recently but it was a busman’s holiday as I spent quite a bit of time checking out chocolate shops for new ideas.
‘My most frequently asked question is “Do you get fed up with chocolate?” Never! I have to taste test each batch I make so eat chocolate most days and I love it. I’m generally on a permanent high from the serotonin it contains, but unfortunately I have a slight intolerance to marzipan and almonds. I struggle for my art!’ she added with a smile. ‘I’m also very fortunate to have a lovely team of efficient and friendly employees – I simply couldn’t manage without them.’
In studies it has been proved that people who consume chocolate regularly have lower blood pressure. It is also said that the average Briton eats 11kg of chocolate a year. Looking at the glorious displays in Charlotte’s I could quite happily have eaten my quota in one go!